Agricultural workers led by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) demand that President Benigno Aquino III exert stronger effort to appeal for clemency for Mary Jane Veloso, especially since her parents worked for decades at the Aquino-Cojuangco estate Hacienda Luisita as sakadas or seasonal sugar cane cutters.
Hacienda Luisita farmers under UMA and the local alliance AMBALA urged Aquino to be more forceful and determined in saving the life of Mary Jane Veloso. AMBALA Chairperson Florida “Pong” Sibayan reminded Aquino that Mary Jane’s father and grandfather’s hard toil as underpaid sakadas in Hacienda Luisita contributed to the Aquino-Cojuangco’s family fortune.
“The Aquino-Cojuangcos amassed huge wealth and power through the sweat and blood of sakadas and farm workers like Cesar and Emeterio Veloso. Aquino must remember this when he comes face to face with President Jokowi to seek clemency for Mary Jane,” said Sibayan.
Aside from appealing to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Aquino should also appeal to other ASEAN leaders to urge the Indonesian leader to stay the execution of Mary Jane.
“Aquino should extol French President Hollande whose efforts and strong statements resulted in the delay of the sentence of French national Serge Atlaoui, who is also on Indonesian death row with Veloso,” said John Milton Lozande, UMA Acting Chairperson.
“The Philippine government must also warn Indonesia that if its appeal for Veloso is ignored, it is prepared to recall its ambassador from Indonesia just like what Brazil and the Netherlands did after their citizens were executed in January. The Brazilian government even declined to accept the credentials of Indonesia’s new envoy,” Lozande added.
“The Veloso family endured extreme poverty despite back-breaking work in sugarcane fields. The utter lack of decent jobs and wages in the country pushed Mary Jane to seek opportunities abroad.”
“Due to the government’s bogus agrarian reform program, landless agricultural workers all over the country are now growing in number. Sakadas from Northern Luzon, Negros, Mindanao and other poor regions become victims of slave wages and forced internal migration literally hauled by illegal recruiters and lead men to harvest sugarcane not only in the traditional haciendas in Batangas or in Luisita, but also for the expansion of vast export crop plantations where they work under extreme or subhuman conditions.”
“The government’s labor-export policy is another trap that aggravates the dire conditions of peasants and the people under Aquino,” said Lozande.
The agricultural workers’ urgent appeal to stop the execution of Mary Jane Veloso was carried by UMA and its affiliate unions and organizations from Cagayan Valley (UMAMI), Tarlac (AMBALA), Batangas (KAISAHAN), Negros Island (National Federation of Sugar Workers), Bukidnon (OGYON), Agusan del Sur (PIGLAS-MAPAPI), Southern Mindanao and Far-South Mindanao (NAFLU-KMU) during its recently concluded national council meeting held in Quezon City.