Lumad escape from 'slavery' in Pangasinan
MANILA, Philippines – Thirty four Lumad, including two children from the Manobo-Pulangihan tribe in Quezon, Bukidnon, escaped from what they described as slave-like conditions in a fish farm owned by a Chinese businessman in Sual, Pangasinan, on Monday, July 1.
According to their lawyer Henrie Enaje, the victims were recruited by fellow Lumad Danny Talisan and a certain Rizalinda de Felix, who promised them P7,500-monthly pay with one month advance and free food and housing.
Two months of 'slavery'
The group was then accompanied by De Felix to Sual, Pangasinan, were they were immediately forced to work in a bangus (milkfish) aquaculture farm without receiving their promised advance pay. (READ: INFOGRAPHIC: Who are the Lumad?)
For a period of about two months, the Lumad worked as fish feeders, harvesters, loaders, and cleaners, tending to two parcels of fish pens covering about 100,000 square meters in the open seas. (READ: Rappler Talk: Are the Lumad victims in war and peace?)
According to the Lumad, they were forced to work from 6 am, often under the scorching sun, up to 7 pm by their employer, a certain Arian Hao, and his brother, who they described as “very strict and abusive.”
At night, they had to load around 200 bags of fish feed to boats which they would use the next day before they were allowed to sleep.
Despite their exhausting work schedule, the Lumad said that they were not allowed to rest and were sometimes even physically abused. (READ: [OPINION] The Lumad are not the villains)
“At night, we sleep in dwellings with high walls and gates that require passes before we can leave the premises. We were also not allowed to leave,” said the group.
Far from the P7,500-pay promised to them, many said that they only got around P1,800 from the employer, who deducted from their salary the supposed cost of their daily meals – often only one egg with three pieces of fried fish. Worse, some of the Lumad reported that they received absolutely no pay for their back-breaking work.
Elizabeth Sampitan, one of the victims, was lured with a job as a cook but was instead tasked to fold feed sacks for P0.50 per sack which amounted to a measly P80 a day. She and her husband incurred a debt of P13,000.
Many of the Lumad reportedly got sick from the miserable working conditions. (READ: What the Lumad are fighting for)
Escape from hell
Having had enough, the group decided to escape their “hellish” workplace. One night, the group walked by the shore and bypassed 4 security guards. A Cubao-bound bus chanced upon them and agreed to take them to Manila without pay.
With assistance from the Federation of Agricultural Workers (UMA), the group managed to reach the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to file a case.
“The Department of Labor and Employment and National Bureau of Investigation must act at once to close down the illegal and exploitative operations of Hao and put him and his recruiters behind bars," said UMA chairperson Antonio Flores.
CHR had launched a motu proprio investigation and would be closely monitoring the case.
In a statement sent to Rappler, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said that they had assisted the victims in filing a report against their recruiters and employer at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Station VI in Batasan Hills, Quezon City.
Not an isolated case
De Guia said the case was not unique. She said 17 Lumad who had been recruited to work a similar fish pen in the area were rescued by the CHR with the help of the Philippine National Police-Sual, Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office of Pangasinan, and MSWDO-Sual.
"They are now currently staying in a shelter in Lingayen, Pangasinan,” De Guia said.
She also cited a similar case in a fish pen in Rosario, La Union, where 10 alleged Lumad victims of human trafficking escaped.
"The Commission’s field office in Region I is closely monitoring the incident,” De Guia said.
The 34 Lumad who escaped are currently living in the CHR main office in Diliman, Quezon City. They have asked for financial assistance to return to Bukidnon. Donations may be dropped off at CHR. – Rappler.com
Nicolas Czar Antonio is a Rappler intern and a Psychology student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He tweets at @Nicolas_Czar.