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15 'Slave' Workers Rescued in Raid

January 23, 2000 · 

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SAN FERNANDO CITY — Fifteen workers including eight minors, were rescued from nearly two months of slave labor in a rice milling warehouse in Tayug, Pangasinan, during a raid by a government team Tuesday.

Corazon Layug, retained services division chief of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said the raid, led by the National Bureau ot Investigation and the DSWD, stemmed, from a complaint filed with the police in Placer, Masbate, by a boy who used to work at the rice mill but managed to escape last month.

News of his ordeal. including a five-day walk to Manila, reached the DSWD through local and national radio broadcasts, Layug said.

The rescue team also included Representatives from the Department of labor and Employment, the commission on Human Rights and the Tayug police.

Rescued from Ernesto Lozano Rice Mill and Bodega on Magillenes Highway were Norma, Rudy, and Roger Gracela, Reynaldo Abadia, Nori Drio, Larry Etcoy, Ely Galvan and Romeo Ariela.

With them were eight boys aged 15-18 vho came front Masbate, Sorsogon, and Dumaguete and Davao cities.

In their complaint the rice mill workers said they had been working in Lozano’s warehouse since November last year under inhuman conditions.

Minors and adults alike were made to work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Their meals, which consisted mostly of rice not fit for sale. were rationed and deducted from their wages, they said.

They slept in a rat and roach infested bunkhouse with sacks and papers for beds. Some of them recalled being beaten up by security guards when they tried to go out for some air or when their knees and backs gave to the weight of the sacks of rice they carried on their heads.

Worse, none of them received their P1,500 monthly salaries promised them. When they asked about this, Lozano’s secretary allegedly told them that they were the ones who still owed their employer P4,600 each.

This turned out to be the fee paid to a certain Eddie Boy, a recruiter from a dubious agency in Manila.

“It is obvious that the employer was in cahoots with the recruitment agency which readily supplied him with young workers,” Layug said.
She said that during the raid, Lozano admitted to the team that he preferred to hire workers under 30 years old because they had not yet grown “horns” or were still docile.

Layug recounted that when the team arrived at the Lozano warehouse they saw the workers white with rice dust from head to foot.

They wore no protective masks or gear and were totally exposed to the clouds of dust that continuously swirled in the warehouse.

The minors also bore loads which were too heavy for their frail bodies, Layug said.

The workers were immediately taken to the DSWD regional office in San Fernando City.

At the pre-conference hearing at the Department of Labor and Employment to discuss the labor aspects of the case, Lozano said he was going to abide by whatever would be required of him by law.

Based on DOLE computations, Lozano is liable to pay the workers some P200,000 in unpaid wages, overtime pay and other benefits due them.

The complainant’s counsel lawyer Noel Nabua , asked Lozano to give each worker P5,000 as assistance considering the inhumane conditions they suffered while in Lozano’s employ.

Philip Pecache, executive officer of NBI Dagupan, said if an amicable settlement is not arrived at, the NBI is prepared to file illegal detention, slavery and violation of RA 7610.

The recruitment agencies will also be investigated for “they virtually sold the workers to the employer and may have been recruiting minors,” Pecache said. — With a report from Peter La. Julian, PDI Northern Luzon Bureau

BY GIA DA.MASO-DUMO
PDI Northern Luzon Bureau

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