8-21-07, 9:35 am
SAN JOSE CAMPOSTELA, MINDANAO, PHILIPPINES -- In the Soyapa Farms banana groves, Jane (11) and Alan Algoso (9) cut dead leaves away from the stems of the trees with large knives. The two children make 50 pesos a day. 'My mom works here on the farm,' Jane says, 'and my grandparents have land here. We give our money to our family.'
At six in the morning, five children from 11 to 17 years old, huddle in a circle at one side of the Soyapa Farms packing shed. They flatten out and recycle the sheets of plastic which are inserted between banana bunches as they grow, to keep them apart. Children get 2 centavos for each sheet they save, making sometimes as much as 50 pesos a day
Next to them, Benjamin Libron, 15 years old, gathers bananas discarded for minor imperfections. He piles them up, and then throws them onto a truck for transport to local markets or Manila. He is paid 60 pesos a day.
The children in the shed and the Algoso kids are still going to school. They work for two hours in the morning, and go back for another four hours after classes. But Benedicto Hijara, at 15, stopped after he completed the 6th grade. He's been working since 1994, the youngest of five brothers and three sisters, who all work for Soyapa Farms with their parents. Benedicto carries a stone and string, which he throws over an overhead cable. He then climbs a ladder, and ties the string to a tree trunk, propping it upright so it won't fall over under the weight of the banana bunch. To earn 71 pesos daily, he has to tie up 105 trees.
Danilo Carillon, 16 years old, stopped going to school five years ago, after the third grade. For 86 pesos a day he also climbs a bamboo ladder, pulling a plastic bag over each bunch of bananas. He has to bag 160 bunches of bananas a day. The bags are treated with a pesticide, Lorsban, according to the Associated Labor Union. Carillon wears a simple dust mask over his face when he unrolls each bag, one not capable of filtering out chemicals.
The ALU represents workers at Soyapa Farms. Bebot Llerin, an ALU representative, says that after a few years, baggers appear thin and pale, and get lots of allergies. 'I think this might be an effect of the chemical in the bags,' he says, 'but we know very little about it.'
'The children on this plantation work because their families can't survive without the wages they earn,' explains Nenita Baylosis, a Soyapa Farms employee and ALU activist who tries to convince parents not to send their children to work. 'So when we started to campaign against child labor here, the parents were very angry, fearing their children would lose their jobs.'
The Soyapa Farms Growers Association employed 360 contract workers in 1998, both adults and children. Stanfilco, a division of Dole Philippines, part of the Dole Corporation, convinced 108 small growers to form the association in 1992, pooling their 360 hectares of riceland to grow bananas. Each grower retains ownership of their individual plot, and each has an individual contract to sell their bananas to Dole.
Because the workers are contract employees, they don't qualify for even the lowest minimum wage in Mindanao, which is 96 pesos a day. 'Stanfilco says it isn't responsible for the situation,' says Bebot Llerin, 'since it doesn't employ the plantation workers directly.' --For more articles and images on the Philippines. See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US, Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006) and The Children of NAFTA (University of California, 2004).
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