Joe-Anna Marie Casidsid-Abelinde
This was written some time in 2010, when I was first hired as a Research and Advocacy Officer at CARRD. I was clueless then. Agrarian reform was not exactly a foreign concept. But my knowledge of it was as distant and as passive as Mt. Apo. I know for a fact that Mt. Apo is the tallest mountain in the Philippines, but I only know that much.
Sumilao and Hacienda Luisita. Farmers walking or waging a bloody battle for the right to own a piece of land in their own country. I’ve associated these images with agrarian reform… or rather, I have associated agrarian reform with these images. They were disconcerting, but they were an alien struggle for someone like me – who, upon growing in a colorful community in Tundo, was more at home with the squalid living conditions of the pedicab drivers and the kanto tambays, some of them seek the fruits of their existence in a bottle of Cossack or a stick of Mighty; or mothers who pass the time by playing bingo or by talking about the latest love affairs or pregnancies in the neighborhood; or children who buy soft drinks and cupcake for their breakfast, lunch and supper in the nearest sari-sari store – whoever says that food needs to be served in a table?
Fate has put me in social work. I never imagined myself being involved in the lives of other people. I’ve harbored a strange discomfort in a crowd, even when the crowd is comprised of familiar faces. I was not fond of dealing with people and going outside of my comfort zone, and I often just walk out of the scene rather than force myself to talk with them; but I guess it was my greater fear of Mathematics that has tipped the scale in my future career choice. As a late enrollee in a state university, I was left with social work and engineering. I have chosen social work without even thinking what it means. That time, it has appeared to me, a salvation from a life of numbers.
After graduating, I worked for four years in a sponsorship organization that caters to the health and education needs of children in the poorest urban communities. I’ve been really happy with the people I worked with, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself doing social work for other causes besides children.
But a few days ago, I found myself hired in an organization, which advances the rights of rural farm workers for land ownership and agricultural sustainability. That is not exactly an ideal career transition, but somehow, I am happy that an opportunity for further learning has been opened for me. Agrarian reform, at that very moment, still carries the imagery of Hacienda Luisita and Sumilao in my consciousness. Like most people, I thought that land reform issues start and finish with land ownership. We do not pay much attention to the lives of those who have been awarded with a land to till for their own. For most of us, particularly for those who live in the urban areas, the story of agrarian reform is about the dramatic struggle for land ownership, with landlords using arms in order to protect their interests and with the DAR and NGOs serving as mediators. The struggle would end in the awarding of land titles to the tearful farmers and after that they will live happily ever after until the end of their days; or if not – then it becomes a tragic story and a source of angst of the oppressed over the pot-bellied rich (but then its also just an imagery, because the rich could easily afford liposuction whenever they want to).
But it’s not really like that. Some of those who were awarded with lands are often forced to re-sell their farms for lack of starting capital or technical skills or access to markets. You see, these things have been provided by the landowners before and it is not very easy for a farmer who has two hectares or so to go to the market and sell his produce (especially when he has to travel long distances in rough roads – even his carabao won’t accompany him). His land is also too small to serve as loan collateral in major institutions like Land Bank of the Philippines. His only hope is through credit cooperatives, which must be initiated by farmers from his own ranks. But these credit cooperatives could not access loans from financial institutions as well – particularly if they lack the necessary credentials to ensure that they have the capacity to pay back the loan, and so on and so forth.
This is a sad story – particularly at a time when the country is beset with an increasing shortage of food supply for its people; at a time when agriculture is needed to boost the nation’s development, and potentially reduce poverty in the rural areas, where it is more rampant. It’s a sadder story that agrarian reform issues are – at the outset, connected with rallies and long struggles. But the saddest part? Thinking of happily ever afters when the real battle has only commenced. It’s like being so moved and inspired in the EDSA rallies and not doing anything about it, where memory serves to impress the spectators of conversations and story-telling and then what?