Monthly Archives: July 2008

Pedaling our way through the crisis


“KAPAG MAIKLI ANG KUMOT, MATUTONG MAMALUKTOT,” goes a Filipino proverb. “Sir, nagakikid met ti ulesen, kasla labacara pay ketdin,” (Sir, the mattress is now as short as a face towel) quipped Christian Aguinaldo, one of my students in Sociology. I was about to dismiss the remark as a joke but there was seriousness in the young man’s voice, so I decided to give it a serious thought. Before I could respond, however, another student commented, “Kapag namamaluktot na at maikli pa rin ang kumot, putulin na ang paa!”.

Soaring prices of oil and other basic commodities, unbearable costs of basic services, and people who blurt out #%^&!$* when they read screaming headlines of more doom for this already battered nation. All these point to one thing: we live in very difficult times, and, no matter how the president paints a rosy picture of the economy in her SONA, the crisis seems posed to stay for the long run.

Turbulence notwithstanding, my faith in the resilience of the Filipino remains unshaken. His indomitable spirit allowed him to endure (and thwart) the rule of colonial masters, the regimes of abusive presidents, and the most destructive of natural and man-made calamities. Matiisin at maparaan ang Pinoy. Today, in an attempt to cope with the crisis, substitutes for rice are being proposed, energy-efficient measures are being promoted, and the everyman is compelled to resort to means, big and small, to cope. Going back to the basics is no longer just an option, but a matter of survival.

On this note, allow me to give my own piece on belt-tightening, something very close to my heart: Bicycling.

It is true that bicycling events are held occasionally to heighten awareness on the environment, on peace, and other areas of concern. Leisurely bicycle tours and competitive races are also organized from time to time. So little has been done, however, to make bicycling an integral part of our everyday lives.

In MMSU Batac where I teach, I know less than five students who ride a bicycle to school. (I am a brother to every cyclist, and so I know them by name. Among them are future civil engineer Richard Jay Cac and the Garcia brothers Ace and Mark.) In contrast, hundreds of motor vehicles crowd the parking spaces at any given school day. Majority are resigned to riding tricycles to, fro, and around the campus, even as another twenty-five percent increase in trike fare awaits. In Laoag, the number of folks who use the bicycle in going to work or in accomplishing their day-to-day errands is insignificant as well. In the case of most towns, one would pay as much as P100.00 on special tricycle trips to reach their remote sitios.

This is sad because by bicycling, we can shoot a platoon of devils with one stone (I would have said shoot many birds with one stone, but I’m a bird lover). Aside from affordable mobility, bicycling also offers benefits to health—ours and the environment’s. The fun and excitement it gives are a bonus. Yes, we should try bicycling as a major means of transportation, not just for leisure, here in Ilocos.

It is happy to note that both the governor and the Catholic bishop are sports lovers. Bishop Sergio Utleg is known to ride his mountain bike whenever he has time, even taking long routes like Ilocos to Isabela. His Excellency looks as good with a helmet as with a miter, the bishop’s cap. It is safe to assume that Governor Michael Keon, a patron of many sports, is supportive of cycling as well. Can you imagine what vibrant a bicycling culture we can nurture if both the church and the provincial government proclaim the good news of pedaling?

Around the world, many proactive cities have advanced the cause of bicycling. Leading the way in this initiative are Amsterdam and Groningen in the Netherlands, where an extensive network of safe, fast and comfortable bicycle routes has been developed. In these cities, where over 50% of inhabitants travel on two wheels, the road safety of cyclists has been intensified, a theft-prevention program was set up, and the number of bicycle sheds was increased.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, 32% of workers bicycle to work. In Berlin, Germany, where less than half of residents own a car, it has become downright common to ride a bike every day. Berlin officials pledged to work toward bikes comprising 15% of the city’s traffic by the year 2010.

Here in the Philippines, the City of Marikina has taken the lead. In a novel approach to solving the transportation challenges posed by rising gas prices, Marikina initiated several infrastructural changes to encourage 20% of the city’s residents to ride bicycles to work every day. Marikina has a program against bicycle theft, with 150 bicycle-riding patrollers roaming around the city. To promote safety, its City Bikeways Office (Yes, a government office dedicated solely for bicycling!) initiated a Safe Cycling Education program. In line with this, around 100,000 guidebooks for bicycle upkeep and usage were distributed to households.

Marikina, which has a cycling track in its sports complex, purchased 500 training bikes for those wishing to learn to ride. The city government conducts Saturday Bicycle Clinics to promote a “Bike-to-School” program. A Bicycle Loan Project is also in place for residents who want to purchase a bicycle. The loan, payable in twelve months, is without interest. Recognized by many organizations as an outstanding local government program, Marikina’s Bicycle-Friendly City Project is not only funded by the city coffers, but also by a million-dollar grant from the World Bank Global Environment Facility. Inspired by Marikina, other LGUs, including the Province of Albay, are following the lead.

They have done it elsewhere, we can do it here. The first order of the day is to encourage people to push the pedal, and urge motorists to respect bicyclers’ rights. Infrastructure can come later.

I concede though that bicycling is not for everyone. The caveat: you should AVOID bicycling if…

1. You suffer from inferiority complex.
In downtown Paris, London, and Seoul, men and women in business suits have no qualms about riding a bicycle to their offices. In the Philippines, however, it is potentially intimidating to park a lowly bicycle side-by-side flashy motorcycles and cars. When you drive a bicycle to work, some people make you feel that you are in the lowest rung of the system of social stratification in the streets. A few remarks are encouraging: Wow, healthy lifestyle, kakainggit!. But many throw the hello-ok-ka-lang look. To many, bicycling to work seems acceptable if you are a carpenter or a farmer, but not if you are doing a white-collar job.
Last semester, however, going around the MMSU campus and occasionally traveling from Laoag to Batac (and vice versa) on bicycle gave me savings of P5, 000.00. My pride costs much less than that, and so I bike.

2. You are the glutha-type-of-person
If you are the typical xenocentric Filipino who thinks that beauty is directly proportional to skin lightness, please don’t bike. This sport is not for the insecure. Of course, you already know that our skin’s melanin content (the substance responsible for skin pigmentation) protects us against the damaging rays of the sun, perfectly fit for those who live along the equator.
3. You do not want to get tired.
Never mind that bicycling heightens your endurance and builds your muscles.
4. You abhor getting sweaty.
Never mind that sweating is a major player when it comes to removing excess heat, waste materials, and accumulated toxins out of our system.
5. You do NOT love life.
How many motorcycle accidents have we heard of lately? One motorcycle brand has gained the reputation as “Killer Wave” because of the numerous mishaps its riders have suffered. In contrast, bicycle accidents are very rare and are generally not fatal. This is because with a bisikleta, you feel more in control. You tend to be more disciplined.
More than just a physical exercise, bicycling is something very spiritual for me. The slow, steady cadence of a bike is like a two-wheeled, human-powered sojourn to utopia. When I am on my bike, I feel so at peace with myself and with the world. I also feel most free when I am pushing the pedal, in stark contrast to my enslavement in front of a computer when I am writing for hours.

True, the bicycle does have some limitations. For instance, when the rains fall, you get soaked. But even biking on a rainy (even stormy) day could be a fun experience. I have tried it several times, and with great pleasure. But, if you are not as adventurous, a raincoat would always do the trick. For every excuse you can think of why you should not bike, I can give you two reasons why you should. But, if you remain unconvinced about cycling, try something even better: walking.

Children and grandparents, students and workers, paupers and businessmen, nuns and politicians—all of them bicycling day after day… that is my dream.

Ariel Ureta, a comic, was penalized in the 70’s for his parody of a Martial Law slogan: Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan. Today, we look at Ureta as a prophet ahead of his milieu. Given the current crisis, it is time we take his joke seriously or the joke is on us. ###

***
Kablaaw: To the fifth year Mechanical Engineering students of MMSU: thank you for making the classroom experience a joy. Wishing you well on your continued search for meaning. // Happy birthday to my nephew Lord Jay and niece Sara Diane. May all of your dreams come true.

(e-mail: herdiology101@yahoo.com)

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Filed under Bicycling, Economy, Revolution

Agunit and the farmer wannabe





(This is my first article in the Ilocos Times. While columnists are expected to be men of notable knowledge, allow me to begin by writing about something I have no expertise on. “Wisest is he who knows he does not know,” says the enigmatic philosopher Socrates, and I am in the mood to believe him.)

NEVER HAVE I FELT MORE IGNORANT in my life than when I went to a farm. Having grown up in urban areas, I have never stayed in an agricultural community. The perpetually neglected ornamental plants in my bedroom terrace would be first to attest that planting is not my cup of tea.

Last year, I left my job in Manila to teach here in the province. Unlike in the nation’s capital where I taught sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie, most of my students here are children of farmers. Concerned that having kneel knowledge of agriculture made my teaching less relevant, I decided to embark on a self-imposed immersion in a farm. This happened when Albert Daguro, one of my former students, invited me on a weekend visit to their home in Brgy. Agunit, a farming community in Marcos town. He was apprehensive at first, saying that there was nothing much to see, but invited me anyway when he felt that it was something really meaningful for me.

Aboard a rusty jeepney, I then traveled to Agunit with the excitement of a groom and the curiosity of a child. Passing through the uninterrupted farmland bordered in the horizon by majestic mountains, I realized how little a part of the universe I was and how much space there is to explore. The experience was spiritual. Borrowing Rizal’s description of Dapitan, Agunit easily struck me as “picturesque and very poetic… without comparison.”

There I met Albert’s family. True to the Ilocano mold, his father, Tata Pascual, is known to be a very industrious man. At 68, this former barangay captain remains one of the most active farmers in Agunit. Far from the melodramatic tales of farmers in Sumilao and feudal haciendas, the Daguros are fortunate. With sheer discipline and guts, Tata Pascual and his loving wife started from scratch and gradually acquired parcels of land. Now totaling a few hectares, their farm is more than sufficient to provide their family a decent life.

The Daguros have eight cows, three carabaos, six goats, four pigs, and egg-laying ducks and chickens that were too busy running around their backyard to be counted. A miniature pond also produces fish for their consumption. Add to these the mango and avocado trees that diligently bear fruits. They have their own farm machines: a tractor and a kuliglig. To top these all, their sitio enjoys an efficient irrigation system that allows farmers to plant rice three times in a year. Given these blessings, I was interested to know whether Mang Pascual’s children are building their dreams around agriculture. Or, as with most families, do they see education as gateway to redemption?

Ronald, the eldest among the Daguro siblings, finished criminology and is now a newly sworn policeman. Albert is a civil engineering senior while Russell, the only female, is a nursing freshman. Six-grader Oliver, their youngest, tends their goats, but only Jhoan, the second eldest son, now works full time in the farm. After finishing a two-year technical course, Jhoan was requested by Tata Pascual to help him till their land. Being a good son, the former naturally obliged, although he occasionally resents being tied up to backbreaking work in the fields. Jhoan mulls of going back to school when his siblings graduate so he, too, can be a “professional”.

This reminded me of many students who strive in college, hoping they can eventually turn their backs on farming and do white-collar jobs. They subscribe to the belief that wearing a coat, working in an air-conditioned office, and speaking the language of colonizers are the main indicators of personal growth. Convinced that education is the best legacy they can leave behind, parents are quick to remind their children: do well in your studies, less you become just farmers like us.

I lament at how formal education is overvalued. Our present crop of political leaders proves that honesty, integrity, and unity—virtues that our nation miserably lacks—are legacies not guaranteed by a diploma. I do not say that children of farmers should not pursue other careers; everyone is entitled to see more of the world and discover new things as I do now. I was just wondering if they realize their sector’s worth and promise.

In MMSU, for instance, courses in agriculture register significantly lower enrolment compared to the health and business fields. This situation aggravates the already wide mismatch between our country’s human resource requirements and the graduates produced by universities, resulting to an increase in rates of unemployment and underemployment. Students taking up agriculture bear with people taunting them: mannalon ka la ngaruden, agriculture pay laeng ti innalam! They remain undistracted, however, as many of them have their dreamy eyes set, not in our own land, but elsewhere greener, like New Zealand. Meanwhile, queues for affordable rice now reach scandalous lengths.

In sociology, structural functionalist theory explains social stratification by assuming that positions essential to society’s survival are awarded more than those that are not as important. Of course, the “important” positions’ higher remuneration and prestige are justified by the long formal training and the skills acquired in the process. In this perspective, the lifetime training of farmers does not count because they don’t get any diploma for it. That small farmers are important for the population to survive is taken for granted, especially now that agriculture has become the milking cow of manipulative multinational firms.

In an attempt to convince his people that farming is a good a profession as medicine, Rizal himself became a farmer in Dapitan. Writing to his sister, Lucia, our national hero remarked: “We cannot all be doctors, it is necessary that there would be some who would cultivate the soil.” But who can blame farmers who wish they could do something else? Much is to be desired from government and society at large. While it is true, for example, that the prices of farm produce have skyrocketed, so have the costs of plant inputs. Hence, many farmers are buried in debt even as the “fertilizer scam” remains unresolved and is doomed, as many other scandals are, to be forgotten. The recent distribution of free sacks of fertilizers to farmers may sound commendable, but it is just another band-aid solution in the absence of a well-implemented and sustainable program to alleviate the plight of the mannalon.

When I left Agunit and went home to my place in the city, I felt a vacuum inside me. Aside from the breathtaking sights and subtle sounds of the fields, there were much more to my enchantment. I was drawn to the farm folks’ solidarity with nature, their spartan way of life, and their ability to appreciate the simple joys brought by simple things. I witnessed how members of farming families are tightly knit, how their neighbors are treated as family, and how belief in an unseen God is manifested in their day-to-day attempt at co-creation.

I went to Agunit so secure of myself, but left the place humbled at how little I knew about the more basic things in life. Unlike farm kids who, by taking care of animals and helping out in the paddies, have developed a sense of responsibility and stewardship early on, I was the bratty type of child. Our family has always had househelps who made life easier for us. Our domestic comforts, quite ironically, are brought by folks who come from agricultural families not as fortunate as Tata Pascual’s. Now in her fifties, Manang Glory, wife of a tobacco farmer, works in our household so she can help send her children to school.

With reasons now more personal than professional, I have included in my lifetime’s to-do list working as a full-time farmer, even just for an entire season. As an apprentice, I want to experience all the processes from pre-planting to post-harvest, and feel both the joy and despair that go with transforming nature and being transformed by it in turn. An employee under the tyranny of the Bundy clock, I am not sure how this can be possible. But just as a farmer has faith that the seeds will fertilize, I have high hopes this dream will happen in time. While most academics aspire for scholarships in top universities, I yearn for a semester or two in the farm. Hopefully, in my next visit, the Daguros would let me dirty my hands, and not pamper me the way they did during my first sojourn.

As I nurture this agricultural dream, news are abound that two monuments of materialism will be built in this province known for her people’s frugality and hard work. One mall will rise in the flourishing town of St. Nick while the other will be built in the middle of Laoag City, posing threats of more traffic, pollution, and an empty lifestyle—banes of urban life that Agunit folks are lucky to be spared from.

Each one of us is said to have a rightful place under the sun. I found mine inside the classroom, Tata Pascual found his in paradise. My classroom, however, need not always be four-walled, and I need not always be the teacher. ###

(herdiology@yahoo.com)

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Filed under Education, Farm, Happiness, Ilocos, Revolution, Rural, Sociology

The Ilocos Times

A member of the Philiippine Press Institute, The Ilocos Times is the longest running community newspaper edited and published in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, Philippines over the past 46 years.

The paper was founded in 1920 although it came out irregularly until 1957 when it became a weekly with 90% English and 10% Iluko, the vernacular of Northern Luzon, Philippines.
The Ilocos Publishing Corporation, a family-owned entity having its own commercial printing facilities, publishes the paper.

The Website Edition (http://www.ilocostimes.com/) was constructed on October 2000 primarily aimed at catering to the local news and information needs of Ilocos Norte natives and other Ilocanos living abroad.

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Filed under Media, Uncategorized