Category Archives: Rural

Fallacies Galore

LOCAL JOURNALISTS swear they have not seen debates as highly charged as the spectacle they witnessed at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) recently.

Our provincial dads were arguing on the release of the province’s P254-million share in the P5.81-billlion tobacco excise tax due to tobacco-producing provinces.

This has been highly discussed in the news, so I will no longer delve into painstaking details, but allow me, dear karikna, to present the primary issue, which is: should Ilocos Norte participate in the Tobacco Excise Tax Monetization Program (TEMP) which would allow the province to get its share in lump sum, or should it subscribe to long-term installments, sans deductions? Under TEMP, we will be able to get our piece of the pie, but less 31.5% in bank interests and consultancy fees. Under the second option, we get almost the full amount.

Should the province participate in the TEMP, an SP resolution had to be passed to that effect. This is where the debates transpired. I know you understand why I am interested on this. I am a Philosophy teacher, and coach, too, of university debate teams. Add to that the fact that I am also a dutiful taxpayer.

One thing to be watchful for in debates are fallacies, which, as we have learned in our Logic classes, are products of convoluted reason. Here, I listed down some fallacies which were committed both by the SP members, and those who have spoken about the issue in media.

First in my list is False Dilemma. Also called Black and White Fallacy, this operates by effacing the various alternatives in between two extreme choices in a particular issue. Thus, the various gradation of gray in between black and white are concealed giving us only two alternatives, black and white.

Such is committed when one says, “either you approve the TEMP resolution or you deprive farmers their rightful share.” But, of course, there are alternatives.

I do not believe that any SP member is really against the welfare of farmers, and nobody is saying that we should not get the money. The questions are: in what manner?, and how much?

If the SP avails of TEMP in toto and as is, farmers will lose around one third of the total amount due them. They will be charged exorbitant fees for money they have already earned. Any self-respecting banker will say that the bank interest of 26 percent and the consultancy fee of 5.5 percent are just too high.

With TEMP approved as it is, farmers stand to lose around P80-million. That’s a big loss, very big loss. That means P80-million less government support to agricultural infrastructure and equipment, and to human resource development.

If paying interest is inevitable, can we not, at least, bring it down? Fifteen percent, the opposition says, would have been tolerable.

“But all others have agreed to it, why shouldn’t we?,” ask people who commit the Bandwagon Fallacy. Reportedly, Ilocos Sur, Abra, and La Union have already approved the TEMP, so proponents at the Ilocos Norte SP say we have to follow their lead, less we be left out. But, if we adopt this line, should we even need our own SP, why don’t we just wait for other LGUs to decide and just adopt whatever is the consensus? Continue reading

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Filed under Government/Politics, Ilocos, Rural

Portrait of a writer as Ilocano:A tribute to Sozimo Ma. Pablico (1938-2009)

(Sosimo Ma. Pablico, agriculture columnist of The Ilocos Times, passed away last April 22 at age 70. Survived by his wife Barbie and son Paul Ethelbert, his remains lie in state in San Fernando, La Union.)

I FIRST knew about SMAP (read as ismap, by which he was fondly called) when I was doing research as a graduate student in Sociology. I came across an article he wrote about Ilocano rituals and practices for the dead, which was published in a national daily. Short but instructive, his article was of great help to my study.

When I applied for a teaching post in MMSU, I was excited to meet the man, to tell him how much he has inspired me as a writer and social researcher. Thrilled I was to be assigned to the Social Sciences Department of the College of Arts and Sciences where he belonged, only to find out that he had retired a few years earlier. I had to be content with looking at his face in a group picture (which proudly adorns a wall in our office) with other “pillars” of the department.

Later on, SMAP and I would cross paths, albeit only in the pages of The Ilocos Times where I write an opinion column, and where he was the agriculture columnist. Having no agricultural background, I must admit that I could not fully understand most of his articles. Behind the technical jargon, however, I could sense his intense desire to uplift the life of farmers, and to promote efficient and sustainable farming methods and strategies. In his writings, I felt the energy of a man many decades younger his age. Continue reading

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Filed under Heroes, Rural, Sociology

Pockets of redemption

Aside from writing and teaching, my heart also beats for community organizing.  That is why when I was asked to handle the National Service Training Program-Community Welfare Training Service (NSTP-CWTS) in our college, I immediately agreed.

Photo here shows a many-kilos-heavier and a-few-years-younger me working with an urban poor community in Metro Manila.  Quite interesting that my advocacy then was on the protection and advancement of women’s rights.

Community Organizing

Yesterday, I did a surprise inspection of my students’ community projects in different barangays across four towns (San Nicolas, Batac, Currimao, and Badoc)  in Ilocos Norte.   These are what i saw… Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Rural

Kampay!

I may have been too busy drinking gulping SanMig Light the past years that I failed to notice one good alak manufactured right here in Sunshine City Laoag.

Discovered it lately through a blog entry detailing  a tambay at tagay night held by YTRIP (a youth-led NGO that promotes sustainable local tourism and responsible travel) in the last quarter of 2008.  The group got several bottles of wine from parts of Luzon and tried, tasted, and drank the night away.

Their exhibits included:

Bugnay (Ilocos)
Basi (Ilocos)
Duhat (Ilocos)
Pineapple (??)
Camote with Pineapple (Banaue)
Tapuey (light) (Banaue)
Tapuey (toasted) (Banaue)
Lambanog (Quezon)
Strawberry (Benguet)
Grape (Benguet)

While they concluded that…

The night’s biggest favorites (the winners!!) were the Tapuey (light), Tapuey (toasted), and the Lambanog. And that the losers being the Strawberry and Grape wines.

duhat-wine4.., the Duhat Wine, according to three tasters, is “the closest to how wine would/should taste like”.

I agree.  Suabe ang guhit sa lalamunan. Sarap ng tama. It’s a bonus that it also offers all the health benefits that red wine promises, i.e. good for the heart, antioxidant, anti-cancer properties.  Yes, it is as good for the body as it is for the spirit.

The delight that is the Duhat Wine is actually a product of careful research and product development conducted by Cormel Foods with the support of the Department of Science and Technology and the Mariano Marcos State University (where I teach).

At  just 150Php a bottle, oh my, das leben ist gut!

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Filed under Personals, PinoyPride, Rural, The Good Life, Tourism

Provincial bliss

MRS. MATIPO of our university library was the 50th person to ask me this question: “What made you decide to come home to the province and teach here?”

It was mid-June last year and I was meeting the librarian for the first time. She learned from her son, MJ, one of my treasured students, that I had taught in Manila schools before moving here in Ilocos.

“Many want to work in Manila,” she added, in an attempt to put her question in the proper perspective.

I had long wanted to stay in the province and it did not begin as an act of altruism. Nurturing no illusions of self-importance, it was not the “I want to go home to Ilocos and share my talents with my province-mates” sort of thing.

I first imagined working in Ilocos during one of those mornings in Manila when I was getting late for work and I still had to press my clothes (one of the things I do not enjoy doing). That morning, I was yet to eat breakfast, and my tummy was already rebelling. Food was usually something fried, something instant — something I was beginning to take with revulsion.

I was walking briskly to school when a decent-looking man approached and showed me something. “Bilhin mo na itong necklace, mura lang” [“Buy this necklace, the price is cheap”], he said. The piece of jewelry looked real and expensive, but it was broken. “Mamahalin ’to, kasi ’nung hinablot ko ’to, umiyak ’yung nurse” [“This is an expensive kind, because the nurse cried after I snatched it from her”], he added with pride.

That was the straw that broke the weary camel’s back. On the same day, I typed an application letter to the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), the best university in the North. That was in March last year.

Only a few days were left before the start of the semester and a reply had yet to come. One more year of Manila then, I thought. That meant another year of missing the birthdays (including that of my Kuya Henry on Sept. 11 and of my Grandniece Ananda on Sept. 21), anniversaries and other special occasions of family and friends. Another year of bad food and bad air, of ironing my clothes (and losing them in the laundry shop), and of receiving frantic messages from my Mom each time the metropolis was stricken by terrorist attacks.

But the call for a demonstration teaching and panel interview came, and I was thrilled.

“Aside from teaching, what else can you contribute to the university?” I was asked in the interview.

Honestly, I wanted to just teach. In schools where I had taught, I contributed more than I should, and I wanted to be more relaxed this time. That’s what I told the panel members who, judging by their facial expressions, were unhappy with my answer. So I added that writing and debate are areas where I might contribute.
The most memorable question came from a senior faculty member: “For how long do you intend to stay here?”

“I can stay here forever,” I replied without batting an eyelash. If my 20/20 vision did not betray me, I thought I saw the professor’s eyebrows rise a bit and her academic forehead crumple a little. She was doubtful. No one knows for sure what Mother Destiny holds in the future, but I was sincere when I said that I could imagine myself working in the university until my hair is gray.

Shortly after, I was called in to work. I met my dean, and then I was led to my department on June 12, Independence Day. I was all smiles.

It has been fifteen months from that memorable day, and the smiles have not faded. I have even purchased a desk mirror so I can marvel at my face when I am smiling, which is a hundred times more often now than when I was working in the big city.

And, why not? Here, I live very comfortably. “Manang” Glory, our well-loved “kasambahay” [househelp], is so kind to pamper me. From food to clothes to cleanliness in my room, she makes sure that everything is A-OK.

Aside from our home in Laoag, which is better than my living quarters in Manila, I got a room at Coed’s, the university dormitory. My room in Manila was enough only for a bed and a table, had no window, and, if not for an exhaust fan, I could not breathe. In contrast, the well-ventilated and spacious Coed’s dorm gives me a fantastic view of the fields, which I could only imagine in Manila when I was stuck in traffic.

On top of material comforts is the immense joy that family life gives me. I have friends, and I have had friends who came and went and forgot, but my family has stood by me at all times, high and low. And, no, I would never exchange for anything the joy of coming home to my grandniece Ananda’s kisses and embrace after a long day at work, and finding out what new words or new tricks she has learned.

In the university, I am blessed to work with dreamy academics whose cognitive brilliance is matched by youthful idealism and cheerful dispositions. Our students, most of them children of farmers, are as competitive, even better, than many of their counterparts in Manila.

I had wished to just teach and relax and veer away from added responsibility but, when you are surrounded by people who breathe excellence, it’s difficult not to get infected and do your share. People might find fault in government for a number of things, but outstanding state-run universities such as ours are not among them.

Growing up with the belief that the only tourist attraction we have in Ilocos is the late strongman’s mausoleum, I used to find my province boring. But when my colleagues in Manila regaled me with stories of how they experienced a piece of paradise in Ilocos, my pride for my place was unmatched.

This is not to say Ilocos is heaven, and that I will forever be in bliss. I know that this is just the honeymoon phase. Difficulties and crises will come in my career and personal life, but given the inner joy and energy I bear, I will get by.

There are times when I miss the city, especially when I need something I cannot find in stores here. There are times when I long for the malls, their artificiality and the empty lifestyle they propagate. And, oh, yes, I miss the surprises of living in the nation’s capital, such as watching a movie and finding out after the lights are turned on, that seated just a meter away is Madam President and the First Gentleman.

At my young age, I have had the opportunity to work in various set-ups, from the seat of power in Malacañang to the corporate jungle of Ortigas and Libis to the marginalized communities in Metro Manila to the glistening world of show biz and mass media, and to the universities of the bourgeoisie. I have been blessed to travel to many parts of the country, from Aparri to Dumaguete to Cotabato, and have had the chance to visit other countries, too.

But I have never been happier than now, working in my province and in the university that captured my heart.

****
DONNA RIETVELD of The Netherlands writes via email: Hi, hope you are well.

Just want to say that I LOVE reading your column. Basta, nakaka-relate ako. The way you wrote about the 2 Glorias is really a work of art.

I am accessing Ilocos Times via the web so medyo late lagi ang column but I am going to check out your blog regularly from now on.

I am from Pasuquin but I have now adopted The Netherlands as my country. Thanks to you and the staff of Ilocos Times, I still get to update myself with what’s happening up north.

Regards and God Bless.

Herdy’s Riknakem: Thank you, Donna. You are one more important reason to burn the midnight oil to meet the every-Wednesday deadline in this publication. The consuming loneliness in writing is briefly punctuated by kind messages such as yours.

“Hindi mo makapa ang iyong nararamdaman; hindi lungkot, hindi saya, hindi bagot, hindi din naman balisa. isipin mo na lang na lahat ng nilalang, nahihimlay, nahihimbing at nananaginip nang nag-iisa. walang nagsusulat, dahil walang nagbabasa, walang bumabagsak dahil walang pumapasa. sa bawat bagong iyong natutuklasan, ika’y natututong kay rami-rami pa palang di mo alam.” – gary granada.

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Filed under Education, Ilocos, Rural

“Farmer son of Batac” writes

This columnist was delighted to receive an email from reader Ernesto Rabanal Lagmay, who calls himself “farmer son of Batac”, although he is now based in Norway. He writes:
“Hello Herdy! I just read your column and I am impressed that you appreciate the farming life of the Daguro Family in Agunit, Marcos. It is true that the younger generation today aspire for white collar jobs simply because farming in the Philippines is not a promising profession. This is because farmers are being neglected by the state leaders who are very much busy working for their personal interests. There is too much corruption everywhere. You know, farmers themselves cannot do all the necessary improvements like irrigation, easy access to modern farm machines, and scientific farming, among other things.
“Prosperity in a society has to start from the top and it must be a team work. Just have a look at those countries which are so progressive because of farming. Denmark, for example, has no oil. It exports mostly agricultural products–wheat, livestock, and bi-products.

“Personally speaking, I really do not know when it will happen in the Philippines. Filipinos are talented and well-educated, but other countries are reaping the benefits of having our well-educated doctors, nurses, and engineers. Will our leaders remain contented to have our teachers work abroad as domestic help?
“Sorry to say, but there isn`t much that you or I can do at the moment. So, I do not blame the mentality of the older generation of farmers that they strive so hard to send their children to college to attain a degree. It is because, for them, it is the only way and means for a future better than agriculture.
“Good luck to your semester in farming!”

*****
Herdy’s Riknakem: It is normal to expect change to start from the top. But, if government is not doing enough, or is burying the people deeper in the graveyard, conscientious citizens must realize their supreme power to make a difference in the national life. Mechanisms for popular participation in policy formulation and program implementation are embedded in a true democracy. Citizens who complain and do nothing are not any better than the leaders who are subjects of their discontent.
The letter sender writes, “Sorry to say, but there isn`t much that you or I can do at the moment”. Given our gloomy scenario, it is easy to feel helpless and inadequate, especially if and when you are alone. Instead of rambling individually, however, ordinary folks like you and me should come together and talk about solutions that can be executed in our own spheres of influence. There is strength (and magic) in collective action.

Profound social change is brought about not by individuals but by movements. Like-minded citizens should come together and feel alone no more.

Qui tacet consentit! He who is silent consents! Mang Ernesto broke his silence. When will you break yours? ###

***
Kablaaw: To all residents of MMSU Coed’s Dormitory, warm regards and congratulations for a meaningful socialization program. Kudos to Men’s Wing President Albert Daguro, Women’s Wing President Jonalyn de Ocampo, Dormitory Manager Corazon Agpaoa, and to my fellow advisers. // Happy Birthday to Professor Michelle Reynera, mathematics department chair in our university, one of the jolliest souls I have met. Keep ‘em bursting in laughter!

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Filed under Education, Farm, Revolution, Rural, Sociology

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