Food self-sufficiency had always been a mantra adopted by governments past and present.
It had been called various names – from Marcos’ Masaganang Ani to Arroyo’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani or something to that effect. During Marcos, the dream was for the Philippines to become self-sufficient. Several decades later we are a net importer of rice from Asian countries like Vietnam whose agricultural technicians studied here at the International Rice Research Institute.
As for Gloria’s program, not much is known except for the fact that she had her husband’s classmate distribute liquid fertilizer, or so it seemed, to farmers in the country even in parts where there exists not even a single plot of palay field. The fertilizer fund scam remains a mystery but GMA managed to win although it remains suspect if it was because of that call she made to an election officer. But that is an entirely different story.
In the province, food self-sufficiency is in the form of cattle and sheep – animals that will be bred to provide food and livelihood in this province where the diet of most people remain to be rice and fish.
They are expected to arrive this year, they being the 7,000 Dorper sheep from Australia that will be replacing cattle that was supposed to be bought by the provincial government as part of its Negros FIRST program.
“Delicious,” was how Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. described sheep’s meat that might soon find its way on the tables of the ordinary Negrosanons, perhaps replacing the tabagak, the ginamos or worse, the asin, that are the usual viands on a poor man’s plate.
And so the dream has began for the province to become the Philippines’ sheep capital where people can eat meat like the slain warriors in Valhalla and where children can have milk moustaches like they do in the movies.
LESS FOOD NOW
In the village of Santa Rosa in Murcia town, Danilo Tabura has not heard of the Negros FIRST Security Program. He does not even know that the F stands for Food Security.
The only time he knew about it was when neighboring farmers in the village were relocated near their house to give way to the Negros First Ranch that will be built on 159 hectares of land once owned by the Arguelles family.
“Wala man kami naka bentaha sang food security (program); siya man naghimo sang programa pero wala siya man nakahangop sang food security? (We have not benefitted from this food security program, he [Governor Maranon] made this program but he does not understand what it means?” he says.
Tabura and some other sugarworkers organized by the National Federation of Sugarworkers claim that they are supposed to be beneficiaries of the government’s land reform program. The town’s agrarian reform officer, however, issued a certificate that the area is not productive despite a petition for CARP coverage that was filed before the sale of the property to the provincial government.
The sale went smoothly but it was only recently when questions arose about the transaction.
Capitol officials say the farmers were instigated. They are not supposed to complain, not when a program that would lift them out of poverty was being implemented.
“They have no satisfaction,” the good governor was quoted as saying, referring to activists who are “sowing intrigues” against the establishment of the Negros First Ranch.
With a budget of P78 million, the program will surely support the food requirements of the province as the demand for meat is expected to increase, he adds.
Besides, the farmers have no reason to complain since each displaced family was provided with a 500-square meter lot at the relocation site and cash aids of P10,000 to P20,000 each. They will also be given priority to work in the ranch as watchers of livestock or as helpers.
Development would soon come, government promises. Promises have been made in the past; progress would trickle down as has been the concept of growth in the country. Development would come.
But Jaime Garcia, Sr. knows nothing about this. The only thing he knows is that he had been working in the fields as a sugarworker since he was 16.
“Kinse sang Nobyembre sang treinte y nueve ako nabata (I was born November 15, 1939),” he says when asked about his age.
He was married at 20 and had raised his family working in the sugarcane fields, taking on jobs from weeding, planting sugarcane tops to cutting and loading canes. He and his wife have 10 children and one of them is married to Danilo.
Most of the 115 families in the hacienda still depend on work in the sugarcane fields. But with plunging wages, it has largely remained a remedyo heneral affair.
The milling season brings a windfall, in relative terms, for the workers.
“They can earn around P1,000 a week if the work is good,” Danilo says in the vernacular. After work, the tapaseros and kargadors would usually gather at Danilo’s sari-sari store and shoot hoops at the dusty basketball court and have a lapad or two of rum at Danilo’s sari-sari store.
Things get bad during the off-season. Tay Jaime says earning as much as P500 is already good, “mas mayo na lang na sang sa wala (it’s better than nothing at all),” he says.
And this is why having farm lots can help a lot, Danilo explains because they can plant rice, bananas, cassava and other crops that would stave off hunger when hacienda operations slow down. But some of the farmlots have already been bulldozed, taking away a direct source of food for them. Some have been given back, however, after the farmers complained.
“They say this is a food security program but they have taken away our food,” Danilo says.
In the meantime, the Negros First Ranch is being prepared for the arrival of the animals. Napier grass is being planted and livestock shelters are being built. Soon, meat will be affordable for all, including Tay Jaime and Danilo and the sugarworkers of Hacienda Ilimnan. But that is presuming they earn enough.
This is the promise of development.