A couple of weekends ago I visited him in Bukidnon. Now slightly bent in his 68 yr-old farmer’s gait, he showed me a new bamboo-slat barn he was making. He would store his newly harvested corn on one end; and some chickens on the other. It is not unusual for me to see unmilled corn (in cobs, and sometimes with husks) in any corner of the house – – even the sala, and bedrooms, mind you – – and of course above the wood-fueled stove.
“How do you manage the weevils?” I ask.
His reply: “The weevils can't consume everything.” Ah ok. (I remember someone told me that Ilocano neighbors were spraying something like water steeped in tobacco leaves around their kamalig or barn. I suppose this was to minimize insects).
Knowing how high rice prices had become, Tatay let me bring home one sack of yellow corn grits; but I can only manage transporting 25 kilograms 220 kilometers back to Cotabato City. Why, some markets here already sell corn grits at P28! This would surely last for a month with my family of 5.
Tatay’s corn-eating lifestyle comes from his Sugbu-anon (Cebuano) roots. He looked for greener pastures in Mindanao in the 1950s because the limestone soil in Cebu was difficult to till only corn would grow, and sparsely at that. He relates further that they were so poor that having chicken or beef was already a luxury. He said, “Bukidnon soil will grow anything if you just plant something on it. I wanted to eat chicken, so I raised chickens. I wanted to eat beef, so I raised cows.” And so on and so forth.
He tells us, "Pobre ta pero wa ta maglisod" (we are poor but we are not hard-up). It wasn’t easy sending all of us seven children to school, but his concept of being hard up is when “wa na juy lung-agon (when you do not have anything more to cook).”
According to him, his folks always said that "Kinahanglan mag-abot ang imong abot". The first 'abot' – accent on the first syllable, meaning meet; the second 'abot' – accent on the second syllable, meaning harvest. Roughly translated, it means “Your harvests should meet.”
In the early 1970s, Tatay stacked up 80 sacks of palay, unmilled upland rice (dinorado) to see how long it would last considering it was sun-dried properly. But the long dry spell hit Mindanao (El Nino wasn’t the name then) he had no choice but to mill his palay. While the rest of our neighbors grudgingly had corn, we had rice. Sometimes we exchanged the rice for the neighbors’ corn. This was the time when I also learned that the volume of the boiled rice (or corn) could be expanded by adding cubes of camote (sweet potatoes) or unripe saba bananas which I think is called “sinaksak”. Up to today, he also stacks up on palay, just enough when he needs it, with all of his children already grown up and on their own.
Tatay tried modernizing, too: mono-crops, chemical fertilizers, test tube planting materials, hybrid seeds. He also wanted to test the claims of science and technology and huge profits versus time-honored wisdom. But it seems he was always disappointed every time. With the lure of huge loans, his fellow farmers become more debt-ridden than ever. Was it because the loan for the yellow corn became a yellow car? Seeds and other agricultural inputs grew mansions? The sugar industry raised a whole structure of oppression? Agents and middlemen shaved commissions from agricultural inputs one layer after the other? Behind the commercial chicken- and swine- feeds were hormones that created disease-prone offspring? Behind the animal dispersals were ghost recipients?
As Tatay put it, “Let the others loan as much as they want. I’m happy. Wala ko’y utang (I’m not in debt).” But he has corn anytime he likes. All the vegetables he loves are just growing around his house: bamboo shoots, malunggay leaves, kulitis (spinach), saluyot (Philippine spinach), kudyapa (wild spinach).
Bottom line: Investing so much for nothing. Why bother with self-induced stress? Tatay seems happy with his plow and the smell of the freshly upturned earth; even plowing at 3am when the moon is shining (“I could rest at 8am when the sun gets hot”).
As one observer put it, “The Filipinos are always in a hurry but are always late.” With the country’s present rice crisis and chronic indebtedness, modern technology and modern financing schemes may have to take a back seat for now because the value of building on what we have has already been forgotten. As a nation we have become culturally unstable to handle resources that are readily available from commercial companies (don’t forget the ‘multinational’ part. It seems we have changed its context to ‘investors’).
For us to claim to be an agri-based economy and people are hungry, it’s a shame. We don’t need elaborate, confusing, thus corruption-prone schemes. Our national dignity depends on food security down to the household level. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Aveen Acuña-Gulo wrote an editorial column “The Voice” for the Mindanao Cross from 1991-2006. She is not stating full names of people and institutions to protect their identities. “Don’t worry about my opinions,” she says. “It won’t make a dent to the conventional.”)