This is the rice field in Santa Maria, Laguna where we used to play while the whole community joyfully plant rice in the rainy season or harvest during summer.
Though my parents did not have the privilege of doing rice farming, my uncles and aunts allowed me to go with them primarily to play with my cousins.
Rice farming used to be a community hardwork-and-fun activity. It is even celebrated through one of our most popular folk songs:
MAGTANIM AY ‘DI BIRO
Traditional Filipino folksong
PLANTING RICE IS NOT A JOKE
English translation by Roberto Verzola
Refrain:Halina, halina, mga kaliyag,
Magpanibago tayo ng lakas,
para sa araw ng bukas.
Magtanim ay di biro;
Di naman makatayo;
di naman makaupo.
Bisig ko’y namamanhid;
baywang ko’y nangangawit.
Binti ko’y namimintig,
sa pagkababad sa tubig.
Sa umaga pagkagising,
lahat ay iisipin.
Kung saan may patanim,
may masarap na pagkain.
ng inianak sa hirap.
Ang bisig kung di iunat,
di kumita ng pilak.
Refrain:Come, dear fellow stewards of the earth,
stretching muscles is good for the health.
Let us pause so we can catch our breath,
and then tomorrow back to work!
Planting rice is not a joke;
the whole day you’re bent like an ox.
You cannot stand more than one bit;
till you’re done you cannot sit.
Oh, my arms, the feeling’s gone;
and my waist, its tired and sore.
My legs feel a thousand pricks,
soaked in water, six to six.
Mornings when I wake and rise;
I tell myself to think, be wise
and pray to find some land to till,
so I can have a tasty meal.
What a cruel destiny
to be born in poverty
If I don’t work with my two arms,
I won’t earn a single dime.
My happy rice field memories include community singing; eating ‘maluto’ (rice lunch and fried fish or eggs wrapped in banana leaf) together with my cousins and playmates; our older sisters and brothers tease each other regarding their crush and love life; parents verbally wishing and praying for good harvest to send their children to colleges and universities in Manila.
I also remember hearing sad news while in these rice fields: death of a loved-one due to health reasons; a man’s head was almost chopped off by an enemy armed with ‘itak’ (our local machete); a child drowned in our local river while swimming.
The brown area in these rice paddies have been neglected. Either because the absentee land owners do not consider their farm a priority means of livelihood; or, perhaps the owner-farmers or the share-croppers got financially bankrupt.
Today, rice farmers–along with many agricultural heroes in the Philippines–are losing their lands and their livelihood due to the cheaper rice available on the market partly, if not mostly, due to rice smuggling by many corrupt political families and crony capitalists who are also involved in rice and other basic commodity importation. Crony capitalism is still rampant under the current administration, exacerbated by patronage politics. We need to affirm our food-producing heroes by dismantling crony capitalism and patronage politics.
Many of my childhood classmates are scattered around the world as career professionals. Most of these Filipinos working abroad are my heroes–they infuse so much cash into our country, keeping our families and national economy afloat. And yet, these modern Filipino heroes, who serve as world-class workers and professionals in many countries, are mostly neglected by our government. We need to affirm our cash-producing heroes around the world by building a strong economy that would attract them back home because of global quality employment, that can support their respective families, and that would allow them to enjoy the presence of their loved-ones in their homes.
These positive changes will only happen by dismantling graft and corruption, by establishing a more transparent system of governance, by establishing long-term and comprehensive economic development strategies that has three-fold bottom lines–people, planet, and profit; and, by inviting more investors in our country in accordance with our three-fold bottom lines.
This is radical change!
This is done through active non-violence.
This is possible!
We need a radical, non-violent transformation in our country!