Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Farmer as Auditor

(published 22 December 2014, MST)

Sitting against a backdrop of colorful “banderitas” on the walls of a conference room of the Puerto Princesa city hall, 51-year-old Danilo Java feels a mixture of dread and anticipation.
In a few hours, he will be afffixing his signature on the Memorandum of Agreement between his organization —Maliliit na Magsaska sa Canduyog Multi-Purpose Cooperative—and the Commission on Audit.
“Wala nang atrasan ito (there is no turning back now),” he says with half a smile.
Java’s group and several other farmers’ organizations across Palawan province have agreed to take part in the Citizen Participatory Audit, a project of the Commission on Audit, the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific and funded by Australian Aid.  Under CPA, representatives of civil society organizations and state auditors will comprise a team to audit various government projects.
Phase 2 of CPA kicks off with an audit of farm-to-market roads in various municipalities in Palawan.
Mang Danny hails from Barangay Abungan in Taytay town, in the northern part of the island. He tends to a one-hectare farm that produces rice as well as coconuts and mangoes. He was born into farming —his parents and just about everybody he knew were farmers. He is thus aware of the vulnerabilities faced by small farmers like himself.
He remembers the devastation his farm suffered recently when typhoon Queenie struck. “Pagdating ng anihan, saka dumating ang bagyo. Kahit gaano kaganda ang ani, nasasayang ito (the storms come just when you’re ready to harvest. However good your harvest is, it comes down to nothing).”
Then again, even in better times, farmers in his area have difficulty converting their produce to cash. This is why farm-to-market roads are important to Mang Danny and his group.
Taytay is in dire need of such a road; there are very few roads to enable them to sell what they harvest.  For example, there is a river that must be crossed. Even if you had some harvest to sell, if you cannot cross the river, all your hard work will be put to waste.
The small farmers’ lot, he says, is also worse than that of bigger players. The bigger ones have post-harvest facilities —freezers, dryers and other equipment to help them preserve their materials given the constraints they have to face.
Mang Danny is president of the cooperative registered in 2007.  They currently have 28 members. He says they screen applicants carefully because they want to make sure they don’t come in just to take out loans. “Dapat makikiisa, hindi lang basta mangungutang,” he says.
Despite their farming struggles, members of the cooperative seek to protect the environment, pecifically the watershed.  They have several tree-planting activities and are also beginning to learn more about organic farming.
* * *
Mang Danny traveled three hours from Taytay to Puerto Princesa and decided to leave his farm unattended for three days for the CPA event. It was not just a MOA signing, after all. What transpired was an orientation on social accountability, the CPA, the COA, highlights of farm-to-market road audits and geotagging—a tech-based tool using freely downloadable applications to determine coordinates and ensure that projects are physically where are how they are supposed to be. A procurement and geotagging specialist from the World Bank conducted the seminar.
At his age, and with his limited access to tech-enabled mobile phones, Mang Danny could only remark that the CPA, aside from being added work, looks like difficult work.
He also acknowledges that he and his team may find themselves clashing with some groups—“baka may makabangga nang hindi inaasahan.”
Then again, he does not mind. “Ok lang. Maraming dapat matutunan at marami pang kailangang gawin (There is a lot to learn and a lot to be done).”
As a small farmer, Mang Danny is aware that he is a direct beneficiary of quality farm to market roads built by the government. “Maraming dapat bantayan. Baka kung minsan ang semento ay nagiging manok (there are a lot of things to be vigilant about. For all we know, money for cement could be used to buy chickens).”
During the training, Mang Danny realized that citizens need not be passive. “Maraming nangyayari kung ang mamamamayan ay nagpapabaya (many things happen when citizens don’t pay attention.)”
“Kahit mahirap ako, at kahit mahirap ang gagawin, sasali ako dahil gusto kong makatulong bilang mamamayan (Though I’m poor, and this looks difficult, I will join because I want to be able to help as a citizen).” 
His observation of his fellow participants—other farmers, students and professors—is that they are as eager as he is about their new learning and about their participation in such good governance initiatives. His only concern is that the enthusiasm may wane over time if there is not enough follow through.
“Kaming magsasaka, di man kami hi-tech, makakatulong kami dahil alam nain kung sino ang mga dapat bantayan at kung saan (we farmers may not be as tech-savvy, but we can help by pointing out who and what to watch out for during the audit).”
And as he sat at the long table signing the papers with the other representatives, Mang Danny looked more determined and more convinced than he did at the beginning.

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