So you’ve just sat down at your table—at home, in a restaurant, on your desk at work—with some glorious food in front of you. Pause, but don’t whip out your smartphone to take a picture of what you are about to eat. Just stop to think about the nameless faces who somehow had a hand in making that meal possible: be led to the person who planted, nurtured and harvested it.
Think of all of the farmers of this country, and know that their average age is 57.
Imagine these same people having nothing to eat, because their income is so low, because they don’t even own the land they toil on, because El Niño is bearing down hard on their fields, and because their government is not doing enough to make life better or at least bearable for them even as they feed more than a hundred million people with their bare hands.
Remember the heart-wrenching tragedy of Kidapawan, on the first day of this month, and the irony that those who produce food were asking for some rice to arrest their families’ hunger. Feel rage at how they were dispersed because they were blocking the road, and how a number of them were killed even as they were on their knees, begging for their life.
In elementary school, we were taught that “farmer” and “fisherman” were among two of the most common jobs of Filipinos. As we grew older, we were bombarded with the message that we should all strive to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen and some other prestigious career. How many children actually say “I want to be a farmer!” or “I want to be a fisherman!” when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up?
“My father was a farmer and he did not want me to follow his footsteps,” said Mark Penalver from Davao. The same attitude is shared by numerous farmers who dream of a “better life” for their children, whom they hope would go to the city or go abroad, take on white-collar jobs and earn more money.
“We have observed many farmers in the course of our focus group discussions around the country,” added 26-year-old Paolo Martin Saberon, who is a grassroots development worker based in Cebu. “They are the ones who are quiet and passive. They tend to not be assertive.”
Mark and Paolo are just two or more than 2,000 #IAmHampaslupa volunteers for Greenpeace, advocating nutrition and food security through ecological agriculture. Ecological agriculture, explains Ryan Bestre, another volunteer, is different from traditional farming that yields a single crop type, uses pesticides. It is taking into consideration the soil, the environment, and the long-term consequences of one’s farming methods. It is giving farmers their due, paying them—not the middlemen who take advantage of their position—their due.
Mostly, however, the volunteers want to focus on changing people’s mindset—how we regard farmers, how farmers regard themselves. Farmers’ plight is an election issue, because the Philippines is an agricultural country and bulk of the workforce is in agriculture or related sectors. Unfortunately, according to 27-year-old Marvin Almonte, none of the candidates have yet to express a meaningful and substantive plan except to stress the need for food security— something we all already quite know.
Even their statements in the aftermath of Kidapawan have been calculated, and meant to just ride on the emotional issue without being concrete or committal.
The last presidential debate scheduled for today has been planned around certain topics, and given the recent controversies and the actual proximity of the polls, the plight of the farmers may be relegated to the background. Again. As always.
Then again, the issues will fester long after the votes have been cast and the winners proclaimed. What is being done for the farmers so that they get the life they deserve, so that they and their children take pride in their work? The four young men swear they will remain watchful and engage with whomever will win.
The volunteers remember the day they were registering their campaign with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Are you sure this is what you want to call yourselves?” the frontliner asked. “It’s inappropriate.”
They assured her they have thought the matter over, and that “hampaslupa” is the exactly the term they want to be known for. The term of course is not to be construed in the teleserye sense, where a haciendera mother looks down on her daughter’s farmer-suitor. Hampaslupa means, literally, beating the earth for food to feed the rest of us—and what is to be ashamed about in that backbreaking, noble work?