HDA. DAMA, La Castellana, Negros Occidental, Philippines – Lilibeth Suan cried more than three years ago during her first interview with this reporter.
She cried recounting her frustrated dream to become a school teacher.
“I wanted to become a teacher so I can teach others,” she said in that first interview.
She never spent even a month. Not even a day in college. During her teen years, her family were mere laborers in this vast sugarcane plantation owned by a Chinese planter-businessman after which it was named.
“My parents simply cannot afford to send me to college,” she said as she started to cry, eventually breaking down to the point that she found it hard to speak.
Fast forward to two weeks ago, 2021, we found Lilibeth in the middle of a sugarcane field – Numero Siete (Number 7) – supervising the week’s first harvest.
She was this year’s production supervisor, a task that seemed daunting at first for her.
After all, she grew up as a simple farmhand.
Ask Lilibeth about the work she went through from pamatdan (cutting of canepoints) to panghilamon (weeding) to pang abono (fertilizing) to panapas (cutting) and she had done it all.
Including the tapas or the cutting of canes that is the most difficult and backbreaking (literally work) in the field.
“The problem are the rains,” she said when asked about this year’s harvest.
Changing weather patterns bring the rains early during the last quarter of the year when the harvest usually starts.
Rains, Lilibeth pointed out bring down the sugar (usually measured in Brix percentage) and less sugar means less profit for the cooperative.
Add to that, she said, the rising costs of fertilizers, a prime input in sugarcane production, and essential goods and the difficulties more than doubled compared to pre-pandemic days.
“Each family should prepare, every member should prepare, they could start with having a routine,” Daniel Diamante or Tay Daniel says to this reporter as he sat in one of the huts inside the Estaca, the coffeeshop owned by their cooperative.
Tay Daniel (‘tay is short for “tatay” or father in Hiligaynon, a title of respect for an elder) said failing to observe a routine like eating at the right time or sleeping at the right time can affect one’s health that makes one vulnerable to COVID19.
Tay Daniel is chairman of the Dama Farmworkers and Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association (DAFWARBA) whose 27 members now own 78 hectares of the land once owned by a Chinese businessman.
It is described as a workers-run and workers-managed hacienda that is assisted by the Altertrade Philippines Foundation for Food Sovereignty Inc. that helps it look for markets and grants abroad and also provides technical assistance like skills training.
To better understand how this workers’s farm has grown, it is important to look at its genesis briefly.
It started as a union 18 years ago that fought for better wages and benefits but when the opportunity came for members to become agrarian reform beneficiaries…
Know more tonight as Julius Mariveles: On Assignment premieres 7:30pm, 19 November 2021 on the DNX Facebook page.