Pan-Panay trip in 2 days
ANTIQUE, AKLAN BIYAHENG BUKID
MAKES FARMERS, FISHERFOLKS CRY
By Manny Piñol
It has been a long time since I last saw a man cry unabashedly in public.
But yesterday, in full view of over a thousand farmers, fisher folks and local officials, a municipal agriculturist in Antique who asked for irrigation water for the rice farmers in his town, wiped his tears when I told him that President Rody Duterte will deliver the irrigation system that the town of Sibalom needs.
It was the first time the farmers and fisher folks said that they heard a definitive answer for their problems of ages from a government which conducts a nation-wide consultation and forum.
I agreed with their observation because as a former local official myself, I had witnessed in the past how national officials would visit the countryside and make promises which were never fulfilled.
I was aggressive with my commitments in both Antique and Aklan yesterday, the first leg of my two-day Pan-Panay sortie of the Biyaheng Bukid, a nation-wide journey which I started even before I assumed office on June 30 to listen to the voices of the farmers and the fisher folks, the poorest sectors in the country.
Backed up by a commitment of budgetary support by Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the Finance Committee of the Senate, who is from Antique, I committed to the farmers of San Remigio town, the poorest town in Antique for the construction of 68 kilometres of farm to market roads connecting food production areas to the market.
Farmers in many villages in San Remigio, carry their products on their backs to the market because of the absence of farm to market roads.
Each of the 15 coastal towns of Antique will also receive one Fiberglass Patrol Boats each to strengthen their campaign against illegal fishing.
The town of Libertad will also receive an ice plant to support their sustainable fishing industry.
While a woman-farmer who complained that snails were gobbling up the vegetables planted by farmers like her in a village in Culasi, was promised that technicians from the Regional Crop Protection Center would visit her village.
In Aklan, a relatively progressive province because of its vibrant tourism industry where tourists from all over the world are drawn by the while beaches of Boracay Island, the problems were less challenging.
In fact, I had a big laugh during the open forum when a farmer whose group plants corn in a 15-hectare area asked for a "corn planter."
When I told him that it was not viable for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to give his group a P3.5-M corn planter, Region VI director Remelyn Recoter clarified that the farmer was just actually asking for a handheld corn planter.
Only two villages in Aklan had poverty incidence of over 30%, which is still relatively lower compared to many provinces in the whole country, and these are Balete and Madalag.
The farmers' problems in Balete and Madalag were just farm to market roads and equipment for farming which I found very easy to respond to.
The most exciting issue that was brought up before me yesterday actually was the Piña fiber industry which Aklan is famous for.
India dela Cruz, the acknowledged leader of the industry in Aklan said they needed support to plant more of the pineapple variety Red Spanish.
She also said that the Piña industry is also affected by the 4Ps program of the government where most poor families would prefer to just stay in their homes because of the periodic financial dole-outs was given by the government.
"Government must review this program. Is it really helping the poor or is it just making the poor dependent on dole-outs?" she asked.
This was the same feedback I received in other agricultural areas of the country where farmers are complaining that there are very few farm workers now because of the 4Ps program.
These are the things I discover as I move around the country.
The problems are varied. Some could be easily addressed and others would need institutional reforms.
The greatest joy I get from Biyaheng Bukid, however, is the sight of farmers and fisher folks enthusiastically sharing what it is that they would like to have in life and what they expect from government.
For me, this is a testimony that people are slowly trusting their government again and they feel more confident that government will respond to their problems.
Today, I will proceed to Capiz and Iloilo before I prepare for a week-long trip with President Duterte to Myanmar and Thailand for his Presidential Visit.
#Changeishere! #PresRodyCares! #DuterteDelivers!
(Photos of the activities in Antique and Aklan taken by Dianne Faith Garcia.)