[OPINION] When a farmer asks for seeds instead of noche buena

 A FARMER'S EYES. Alberto Ricoperto is one of many Filipino farmers who cannot afford basic medical care. Photo c/o author

A FARMER'S EYES. Alberto Ricoperto is one of many Filipino farmers who cannot afford basic medical care.

Photo c/o author

The old man’s face was a picture of defeat.

Someone who produces food should never know hunger, but how does one feed a family when one earns so little? Accept government doleouts? Take out a loan? Would you even consider selling your land when your soul has always been bonded to it?

I had this farmer’s plight in mind when I agreed to spearhead Team Pilipinas' “Maagang Pamasko Para Sa Magsasakang Pilipino” project. Our goal was simple: to provide noche buena packages for a hundred families of farmers from Talavera, Nueva Ecija. (READ: Wanted: Younger farmers in PH)

Shortly after we had arrived at this decision, however, disaster struck. Cotabato was hit by a devastating earthquake. As an Angat Buhay partner, we were asked to raise funds for Cotabato.

Team Pilipinas had to make a difficult decision right away: our small team would be hard-pressed to take on two fundraising events at the same time. Do we choose one over the other, or do we dare hope we could successfully pull off two simultaneous fundraisers?

I closed my eyes, and in my mind, I could hear Fr. Manoling’s song, "Hindi Kita Malilimutan."

Amazing how the Undas theme song clinched the decision for me. That, and the farmer's eyes.

Last November 16, I invited friends to a small gathering in UP.  Those who could sing, sang. Those who could donate, donated. We were able to raise a modest amount, and we excitedly planned on what to include in our noche buena baskets. (READ: A Filipino farmer's plea: 'Support us, love us')

A few weeks ago, I chatted with Jette, a farmer's daughter, to get her suggestions for the baskets.

Her immediate answer: organic fertilizer and seeds. Then, apparently sensing that my intention was for noche buena, she added spaghetti and fruit salad.

And a bag of rice. A warm blanket. A raincoat.

It was a strange mix. Fertilizer and seeds? And why would a rice farmer ask for a bag of rice? I opted for what appealed to me: food and a warm blanket.

We managed to raise the funds. I liked the fruit salad recipe. The blankets were gorgeous. I was happy.

Team Pilipinas then sent its advance party to Talavera. We needed to coordinate with the mayor regarding the recipients and the venue for the turnover. We also decided to source our groceries from the local Waltermart to minimize trucking expenses.

Lorelei, a colleague from Team Pilipinas, also got to talk to some of the farmers. 

One of the farmers, Alberto Ricoperto, recently had a mild stroke and should be going to therapy. He is yet to visit a therapist, however. Asked why, he sadly replied, “Mahirap pong pumunta sa clinic nang walang laman ang aking bulsa. Isa pa, mas kailangan namin ang pera para sa bukid. Diyan po kami nabubuhay.” 

(It's hard to go to the clinic with nothing in my pocket. Plus, we need the money for the farmland more. That's how we make a living.) 

When Lorelei asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he didn't ask for help with his medical expenses. He didn't even ask for noche buena, or for a blanket.

Binhi (seeds). What he wanted was binhi. A means for him to start working honorably, for him to get his life and dignity back. (READ: What if our farmers give up on us?)

Weeks ago, Jette had said practically the same thing: they needed fertilizer and seeds. How could that have escaped me?

Mea culpa. I should have listened more. I should have listened better.

Our group of volunteers will be in Talavera on December 14. Initially, it was just to turn over the noche buena baskets to the farmers. But when the gracious town mayor, Nerivi Martinez, learned of our plan, she volunteered to arrange for a venue, food, and raffle prizes. Waltermart Talavera, upon learning that the groceries we ordered from them were for the farmers, also asked us to submit a letter requesting for holiday hams. More donations came in so we decided to include packs of rice, canned goods, and bags of organic fertilizer to the growing list of items that we will give to our embattled farmers. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Plummeting rice prices: How will our rice farmers cope?)

If only we had enough time, we could have also invited some doctors and asked for medicine donations for farmers like Mang Alberto, who do not have the means to seek medical help. 

For those of you who would like to be part of this humble initiative for our farmers, we still accept donations. You may deposit to Team Pilipinas’ GavaGives account or BPI bank account (account name: KN Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, Inc.; account number: 3081-1173-72).

Let me end this with a simple quote: “If you were able to eat today, there’s a farmer you need to thank.” – Rappler.com

Inday Echevarria, 57, is an Engineering graduate from UP, and a retired pianist. She believes that all Filipinos should be involved both in nation building and in fighting abuses. She is an active member of Team Pilipinas.