Plant, plant, plant
“Build, build, build” is the Duterte administration’s favorite apothegm, jingle, call to action, catchphrase, mantra, slogan, whatever. Pangsindak, to stun, to impress, to jerk.
It conjures up images of a gleaming horizon with skyscrapers soaring to the skies, winding roads and bridges slicing through cities and the countryside — a scenario meant to send the message to the world that the Philippines has arrived.
That, while the nation’s poor and not so poor are groaning under the weight of runaway prices of consumer goods, particularly the eatables that have become rare or unaffordable, like galunggong and rice that now have to be imported from neighboring Asian countries.
Yes, while local TV channels are duplicating each other with food and cooking shows that present hosts gorging on heaps of fatteners, leaving penny-pinching viewers salivating. Yum? Yuck! Yes, the poor who live under the bridge do watch TV, so go easy on the “mmmm.” That’s one off my chest.
Despite the hard times, we Filipinos do not easily lose our sense of humor. We resort to puns, jokes and sarcasm that defy translation. People now refer to galunggong, supposedly among the cheapest fish in the market and which our seas have plenty of, as balikbayan galunggong. Balikbayan because it is now being imported (formalin scare and all) from China, whose fishermen with giant fishing boats scare away our fishermen from Philippine fishing grounds and harvest the big catch. So balikbayan now also refers to the returning native (fish) — to borrow a Thomas Hardy title — and not only to Filipinos in the diaspora who find innovative ways to come home.
There was a time when Thai students came to study agriculture in Philippine colleges and universities. After graduating, they went home so learned in the ways of making the land productive. Look where they are now, and look where we are now.
As a poor Filipino peasant/farmer would deprecatingly quip: “Dati magsasaka ako, ngayon magsasako.” (I used to till the land, now I have empty sacks.) A seditious remark, if you ask me. Changing one vowel could spark a revolution in the countryside. Am I serious or am I serious?
Forget the “Planting rice is never fun” (Magtanim ay hindi biro) folk song that made rural lads shirk from backbreaking work in the fields. Science and technology have made rice production easier and profitable in rice-growing countries, but not hereabouts, where many of our food growers are still among the impoverished, still trapped in subsistence farming and mired in debts. Because neglected by their government.
In contrast, daring, educated farmer-entrepreneur wannabes armed with the latest environment-friendly ways of growing food are now romancing the land of their great-grandparents. I know a few who, like returning natives, have made the land yield flower and fruit, bringing surprises to the once-weary subsistence farmers around them. They are women mostly — Emma and Isyang in Quezon, Daisy in Isabela, Evelyn in Nueva Ecija, to name some. They could be in the forefront of so-called agritourism.
Rice importation, the Duterte government’s response to the rice crisis, is like spitting on the faces of our rice farmers. Amihan, a federation of women in agriculture, is calling on the government to instead strengthen local food production and attain food security and sufficiency through free land distribution and subsidies to farmers.
The farmers’ group Saka is also calling for the imposition of price controls. “The domestic rice industry is in shambles. And the Duterte regime’s response? Ruin it even further. The country’s Chief Executive has no shame in presenting himself as a comprador, abandoning local resources and the local market to be exploited by private profiteers and foreign opportunists… Authorities say importation is supposed to fill a gap—a gap that actually could have been filled by local food production had our farmers only been given the chance. But not only has importation failed to fill this gap, it has even widened it.”
Yes, why not “plant, plant, plant” to counter “build, build, build”? Trees are felled to give way to concrete; farmlands are turned into malls. What a blessing when our foreign sources run out of rice to export to us. On bended knees, we will be begging our farmers to plant, plant, plant.
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