We weep as we reap
We all fell silent. Not our usual meal.
I was skipping my month-long dirty keto diet (less carbohydrates, less sugar) since I was in Nueva Ecija. We were having adobong sitaw, deep fried gurami and ginataang susô for breakfast. It’s the kind of meal best served with rice.
My sister, who’s currently taking up agribusiness, blurted out a secret. My parents’ secret: We lost our 1,200-square-meter rice field. Papa inherited this lot, along with the property where our house stands, from his late father. But they had to use the land to pay our debts — our debts that are now four times more than the original loan.
It was dayatan season in 2015. Months after my graduation, I was teaching at a private college in Cabanatuan City, which is an hour away from our town, Quezon. I needed a laptop at the time. We applied for home credit, but to my dismay, it was denied. We probably failed in the customer intelligence process because we didn’t have much property as collateral.
We only had the 1,200-sqm rice field, and my father was paying monthly dues for his loaned tricycle. We are a family of five, and I was earning only P10,300 a month. We had no choice. Mama asked me to join her in borrowing money from one of the loan sharks in our barangay, known as “Tita Flora.”
Our barangay’s loan sharks are all women; they’re rich, and have big houses filled with expensive furniture. In a farming community, people only have their rice field as source of income, and many are forced to use it as loan collateral. Eventually, it will be taken away from them due to rising debts.
When we reached Tita Flora’s house, they were still having breakfast. She scooped rice and put fried tilapia on the plates of her two young daughters while she carried her little son on her lap. We were asked to stay in the sala while the smell of their food knocked on my stomach. We hadn’t had breakfast yet.
She packed lunch for her husband, then prepared milk for her little son before putting him in a nearby crib.
“How much do you need again?” she asked my mother, as she pulled her messy hair into a pigtail. She was wearing a slightly worn-out duster.
We needed P20,000. The netbook we were looking to buy was P13,000, and we also needed money for the second cropping. Here’s how much a typical farmer needs for a 1,200-square-meter lot: P1,200 (binhi), P1,000 (upang tanim), P800 (upang araro), P2,000 (pataba), P500 (spray), P500 (upang bunot), P200 (pamiryenda), P500 (sibar at duket). Total: P6,700.
“Bente mil sana,” Mama said, almost choking as she enumerated the expenses, her eyes looking down at the tiled floor. “You should have gone here earlier, you know Ate Aileen, it’s dayatan,” said Tita Flora.
She meant that many people had already borrowed money, and she only had P18,000 at that time. The rule in our barangay is: Every loan will grow 30 percent after every harvest season. If we failed to pay the P18,000 loan for at least one harvest season, that would rise to P23,400, and we would have to pay P30,420 for the second harvest season.
Tumutubo ang tubo, as they put it.
We were able to buy the netbook, but soon after, I left the teaching job, transferred to Pampanga and worked there for more than three years, and then left again for better opportunities. I now work in a government office in Quezon City. I send money to my family twice a month, every cut-off. Some of that money probably go to the interest of the loan we made almost eight years ago. But there are other things, too — basic necessities like food and clothing.
Mama and Papa refuse to tell me how much we owe Tita Flora today. My guess is that it’s become four times larger than the original loan, since we had to let them take our rice field for at least two years, for P150,000. They said some of the money was used to pay our other debts. We must have missed some payments, the interest growing as we incurred other expenses like my siblings’ tuition.
I have two years to save our rice field.
When it was time to go back to Manila, Mama asked me if I wanted to take home some rice, from the last five sacks they had kept from our last harvest. I gently shook my head and even tried to smile.
I’ll stick to my dirty keto diet for now.
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Andyleen C. Feje, 25, is a farmer’s daughter from Nueva Ecija.
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