Agri-scam versus agro-dev
For me, among the shockers related to the multibillion-peso scam and plunder that involved the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund, often referred to as pork barrel, is the fact that most of the conduits used were fake or ghost nongovernment organizations that had agriculture and farmers—poor farmers, if I may stress—as the supposed beneficiaries. “Soft” projects, the conduits of these PDAF allocations are called, with the poor food growers as the end-beneficiaries, and us, too, whom they feed. It is the “soft” that the plunderers have discovered to be where the billions are.
This time it is not the soft but the “hard” ones, such as massive infrastructure projects—although they are also a great source—because these are easily seen, touched and used, never mind if overpriced, of substandard quality, or dangerous to life and limb. I remember interviewing years ago a “highwayman” who spoke about—confessed, that is—how money could be had in these hard projects.
But since the so-called fertilizer scam broke some years ago (with no one yet tarred, feathered and marched around the Quezon City circle where several agriculture-related government agencies are), we now keep waking up to the bad news that it is the farmers—ironically among the hungry in this country—that have been used and abused by the shameless senators, congressmen and their partners in the crime that cries to the heavens for the severest punishment.
“We went home with just a bag of worms” was what one farmer said of his take-home starter vermiculture bag that was supposed to be among the benefits from a PDAF-assisted “NGO” project. I have nothing against worms. I am an urban, weekend backyard gardener and I can hold a fat earthworm in my hand.
But that take-home bag that a farmer despairingly, if not sarcastically, spoke about all but made me puke and scan the pages of Jeremiah to justify the rage I felt for those who have waylaid billions of pesos and stuffed them into their pockets. “Therefore lions from the forest slay them, wolves of the desert ravage them, leopards keep watch round their cities: all who come out are torn to pieces for their many crimes…” Yea, a bag of worms for the farmer, while a plunderer struts about with a signature bag that costs more than a farmer’s two-year income.
I say to them: How dare you make fools of the people who put food on our tables, how dare you treat them like the scum of the earth that you are. I say again: No mercy.
Suddenly I call to mind Edwin Markham’s 1899 poem “The Man with a Hoe,” which we were made to recite in class. Yes, I can still recite the first four lines of this first stanza: “Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans/Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,/The emptiness of ages in his face,/And on his back, the burden of the world./Who made him dead to rapture and despair,/A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,/Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?/Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?/Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?/Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?”
The poem that was inspired by a French painting is still so true more than a century later. Am I digressing?
The so-called soft projects are best for the milking because they biodegrade. Fertilizers, real or not, get absorbed into the earth or into the schemers’ pockets with few traces. If at all, there might be a few miserable token sacks and piles of fake receipts from ghost suppliers. I remember what a farmer once said of his state of penury: “Hindi na kami magsasaka kundi magsasako.” Though his hopes were slowly dying, at least his sense of humor and irony was not. I still remember when and where I first heard that and not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Well, the whole auditorium roared with laughter and rage.
On this same page is a social enterprise with an agro-development project that is beneficial to farms and homes. I don’t promote commercial products in what I write but this one is not commercial but about helping communities.
Yes, there are NGOs and social enterprises that choose to remain faithful to the communities they care for. One example would be the much-awarded builder of homes and communities, Gawad Kalinga (GK), some of whose farmer-beneficiaries are into citronella production. Human Nature, a GK offshoot founded by Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto (daughters of GK founder Tony Meloto), has produced 100-percent-natural bug shield oil and lotion which have citronella oil. All the profits—100 percent—from the oil and lotion will fund the development of two promising citronella farming communities in Bukidnon.
Human Nature claims to be the Philippines’ largest brand of genuinely natural personal care, cosmetics and home care products. Operating as a social enterprise, Human Nature takes pride in being driven by the “core philosophies of being pro-Philippines, pro-poor and pro-environment.”
Early this month, Human Nature, GK and the office of the Quezon City mayor launched the pilot run of a dengue prevention and awareness program in several sites.
Such a small noble effort when put beside the massive corruption and misuse of funds meant for the poor. But a small good spark will not easily die. It will become a raging flame that will light up lives and burn on till the last vestiges of evil will be laid waste and turned into ashes.
During these days of dark discoveries with the overwhelming stench of the rotting, we need to be inspired. A whiff of fragrant citronella can be refreshing.
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