Estremera: Enabled

Stella A. Estremera

INSIDE a bamboo and thatch structure in sitio Upian, Marilog village in the hinterlands of Davao City is a lady and her assistants rolling and kneading dough for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the government's conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.

The woman, Fe Baco, a mother of nine, said the bread they are able to make everyday are consumed by the community. Very little is ever left over, she said. Business is good.

After long years that 4Ps was implemented, starting with just 3Ps during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's time, which President Benigno Aquino III renamed as 4Ps just because, the amount was just given out, amid denials that is was a dole-out.

Just as loud were denials that these were used as a political tool to win votes, especially by the last-ditch effort of the Liberal party to make candidate Manuel Roxas win.

The recipients only knew it too well. No amount of denials by officials would make them believe that they were not being bribed.

After dawdling for so long, finally, the CCT program has its livelihood component, which even brought the trainers right in the village of the 4Ps beneficiaries. This was very much unlike the administration past where the beneficiaries have to walk for hours along with their very young children just to reach the highway to claim their allowances for the month.

Those 4Ps days in the past for the indigenous peoples were a scene out of some distant past where feudal lords whipped the “timawas,” except that the IPs are not “timawa” and it was already the post-modern age.

Manang Fe said there were around 25 of them who took the training, but the number who are participating in the bakery project already dwindled to around ten. But that's as expected. They were merely made as pawns for political designs for so long.

Made to smile with the politicians, made to campaign for politicians, made to vote for politicians, all for the pittance given them that most of the time are just the remnants of what has already been divided among the greedy in-betweeners. It will take some time before they will believe in the sincerity of it all.

We're just glad that it has already been started.

Starting much earlier than this were the various community-led economic development programs of Kinaiyahan Foundation Inc. in the Matigsalug villages, including Upian.

Starting out as an environmental awareness and conservation foundation, KFI soon realized that it is difficult to convince the hinterland residents not to cut trees and poach endangered species of flora and fauna if their stomachs are empty.

Thus, in 209, Kinaiyahan embarked on various community development projects that were aimed to enable the hinterland residents to earn more without having to resort to cutting trees and poaching.

Among these were the teaching of sloping agriculture land technology (Salt), a 30-year-old technology that was never even introduced to the indigenous peoples in the area, long after the forests where they got all their provisions have been denuded by logging companies from the 1960s to 1980s.

Like the bakery project, there were many who joined at first, but soon the numbers petered off, many losing interest because Salt and diversified farming methods take a lot of work at the start. But soon after, those who put up their model farms and kept at them were harvesting and earning more.

Among those who were harvesting different crops and fruits were the Tandangan brothers, Nilo and Rommel, who soon rose up their village's social structure as they were harvesting more and more, and not just rice and corn. Those who dropped out were again interested for they saw in the brothers the proof that diversified farming on sloping lands work.

That's how it is, especially when you are dealing with the poor who have for so long not just been neglected but also exploited. Having heard promises upon promises for so many lifetimes, and yet seeing no fulfillment of these promises, they have not just accepted their state of poverty, they have also become cynical of promises. They have to see it to believe.

But with small efforts now bearing fruits, and a government that is intent on empowering the poor, for the first time in so many lifetimes... there is hope.

While cynically, we can never underestimate the spunkiness of the poor as well, as they have to do a lot of things just to get by. Thus, they are quickly picking up and seeing the power in their hands to provide and provide well.