In commemoration of International Women Human Rights Day (November 29), the 16-Day Campaign to End Violence against Women (IDEVAW) and International Human Rights Day (December 10), the Cordillera Women’s Education, Action Research Center (CWEARC) together with the Women Working for Justice and Peace (JAPNET) organized a tribute to women human rights defenders in the Cordillera on December 12, 2021. The tribute honored Women of Courage for their steadfast commitment for indigenous peoples’ rights, women’s rights and social justice in the region. The event especially paid tribute to pioneers and women elders of the women’s movement in the Cordillera, and their exemplary, undisputed services to the Cordillera peoples in their struggle towards self-determination and defense of their land, rights and resources. Dearly departed women of courage who, in their lifetime, offered their unwavering services to the cause of the Cordillera peoples were also remembered and honored.
May we be continue to draw strength and inspiration from their fortitude to withstand and overcome the challenges of the times!
The health crisis and imposition of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) unmasked not only the shortcomings in the Philippines’ health system but also exposed the urgency of addressing issues in food security.
The ECQ’s implementation displaced most low-income families from their livelihood and have no means to buy food, even those who were able to set aside a little and have minimal income face difficulty in procuring food supply. This already difficult plight is worsened by the rising costs of vegetables and other commodities, and the government’s limited and meager economic aid at this time.
As people continue to find ways to keep food on their tables, urban gardening initiatives have started to gain more traction. The national and local government have even started to revive old projects to strengthen individual efforts to grow vegetables in urban areas.
The Department of Agriculture came out with the Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS COVID-19), or the “Plant, Plant, Plant” program to provide “adequate, accessible and affordable food for every Filipino family.” ALPAS COVID-19 is the centerpiece project of the department “to ensure sustained food production and availability, food accessibility and affordability amidst the threats of COVID-19.” The DA asked for a PhP 31 billion supplemental fund for the project, which includes the revitalization of the urban agriculture and gulayan (vegetable garden) project.
In Baguio City, the City Veterinary and Agriculture Office (CVAO) also distributed vegetable seeds to individuals and barangays. The project, which commenced on March 24, aims to provide a ready supply of vegetables for households and barangays with open spaces or pots in the coming months. The office hopes to strengthen its urban backyard gardening program, which officials tried to institutionalize in 2017.
Meanwhile, in Purok 24 Barangay Irisan, Baguio City, members of Samahan ng Maralitang Kababaihang Nagkakaisa (Samakana) are reaping the benefits of their waste management and food security project that started in 2008.
Lifeline under lockdown
Using recycled plastic containers as pots, Agnes Gampol filled her backyard with vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, and flowers. At the moment, she has onion leeks, chives, chili, beans, and rosemary, among others. She has roses and alstroemeria. She even planted strawberries.
“The flowers are food for the eyes,” she said.
Agnes knits bonnets for a living. Her husband is a carpenter. The ECQ’s implementation in this pandemic affected their livelihood.
Her family is among the 45,000 low-income households in Baguio City that is now banking on government assistance to get through the pandemic. Without income and with the limited economic relief provided, her urban garden has become one of their lifelines.
She said having a backyard garden helps in ensuring food supply, which became more evident with the current situation.
According to her, the idea of developing a backyard garden came after they attended training on waste management through vermiculture (vermi) in 2013. Vermiculture is the process of decomposting organic materials using earthworms.
“After the training, I just tried vermi worms for fun and to see if it works. I started with four worms, and they multiplied fast, I have been giving away worms since then,” she recalled.
Agnes said her neighborhood was able to reach zero biodegradable waste at one time by raising vermi worms.
“This is still true in my household; my children are now conscious, they segregate the biodegradable,” she said.
Expanding the production
Besides having individual container gardens and backyard plots, members of Samakana also tilled vacant lots to increase their production. In Agnes’ community, she teamed up with some of her neighbors to cultivate an adjacent vacant lot.
Bernardita Espada, 54, is the primary overseer of the collective garden. Agnes and other members of their organization assist her. However, Bernardita, whom they call Manang Bining, takes the lead in maintaining and developing the garden.
“She was already planting some portions of the idle lot, so we asked her if we could join her and develop a wider portion for the neighborhood,” Agnes said.
The owner of the vacant lot allowed them to cultivate while it is idle. They use vermicast and compost to fertilize their crops and sunflower as a natural pesticide. The sunflower also serves as a fence to keep off dogs, cats, and chicken. Sunflower stalks grow into plants just as the vegetable seeds sprout.
Manang Bining explained that she only planted sayote, pineapple, and ginger this first quarter of 2020. According to her, the weather was not suitable for other vegetables.
“It has been frigid and dry since January, and we do not have a water source here in our neighborhood,” she added.
She recalled that in the past years, they were able to grow corn, beans, petchay, and sweet potatoes, among others. They rotate the crops depending on the weather. Around this time of the year, they usually plant petchay and beans. They can harvest the crops by June before the heavy rains come.
“But sayote is all year round because it is the most resilient among vegetables,” she said.
Apart from the seven households that cultivate the plots, the collective garden also provides for other community members. Some of their harvests even reach the public market.
Manang Bining also sells vegetables to her neighbors at a very affordable price. She said there were times that harvest was good; she sold some to the adjacent puroks. According to her, she can harvest as much as 25 bundles of sayote shoots a day during rainy days. The harvest drops to 10 bundles during summer. Her yield is enough to supply some market vendors. A bundle of sayote shoots weighs about a kilo and sells for P20-25 each. According to her, harvest this year is just enough for their consumption. Like Agnes, she said the backyard garden that they collectively till helps ease the limited income and food supply caused by the lockdown.
Harnessing indigenous knowledge
Long-time urban poor leader and Tontongan ti Umili chairperson Geraldine Cacho recalled that the project is among the programs of the Cordillera Women’s Education Action and Research Center (CWEARC). She is one of Agnes’ organic gardening buddies.
Aware of the daily challenge that women in urban poor communities face, the institution partnered with Samakana to address waste management and food security concerns.
The project’s overall purpose was “to enhance indigenous knowledge to support the economic survival of indigenous women in the urban setting.” The proponent integrated the concepts of ayyew (avoiding wastage) and ubbo (cooperation) as indigenous practices with organic farming and protection of the environment.
She said it started as a way to manage biodegradable waste at the household level. When their vermi fertilizer production began to gather momentum, they then started the food security and household nutrition component.
“Vermicast and vermicompost are the by-products of vermiculture; we used these to develop our organic backyard and common gardens,” she said.
According to her, other urban poor women in other areas have developed similar gardens after having vermiculture training. A similar collective garden was set up in Purok 14 also in Irisan; and also in barangays Ambiong, Gibraltar, and San Luis.
Not part of the development plan
Geraldine said that the COVID-19 crisis and ECQ highlighted the importance of urban gardening. She said that the CVAO and the DA initiatives to distribute seeds are welcome. However, she noted that the seed dispersal program in an urban setting could only succeed by assisting existing urban gardeners and intensive education campaigns.
She pointed out that local governments of highly urbanized areas, like Baguio, tend to ignore the significance of growing crops at the household and community level.
“Programs to ensure food security, especially in the urban setting, is often left out when officials plan for development. In Baguio, when we started the program, the city did not give much attention. Officials did not even entertain our call for the bottom-up approach on waste management,” she said.
According to her, the effort of Baguio in 2017 to identify agricultural barangays and promote urban gardening was a positive development. However, “the program focused mainly on promoting urban and organic gardening through competition.”
“Officials who took charge of the program failed to look at it as a strategic economic program for the thousands of low-income families in the city. Also, they did took it as an integral part of achieving zero organic waste,” she added.
Geraldine shared that among the challenges they are facing is water supply – the lack of it during summer and too much during the rainy season. Also, she said the limited space available for planting requires urban gardeners to find other ways to plant their crops, some of which requires added expenses.
“The city must assist us on these matters if it is planning to make its seed dispersal and urban gardening project. They (officials) can do more than just providing seeds like providing training on organic fertilizer. The city can also assist groups to negotiate with owners of idle lands to allow them to cultivate and develop a common garden,” she said.
“We hope that the city will look at the need to develop and assist individuals and groups practicing urban vegetable gardening in the city beyond the COVID-19 crisis,” she added.#
By KIMBERLIE QUITASOL
Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center, Inc. (CWEARC) denounces the red tagging and vilification of the Philippine National Police (PNP) through its Facebook pages “Pnp Rmfb Wolverines” and “Kapulisan ng Kalinga” on CWEARC’s campaign to support the frontliners in our country’s battle against the COVID-19 virus.
On March 31, 2020, both pages posted a publication material that blatantly red tagged CWEARC. PNP grabbed CWEARC’s #TieARedRibbon poster and accused the campaign as a deceptive strategy of organizations affiliated with terrorist groups to ask for donations that they claim will not reach the frontliners. In this manner, the PNP is identifying CWEARC as an affiliate organization of terrorist groups, specifically the CPP-NPA/NDF.
CWEARC is a grassroots-oriented, non-profit, non-government development organization that provides support to various Cordillera women’s formations, particularly indigenous women’s groups, in organizing, educating and providing direct social and economic support services. It was established on March 8, 1987 by indigenous peasant women, urban poor, workers, youth, professionals, and women from religious institutions. This year, it celebrates its 33 years of building the capacity of Cordillera women in upholding their rights and welfare.
17 days since President Rodrigo Duterte declared the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), public and private hospitals still struggle to provide extensive services to both patients and non-patients of COVID-19 and at the same time, provide sufficient supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their health workers and volunteers. With the lack of support for our health workers and volunteers, we have seen them face the COVID-19 battle unprotected and now, many of them have succumbed to the virus.
As a result, individuals and organizations all over the country launched the Tie A Red Ribbon campaign in support of COVID-19 frontliners and in recognition of the selflessness of those who have perished. CWEARC then published a poster on its Facebook page on March 26, 2020 to encourage everyone to join the campaign by tying a red ribbon outside their homes. The said post never asked for donations of any kind. Its only purpose is to boost our frontliners’ morale and to show them that we are one with them in demanding proper decisive government action to fight this pandemic.
CWEARC stresses that the campaign is a gesture to support our frontliners and it is not an act to aid terrorist groups. The posts of the PNP are highly deplorable! It tarnishes the purpose of the campaign and the organization, and has the malicious intent of vilifying CWEARC. When an individual or organization is vilified, they become open targets of various forms of human rights violat
ions. In this time of a global pandemic, the PNP still finds time to shamelessly vilify legitimate organizations that are initiating programs for the benefit of our country. For an institution that should “Serve and Protect” its constituents, instilling fear on organizations and the community is utterly irresponsible. Instead of wasting productive time, we call on them to redirect their indiscriminate red-tagging campaign resources to more appropriate actions in line with their mandate. Where is your solidarity with the frontliners of COVID-19?
CWEARC will not be daunted by the PNP’s baseless and malicious accusations. We will persist on raising our voices and forward the demands of the nation to directly address the current international health emergency. We will carry on to be in solidarity with variou
s networks in actively giving aid to indigenous communities and groups adversely affected by the current crisis in the Cordillera. In fact, CWEARC is exerting efforts presently to support our frontliners and vulnerable sectors, as many organizations and individuals are doing presently.
We give our highest salute to fallen health workers and volunteers. May you all rest in power. To our health workers and volunteers who continue to persist in this battle, we send our prayers.
Kasiyana, we shall overcome!
(A Keynote address delivered by Kathleen T. Okubo, member of CWEARC’s Board of Trustees, on the 37th biennial conference of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), November 9-11, 2017, in Quezon City. The theme of the 3-day conference: Broadcasting and Social Justice: Women in the Media on Conflict and Crises.)
Ladies, women of the world, colleagues in media work, and gentlemen; Naimbag a bigat yo amin! (Good morning! In my region of the Philippines.)
Apparently, we are here to confer about the world as women in the profession of broadcasting particularly, and as journalists sharing stories of news events, comments, opinion and analysis from our corners of the world to the world audience.
As women journalists in the task of informing, educating, entertaining, telling the truth to the public, is especially more highly expected of us, and if we make a mistake or fumble, the alleged delicate frailties of being women are put to blame. And, we do “hold-up-half-of-the-sky,” dont’t we? Also, as all people go through the daily pressures imposed by the present conditions of “globalization.” Also, all people – women, man and child, face the global effects and threats of “climate change”… yet we still are “just women” who also have to give birth, care and nurture the children and the home.
For being “just women”, we are prone or relegated to being called “the usual victims” of sex crimes, victims of bullying, sexual harassment, of discrimination from opportunities to choose or advance careers like “everyone” else, or be part of decision making at every aspect of being in or of belonging to a community, even to receive equal pay for equal work. Though they never tell us, the generally discriminating macho world still tries to make us feel like lesser citizens. Yet, being a woman empowered in the profession as journalism, we are somehow expected to persevere to build a better and sustainable life for us and for our communities.
It must be for that better world seen in the horizon that we must stand up against all odds, not only for us as individuals but for the future of this generation and the next, and the next… So it is in us to know and recognize what the driving factors are behind capitalism, imperialism, neoliberalism or globalization. It is said to be what history has been trying to impress on us that brings the inequalities where the rich became richer. Where despots and tyrants became real and numerous against the bigger numbers of the world population. And that women and children are first to suffer the negative effects of globalization and climate change.
World leaders and economy experts argue for or against neoliberalism or globalization while outside their rich enclaves the majority of the population, to which most of us are, continue to suffer the fast decline of world economy.
Breakthrough of the Philippine Star (by Elfren S. Cruz, Nov. 5, 2017) describes globalization “As the rich became richer, their wealth was supposed to start “trickling down” to the poor so that ultimately everyone would benefit from the rich accumulating more wealth. This theory has never worked. Income inequality has reached a level unprecedented in human history.”
Here in the Philippines, the think-tank Ibon tells us that Marcos initiated “Globalization” which led to economic decline.
“In 1980, the Marcos regime actually made the Philippines the first country in Asia and the second country in the world, after Turkey, to be at the receiving end of a World Bank structural adjustment loans (SAL). The conditionalities of the US$200 million loan included among others tariff cuts, removal of import licenses and quantitative restrictions, lowering protections, and exportpromotion – all in line with the market-oriented restructuring of the economy. This first SAL and another US$302 million one in 1984 were the historic spearheads of subsequent decades of trade and investment liberalization in the country.” (— from Anyare? Economic Decline Since Marcos)
By the way, in a few days the ASEAN meet will start with US president Donald Trump in attendance on his first official visit to this country. This kind of meetings are said to be where the first world countries dictate on third world countries, not on equal footing nor for equal advantage or for mutual benefit. We wonder, for how much more will government bid out of our country’s sovereignty… these information usually do not hit the airwaves or print. And, the nationalist militant movement is expected to launch a protest rally against the imperialist led confab. “No to globalization.”
Since Marcos initiated the “trade and investment liberalization in the country” there was an aggressive move for the country’s remaining natural resources which were by then in areas occupied (defended homes) by the indigenous peoples here. It was near this period that government worked with World Bank backing to increase extractive industries in the region where I come from and was in media work… in the Cordillera, the home of the indigenous peoples called Igorots (or people of the mountains).
While I did not choose to be a broadcaster but took advantage of an opportunity to get inked in my youth in a small press where my father worked as a printer and published the first weekly community newspaper launched some five years after WWII in the Cordillera region northern Luzon. Aside from writing for my high school paper, I worked two summers with this weekly tabloid where I earned an on- the-job-training in newswriting and newspapering before I entered the university.
Marcos was already president then. The Vietnam war under the Americans was at its height. The international protest movement against the Vietnam war was raging, the Philippines was no exemption.
The campaign for Philippine national democracy was revitalized. This movement grew larger and was clearly anti-imperialist. In reaction to their growing strength, Marcos suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus followed by the declaration of Martial law (1971-1986).
I was arrested as an activist and was a political detainee several times under martial law, and even after it was lifted (1986), the last time I was detained for being ‘involved’ was in 1992 under President Ramos.
It was also in the mid-70s that the Cordillera was militarized to further open large scale mining, to take over the forest and rivers to make way for large development projects like: 4 mega dams along the Chico River, and the forests of Abra and Mountain Province for logs and resin to export and pulp for paper, etc.
The Tinggians, Bontocs, Ibalois and Kalingas organized and mobilized themselves to resist and defend their ancestral domain from these aggressive projects that did not include them at all. The women in these communities stood up and fought beside their men in ways only organized women can do. Bare breasts they faced and stood against the armed Philippine Constabulary to stop a mining company. In protest, the women had dismantled a whole construction camp and carried the machinery and debris piece by piece several kilometers away to the soldiers’ town headquarters.
These and many more stories of people’s resistance and their resilience sparked great inspiration among local women writers and journalists who covered these communities and the growing movement of indigenous peoples defending their right to their ancestral domains, their culture and their villages, against government troops and a tyrannical government.
As a journalist, I have been seriously threatened with libel twice, one because of the editorial on violation of labor rights in a large mining operation and the other for printing a story of a rape and sexual harassment case involving an influential politician. I was pregnant with my youngest, still writing and active with the Cordillera News and Features, when I was threatened by a Malacanang-coddled militia group for stories critical of their activities and making true death threats against human rights defenders.
In the late 70s a few newspapers guardedly published stories about the growing protest among the Igorots. If they did, the stories were terribly edited, misinforming, and insensitive of the Igorot’s culture and history. This prompted some writers in the Cordillera to support an alternative news dispatch from Baguio sent out to all friendly media outfits, broadcast and print, to allow the Igorots “to sing their own songs” and build solidarity ties against oppression and injustice.
That news dispatch slept and was several times revived. It has now grown to be a weekly community paper circulating in the northern Luzon regions and has never missed an issue for the past 15 years. It promised and strives to be the newspaper of the people (umili). It is very dependent on the communities it covers and writes about to be able to continue. At several times it was dominated by women writers. The newspaper and its writers continue to be harassed by people in government and the military. But, in its lifetime as the “Dyario ti Umili” it has learned to stand by its readers and stand by organized communities, allies and partners in the area of coverage and widen its circulation or reach among the unorganized sectors, by providing the information and issues to educate and heighten awareness.
Its only strength and defense is the truth from the eyes of the people, and the larger sector of empowered communities. To us as women in media, we see women’s liberation and emancipation in the drive to change the exploitative and oppressive situation by keeping our minds open and never stop learning or studying, this further arms ourselves with needed tools to do our tasks of gathering and sharing information to our audience, educating and empowering them with tools of analysis to overcome false information, half truths, lies and black propaganda.
Let us continue to unite on these basic values for the good of the greater majority, organize and unite to further serve the communities. Ladies and partners in the struggle, let us be one in the goal to uplift life’s standards for all! Salamat (Thank you).