A day in the life of a development worker


CANLAON CITY – It was the 8th of July, 1999. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, took breakfast at four, and got a taxi to catch up with the first-trip bus bound for Toledo City, south of Cebu, The Philippines. While on a two-hour journey, thoughts on what could happen in the next few days, weeks, months and years to the fate of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) of Carolina Lacson Estate located at barangay Mabigo II, Kanlaon City, Negros Oriental, occupied my mind. One hundred thirty-two ARBs wanted the 208 hectares of land planted to sugarcane former owners, the Lacson family, branded by their enemies as one of a few traditionally despotic sugar planters in Oriental.

I arrived in Toledo City way past 7 AM only to be transferred to a boat for another two-hour cruise to San Carlos City, and then to another bus at 9:30 AM for a full-hour ride here to Kanlaon City. It was a cold morning and you can smell the morning breeze while passing through the mountainous terrain and zigzag roads toward the Mount Kanlaon’s haven.

The ARBs were gathered in the backyard of one of the leaders when we arrived. Tension was high seeing the farmers tuck in their bolos and spading on their waists. Their women were busy preparing balinghoy (cassava) and bulad (dried fish) for lunch. After the usual warm welcome by the local folks, the meeting begun.

Presiding over the emotion-filled meeting was the ARB chairman, Neonito “Nonoy” Ordaniel, as threats from the former landowner that they would be arrested once the installation to the land pushed through, kept on coming. Ordaniel commenced with a mouthful of legalese: “We have evidence to prove our claims; we are not violating any laws. We had in our possession the certificate of land ownership award (CLOA), together with the certificate of deposit as proof that the government, through the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), had already paid the Lacsons their just compensation.”

One farmer declared: “Ngano man mahadlok ta nga aduna man tay legal nga basehanan (Why are we afraid, we have all the legal bases)?” To which a woman responded, by asking: “Andam ba ta tanan nga mapreso” (Are we prepared to be imprisoned)? A moment of silence ensued, only to be broken by another courageous voice who shouted back: “Dili ta mahadlok nga mapreso… Padayon (Don’t be afraid, let’s go on with the plan)!” The ARBs agreed; they yelled back in chorus: “Padayon!” The collective sentiments of the organization sealed their determination and readiness to face any eventualities, come what may.

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