We Never Learn

This song by White Lion can teach us
little child
dry your crying eyes
how can I explain
the fear you feel inside
cause you were born
into this evil world
where man is killing man
and no one knows just why
what have we begun?
just look what we have done
all that we destroyed
you must build again
when the children cry
let them know we tried
cause when the children sing
then the new world begins
little child
you must show the way
to a better day
for all the young
no more presidents
and all the wars will end
one united world
under god
when the children cry
let them know we tried
cause when the children sing
then the new world begins
no more presidents
and all the wars will end
one united world
under god
when the children cry
let them know we tried
when the children fight
let them know it ain’t right
when the children pray
let them know the way
cause when the children sing
then the new world begins

Plant a Tree, Win A Book. (The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. ~Chinese Proverb)

I am giving away books and magazines from my personal library. I will give one book or magazine for each five trees planted by anyone in the Cordillera region. The planter should have a photo of her/himself planting a tree. My books/magazines are about forestry, agroforestry, environment, ecology, economics, rural development, journalism and related topics.

Fathers’ Day, What?

Father’s Day,  What?

By MICHAEL A. BENGWAYAN

Tarlac, Tarlac, Philippines (Jun2 23, 2010) – While the world  celebrated Father’s Day last June 17th,  a secular holiday honoring and commemorating fathers  worldwide,  Noel Biktas here is unmindful and ignorant about it.

So are thousands more in the country like him.

“Father’s Day, what?”, he  gruffly retorted when asked if he knew about it.

It is not difficult to understand him. Sun-burnt at 56 summers, he  does one of the country’s most difficult and lowly paid jobs ten hours a day. One of the thousands of  “sacadas” (sugar cane plantation worker)  slaving in endless lands of the few rich billionaires in the country, he earns  less than two dollars a day.

He and his kind   plod through itchy and rough cane fields wielding three feet machetes or bolos through steaming heat, dirt  and sweat to cut cane for sugar that is exported to the USA, Europe and Japan . He retires only when darkness overpowers daylight to  feast on a bowl of rice and small dried fish left by his family of six who sleeps on  a rough coconut timber as floor, covered by a sack. A place they call home.

Barely visible a mile  away is an opulent mansion towering over the far-reaching expanse of canefields costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The house of Noel’s landlord..

Sacadas like Noel have toiled for four generations on their landlords’ hacienda.. His grandfather, father and two sons are sacadas like him. “My children’s children will be like me, there is no place else to go,” he says with a defeated far-away look.

Indeed, the thousands of fathers working as sacadas in the Philippines, are finding it difficult to get out of their cycle of poverty.

Most sacadas live in darkness. They are nailed to the earth.

The plight of the Sacadas in the Philippines is best exemplified by those living in the island of  Negros Occidental.  They are underpaid, ill-treated,  and deprived of every basic human rights, including members of their families,  the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in the Philippines say..

“Many starve and remain at the mercy of their patriarchs—the landowners—who will decide what to pay them, how much, when and what they and their family members can and cannot do”, it added.

NFSW estimates there are more than 500,000 sacadas in the Philippines. This does not include fathers’ sons and even wives and daughters enslaved by the inhuman backbreaking labor of sugar plantations.

Sacadas are the Philippine’s  living proof that colonial-period migrant labor in the Philippines persists in the “new millennium.” The ordinary sacada is the oppressed worker, migrant, and peasant twice over. Receiving abysmally-low wages and denied benefits, many of the sacadas hail from the Visayas islands , where many hacienda landowning families are found,  Irish priest  Fr. Niall O’Brien of the Negros Diocese says after working in the province for 40 years.

The tragedy experienced by sacadas is nowhere more real than in November 2004 when  soldiers and policemen attacked and killed more than a dozen sacadas and arrested more than a hundred others sacadas who were protesting their low pay and inhuman treatment. The hacienda they worked at is owned by the family of Corazon C. Aquino, former president of the Philippines.

The harsh and  difficult working and living conditions of the sacada and his family is worsened by people contracting sacadas to work in haciendas. Fr. Arnesio Jesena, S. J. Of the Ateneo de Manilka University lived with sacadas in at least ten areas in the Philippines says “Sacadas and their families are helpless when under contractors because they cannot dictate their own terms. They are often abused by these contracxtors.”

He had these to say:

“When I lived with the sacadas like a sacada, here were 200 of us — men, women, and children staying in two adjoining cuartels.

There was not a single toilet.

There was only one source of water — an old pump. Here everyone did his or her washing, bathing, laundering. We had no blankets, no mosquito nets.

For food, three times a day we were served rice — the cheapest, driest, coarsest, most unappetizing I have ever tasted. Many of the grains were unhusked, and there were pieces of gravel to be found among the grains of rice. We were also given fish — small, dry fish (pinamalhan nga sapsap). Rough rice and dry fish, that was all. No liquid, no vegetables, a diet which gave no delight and no strength.

Fr. Jesena’s tale is  written a book called “The Sacadas of Sugarland”.

During the term of Pres. Corry Aquino, the Comprehensive Agrarian reform Program  (CARP) was launched with the intention of providing land to the landless like the sacadas. But it met little success mainly because the landowners were the politicians themselves and never pushed the national law with will. Only a handful politician-landowners willingly parted from their lands.

Now 20 years after, the CARP program will end. But to the sacadas and their families, the CARP was just a story in the wind, blown away like their fading hopes  of escaping poverty that is slowly breaking their very souls. /30

Philippine Environmental Problem Lacks Consciousness-Raising

The pitiful environmental situation in the country is being made more problematic by the inadequacy of consciousness-raising. As human nature is is essentially selfish, competitive and driven by material considerations, the human race have transformed itself as apart from nature and not a part of nature.

There must be an undersatnding among all spectrum of the society that we are all part of an indivisible human family and that as co-stewards of our natural environment, our concretization of our collective efforts to save rather than to destroy will spell the fate of the next generations to come.

Quo Vadis Forests?

In 1950, the Philippines had some 20 million hectares of virgin forests. Today only 600,000 hectares remain. With the current deforestation rate of 2,500 hectares a year, there will be no virgin forests 25 to 30 years from now. The second generation forests would be struggling to keep ecology in balance. With a rising temperature of .02 degrees C yearly, the remaining forests will be hard pressed to cope with global warming.

Here’s what you can do. Double your efforts in planting broad-leafed trees. More people should plant every day. We do not hav e the luxury of time.

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All life is figured by them as a Tree.  Igdrasil, the Ash-tree of existence,
has its roots deep-down in the kingdoms of Death: its trunk reaches up
heaven-high, spreads its boughs over the whole Universe:  it is the Tree
of Existence.  At the foot of it, in the Death-Kingdom, sit the three
Fates – the Past, Present and Future; watering its roots from the Sacred
Well.  It’s “bough,” with their buddings and disleafings, – events,
things suffered, things done, catastrophes, – stretch through all lands
and times.  Is not every leaf of it a biography, every fiber there an act
or word?  Its boughs are the Histories of Nations.  The rustle of it is
the noise of Human Existence, onwards from of old.  ….  I find no
similitude so true as this of a Tree.
Beautiful; altogether beautiful and great.
–  Thomas Carlyle

Some of the Many People I Met Who Influenced My Thinking

My life has been shaped by what I read,  believe in, observe,   study and fight for. I have read about many  men and women who influenced the world most for the better and a few for the worst. As I moved on eventually, I met some important characters who helped mold myself into a better person. These are some of them.

1. Koffi Annan, former UN Secretary General

2. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UNHCHR Commissioner

3. Brigitha Dahl, former Swedish minister of environment

4. Jan Oberg, founder of the Transnational Foundation for Peace anf Future Research in Denmark

5. Prof. Joseph (Joe)  Mannion, my doctorate adviser and dean of the University College Dublin (UCD) Department of  Development Studies in Ireland

6. Dr. John Heinz,  Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University, Mass.

7. Dr. Jefferey A. Robinson, Assistant Professor and Assistant Director,  Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development, Rutgers University, New Jersey

8. Former Nepalese King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev  who was asassinated in 2001

9. The late Romeo Abundo of Press the Foundation of Asia

10. The late Dean Armando Malay of the University of the Philippines and the Press Foundation of Asia

11.  The late journalist Jorge Jularbal, former editor of Saudi Gazette

12. The late Dr. Rodolfo Abastilla of Benguet State University

13. Mrs. Frances Kollin Laoyan, formerly of Easter School

14. Mr. George Gewan, formerly of the Central Mindanao University

My childhood

I have sweet and memorable recollection of my youth, with a tinge of sadness. We were 7 children, 3 girls and four boys. I am the fourth. Even though we were poor, my mother and father worked hard to put food on the table and shirts on our backs. We were taught by our parents well and had good learning from home before we went off to school to be so-called educated. We were taught to be honest, courteous, obedient and respectful. We always studied hard.

My mom taught us to attend mass every Sunday, Soon I was helping at the old Church of the Resurrection under the late Fr. Alejandro Rulite as early as Grade One until I graduated from Easter High School.

From Grade One  until college, I took care and raised hogs to help  in the family. I gathered kitchen slops from neighbors and from restaurants along Session road in Baguio City for the pigs. I still remember going to school daily with a big kerosene can which I used for getting kitchen wastes every day after class and having been the butt of many jokes by my well to do classmates. They called me ‘arasao boy”.  On Saturdays, I went with my late great grandma Mad-an to her “uma” (kaingin) and got camote vines which I cooked for the pigs. I also sold newspapers, scrap metals, shined shoes, carried baggage and hauled stones and gravel at a local quarry in Pinsao.

I am blessed I was an honor student from Grades 1 to 6 and from First to 3rd Year High School. I had no medal during my Fourth year but went on to pass as a state scholar which allowed me to study in college.

Twice I almost died. The first time was when I was in Grade Two. I was eight years old. While ringing the church bell, the cable snapped and being the youngest “sakristan”, I was told by the older ones to climb and tie the knot of the bell. I climbed but the log beams were wet from accumulated bird droppings. I was fortunate to tie the rope back to the cable but when I started to descent fifty feet down, I slipped. Luckily I was holding the rope so I dangled full of fear. I slowly went down hanging to the rope and shouted on by my co-scaristans to be careful. I was so afraid and shaking with fear. After a few hours I realized God did not want me to die while serving Him

The second time I almost died was when I was in Grade Three. Being a member of a drama cast in school, we traveled frequesntly to far places to present “Macbeth and Othello”. The long nights and fatigue caught up with me. I almost died due to meningitis. I was in coma for six days. During that time I dreamt I was floating on clouds and seeing my mom crying over my lifeless body at Pines hospital. The doctors told her I was dead and advised her to bring me home  but she refused to let go of me and pleaded to a certain Dra ______ Claridad (who put up the Baguio Medical Center) to do something. I was told Dra. Clarided inserted a tube inside my skull to drain the accumulated fluids in between the meninges. Then I was brought home. There, I got back to life It was another miracle.  God gave me back my life again. I was hospitalized for 2 months and was unable to walk for three months.

My mom also said our family lost all its savings just to pay for my hospitalization bills. I felt so sad and heartbroken when I was told about it.