Agunit and the farmer wannabe

(This is my first article in the Ilocos Times. While columnists are expected to be men of notable knowledge, allow me to begin by writing about something I have no expertise on. “Wisest is he who knows he does not know,” says the enigmatic philosopher Socrates, and I am in the mood to believe him.)

NEVER HAVE I FELT MORE IGNORANT in my life than when I went to a farm. Having grown up in urban areas, I have never stayed in an agricultural community. The perpetually neglected ornamental plants in my bedroom terrace would be first to attest that planting is not my cup of tea.

Last year, I left my job in Manila to teach here in the province. Unlike in the nation’s capital where I taught sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie, most of my students here are children of farmers. Concerned that having kneel knowledge of agriculture made my teaching less relevant, I decided to embark on a self-imposed immersion in a farm. This happened when Albert Daguro, one of my former students, invited me on a weekend visit to their home in Brgy. Agunit, a farming community in Marcos town. He was apprehensive at first, saying that there was nothing much to see, but invited me anyway when he felt that it was something really meaningful for me.

Aboard a rusty jeepney, I then traveled to Agunit with the excitement of a groom and the curiosity of a child. Passing through the uninterrupted farmland bordered in the horizon by majestic mountains, I realized how little a part of the universe I was and how much space there is to explore. The experience was spiritual. Borrowing Rizal’s description of Dapitan, Agunit easily struck me as “picturesque and very poetic… without comparison.”

There I met Albert’s family. True to the Ilocano mold, his father, Tata Pascual, is known to be a very industrious man. At 68, this former barangay captain remains one of the most active farmers in Agunit. Far from the melodramatic tales of farmers in Sumilao and feudal haciendas, the Daguros are fortunate. With sheer discipline and guts, Tata Pascual and his loving wife started from scratch and gradually acquired parcels of land. Now totaling a few hectares, their farm is more than sufficient to provide their family a decent life.

The Daguros have eight cows, three carabaos, six goats, four pigs, and egg-laying ducks and chickens that were too busy running around their backyard to be counted. A miniature pond also produces fish for their consumption. Add to these the mango and avocado trees that diligently bear fruits. They have their own farm machines: a tractor and a kuliglig. To top these all, their sitio enjoys an efficient irrigation system that allows farmers to plant rice three times in a year. Given these blessings, I was interested to know whether Mang Pascual’s children are building their dreams around agriculture. Or, as with most families, do they see education as gateway to redemption?

Ronald, the eldest among the Daguro siblings, finished criminology and is now a newly sworn policeman. Albert is a civil engineering senior while Russell, the only female, is a nursing freshman. Six-grader Oliver, their youngest, tends their goats, but only Jhoan, the second eldest son, now works full time in the farm. After finishing a two-year technical course, Jhoan was requested by Tata Pascual to help him till their land. Being a good son, the former naturally obliged, although he occasionally resents being tied up to backbreaking work in the fields. Jhoan mulls of going back to school when his siblings graduate so he, too, can be a “professional”.

This reminded me of many students who strive in college, hoping they can eventually turn their backs on farming and do white-collar jobs. They subscribe to the belief that wearing a coat, working in an air-conditioned office, and speaking the language of colonizers are the main indicators of personal growth. Convinced that education is the best legacy they can leave behind, parents are quick to remind their children: do well in your studies, less you become just farmers like us.

I lament at how formal education is overvalued. Our present crop of political leaders proves that honesty, integrity, and unity—virtues that our nation miserably lacks—are legacies not guaranteed by a diploma. I do not say that children of farmers should not pursue other careers; everyone is entitled to see more of the world and discover new things as I do now. I was just wondering if they realize their sector’s worth and promise.

In MMSU, for instance, courses in agriculture register significantly lower enrolment compared to the health and business fields. This situation aggravates the already wide mismatch between our country’s human resource requirements and the graduates produced by universities, resulting to an increase in rates of unemployment and underemployment. Students taking up agriculture bear with people taunting them: mannalon ka la ngaruden, agriculture pay laeng ti innalam! They remain undistracted, however, as many of them have their dreamy eyes set, not in our own land, but elsewhere greener, like New Zealand. Meanwhile, queues for affordable rice now reach scandalous lengths.

In sociology, structural functionalist theory explains social stratification by assuming that positions essential to society’s survival are awarded more than those that are not as important. Of course, the “important” positions’ higher remuneration and prestige are justified by the long formal training and the skills acquired in the process. In this perspective, the lifetime training of farmers does not count because they don’t get any diploma for it. That small farmers are important for the population to survive is taken for granted, especially now that agriculture has become the milking cow of manipulative multinational firms.

In an attempt to convince his people that farming is a good a profession as medicine, Rizal himself became a farmer in Dapitan. Writing to his sister, Lucia, our national hero remarked: “We cannot all be doctors, it is necessary that there would be some who would cultivate the soil.” But who can blame farmers who wish they could do something else? Much is to be desired from government and society at large. While it is true, for example, that the prices of farm produce have skyrocketed, so have the costs of plant inputs. Hence, many farmers are buried in debt even as the “fertilizer scam” remains unresolved and is doomed, as many other scandals are, to be forgotten. The recent distribution of free sacks of fertilizers to farmers may sound commendable, but it is just another band-aid solution in the absence of a well-implemented and sustainable program to alleviate the plight of the mannalon.

When I left Agunit and went home to my place in the city, I felt a vacuum inside me. Aside from the breathtaking sights and subtle sounds of the fields, there were much more to my enchantment. I was drawn to the farm folks’ solidarity with nature, their spartan way of life, and their ability to appreciate the simple joys brought by simple things. I witnessed how members of farming families are tightly knit, how their neighbors are treated as family, and how belief in an unseen God is manifested in their day-to-day attempt at co-creation.

I went to Agunit so secure of myself, but left the place humbled at how little I knew about the more basic things in life. Unlike farm kids who, by taking care of animals and helping out in the paddies, have developed a sense of responsibility and stewardship early on, I was the bratty type of child. Our family has always had househelps who made life easier for us. Our domestic comforts, quite ironically, are brought by folks who come from agricultural families not as fortunate as Tata Pascual’s. Now in her fifties, Manang Glory, wife of a tobacco farmer, works in our household so she can help send her children to school.

With reasons now more personal than professional, I have included in my lifetime’s to-do list working as a full-time farmer, even just for an entire season. As an apprentice, I want to experience all the processes from pre-planting to post-harvest, and feel both the joy and despair that go with transforming nature and being transformed by it in turn. An employee under the tyranny of the Bundy clock, I am not sure how this can be possible. But just as a farmer has faith that the seeds will fertilize, I have high hopes this dream will happen in time. While most academics aspire for scholarships in top universities, I yearn for a semester or two in the farm. Hopefully, in my next visit, the Daguros would let me dirty my hands, and not pamper me the way they did during my first sojourn.

As I nurture this agricultural dream, news are abound that two monuments of materialism will be built in this province known for her people’s frugality and hard work. One mall will rise in the flourishing town of St. Nick while the other will be built in the middle of Laoag City, posing threats of more traffic, pollution, and an empty lifestyle—banes of urban life that Agunit folks are lucky to be spared from.

Each one of us is said to have a rightful place under the sun. I found mine inside the classroom, Tata Pascual found his in paradise. My classroom, however, need not always be four-walled, and I need not always be the teacher. ###


Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

41 thoughts on “Agunit and the farmer wannabe”

  1. so have you been back and did hands on farming? it will be almost a year since.i bet you you did not want your hands to get dirty.unlike me i love doing is a good therapy..i would like to see you back there and do some farming..i dare you sir herdy!!!and when you do get there i would like a video on how you will tackle the job….hehehe

  2. my son love to ride those carabaos . my husband helped my dad to plant rice.they were there in the rice paddies and they must have been bonding because up to now my dad still remembers. i should have taken could have been remarkable…a kodak moment!!!!

  3. iam so glad that he had that chance too. and the chance to be with my dad and i know they will both cherish those times .

  4. and would you believe he was only 19 when we married and had our son when i was 31 and he was 21…10 years difference….38 years..time flies when you’re having fun..everybody thought it will not work but he is a matured ,responsible,loving father”everybody can be a dad but it takes one to be a father”


    Its just so sad, this kind of situation in our country. Where in it seems like we dont have a grasp of HOW RICH THE PHILIPPINES REALLY IS.

    The reality is here, NO ONE (NOT ENOUGH MANPOWER) who wants and wilingly cultivate the soil. The farmers have suffered and got tired already of the life they’ve been living thats why they dont want their children to have the same life as what they and their forefathers have. For them, (those got tired) there’s NO FUTURE in AGRICULTURE. (“parents are quick to remind their children: do well in your studies, less you become JUST farmers like us.”)

    And for the reality, like what our karikna saw in the university, “many students who strive in college, hoping they can eventually turn their backs on farming and do white-collar jobs.”…

    I am a NURSE, but behind this R.N there is a CRY, a DREAM, to be a FARMER!. It is a dream that up untill now breaks my heart (hidden story). I must say, I’m one of those who’se WILLING to be a farmer and work in the FIELD under the sun and the rain, for i know and I can see that the key to our country’s FLIGHT is here in our Nature Given Wealth., but my parents say…there’s NO FUTURE in AGRICULTURE.

    I still believe that our countrys main key to success is in agriculture, its just sa sad and dimm, that becouse of lack of support and so much POLITICS this sector have been used and abused.

    Reality bites: Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, their agricultural sector has been a great force fo their countrys economy. RICE, bigas nalang!!… how come our country is importing rice from these countrys. How come their rice is more supperb than ours? and how come their Rice is a fuel for their national economy? Eh dito din sa atin nagaral sila!! tayo ang nagturo. Tragic, How come this happen? Hint: know why? becouse our masters and phd’s in agriculture are INSIDE their AIRCONDITIONED ROOMS instead of being in the FARMS doing their FEILD WORKS!!!

    How can we help raise this sector?
    I have my dream for this sector, and i hope i’ll have time to fulfill it. I dont know how, but I know I see something here that holds for the future… I just hope i can make it happen.

  6. are sooo right.the philippines should not be importing rice from other countries.there is something wrong with this picture !!!!

  7. Tita Lita:

    Thanks for the compliments Ma’am,
    and yes your right ma’am… An R.N and a farmer… thats why I hope and will try to make it happen.

    Like an eagle see’s and know how to seize an upcoming thunderstorm… I hope to make it through.
    (If you people only know, how this breaks my heart… a story behind this; the R.N Farmer)

    Hope in 5years, I have a progress report about this.

  8. keep on writing like these and soon you will take over sir herdys job.. hehehe you will make it through kid.i have faith in you.specially now with all the technologies and agricultural gadgets and machineries they come out used to be a manual plowing with a carabao etc. i will be waiting in 5 years God willing.

  9. Global Land-grabbing:

    While our politicians and the headline stories in news papers focuses on the “Cha-cha” and the upcoming national election next year, pieces of land of our beloved country is already “FOR SALE”.

    We know the horrible situation of agriculture in our country, but this kind of problem is all over farm lands in asia right now. Browse the net and see for yourself, its as almost our country is already for sale!!!

    Let me quote from one editorial: “This is what the Filipinos, as one nation, should stand up against. Investments are good, but foreign ownership is a big no-no. We only have to see what’s happening in the poor countries in Southeast Asia, in which lands are being scoured by rich countries.”

    We already have a lot of people working abroad, left their families, careers, for greener pasteur: The Filipino Diaspora. Our fellow countrymen become slaves and helpers overseas, BUT for US to be SLAVES AND HELPERS in OUR OWN COUNTRY…theres nothing more catastrophic than that.

    We are in our own country but our boss’s are FOREIGN. The owners of our farmlands WILL BE FOREIGN… and we will be just their mere workers.

    So now, more than the problem in the productivity and profitability of our agricultural sector, here comes THE NEW CANCER of the future. It is silent and metastatic (widespreading), and we are far more doomed to be worst (worst in the sense that, we know the problem but we just close our eyes and embrace the colonials money in exchange of our fatherland) than the times of Rizal, if we dont give attention just let the disease spread.

    Bayang magiliw,
    Perlas ng Silanganan,
    Alab ng puso, Sa dibdib mo’y buhay.
    Lupang Hinirang,
    Duyan ka ng magiting,
    Sa manlulupig,
    ‘Di ka pasisiil., “….

    The battle against colonizers are not the same way as before, but one thing is in common: The LOVE OF COUNTRY is in each warriors HEART.
    “ang mamatay ng dahil sayo!!!”

    We dont even need to die to this battle, but we need to fight for our fatherland.

    1. Eaglepower, do you keep a blog of your own? You should. Your ideas are fiery, your emotions moving, and your passion amazing. So proud of you.

  10. eaglepower..i would like to meet you when i come home next year.would like to talk to you about nursing (being an rn ) and farming , gardening!!!until then keep on writing.are you working as an rn now or farming? …

  11. Sir Herdy,

    Nope sorry i dont have any blog (Not even moved to create one even if you asked/required us before: back in trinity..;)).

    1. I don’t remember asking you to create a blog then. It was a handwritten journal that I asked you to keep… lowtech. 🙂 Anyway, create a blog when you have time. Noblesse oblige… nobility obliges.

  12. Tita Lita,

    I’ll be pleased Ma’ am we’ll prepare for that.
    As of now I’m just about to start my training in a hospital. It will be a great pleasure to meet you ma’ am, and hope to talk about nursing (before I leave) specially the settings overseas. It will be great learning experience for me, that’s for sure.

  13. eaglepower…good luck in your hospital attentive to all the details because this will help you a lot when the time comes when you will be working will befaced to make decisions on your own etc.

  14. you area very respectful kid.when i was in germany where i met my husband he was always ma’am this and maa’m that.i thought it was because he was in the service then that he was so respectful but it is even now.he respects women and men no matter what the color of their skin is.

  15. Sir Herdy,

    hmmm.. yeah i stand corrected, its not required…
    It just go like what you said here Sir,…
    Create a blog when you have a time..;)

  16. Tita Lita,

    Thank you ma’am for the concern, I appreciate it…
    Specially coming from someone who knows…
    Reminds me of my aunt…

    Take care always ma’am and stay healthy.

  17. eaglepower….keep in touch .if not here through e can ask sir herdy for my e mail address okay?by the way where are you from?

  18. Sir Herdy,

    Thanks Sir., by the way can you email me Ma’am Lita’s Email add. so that I can email both of you Sir. Got somethings to share.

    Thanks again..

  19. Tita Lita,

    Sure ma’am, I’m from Quezon City in UP Diliman.
    Though our province is in San Fernando La Union.
    I’ll email you soon maám…

    Take care always…
    stay healthy…;)

  20. eaglepower..i hope sir herdy gave you my right e mail address.anyway i gave it to him again just in case. take care and talk to you soon.

  21. some people must have thought i will be gone forever but no sireee i am back to haunt them and give them gray hairs..hehehe

  22. summer time in the u.s .is the time to plant all kinds of vegetable..i have an abundance of harvest like tomatoes,eggplant ,ampalaya and peppers and new hampshire we only have 3-4 months before it will be cold and autumn comes.i also have apples,peaches,asian pears and persimmons.i think i will dry some fruits and bring home when i come home in december..i had done it once before and my parents were soo happy .they call it my fruit of “love”.and always tell me i always think of things like this whereas my siblings would rather buy stuff to bring home to them. little stuff like these means a lot to them..

  23. It’s been awhile that I have not opened a computer to visit this blog of sir Herdy. I immersed myself too on our backyard planting sitaw, marunggay, patani, kamote, paria, etc. I have only a small backyard space of over 10meters x 10 meters. Still I needed a helper to do some cleaning out of the perennial grasses that grow every rainy season, while I till the soil for planting. My wife directs me where to plant the veggies and medicinal floras. The fallen trees’ trunks have to be arranged for a rustic seating, giving some planting space. Been thinking of making also a tree-house on the standing mahogany trees we planted about 5 years ago. Hmm… it may cost me to hire a good carpenter as I don’t know much about sawing and nailing.

  24. last time i was in batac my dads chico tree which is over 50 years old snapped from the typhoon ondoy but there is still a trunk standing .i want to preserve the tree and so i plan to make a treehouse wnen i go home in december for sentimental value and reasons. remember my dad.(.feeling nostalgic again ) and guess what sir herdy promised to help me build the treehouse..hehehe

  25. Nice of sir Herdy to give a hand. The tree house I planned is also the wishes of my children, after having the experiences being at the tree houses at Rizal Park, here in Laoag. They want to have a larger one if possible, so our family or a group of their friends could even dine up there!

  26. mine will just be a small on just so i can make use of the tree my father planted. nothing fancy,as we do not have too much space.hopefully sir herdy will not be busy at that time !

  27. I do believe that not all that wear the coat and tie, work in an air conditioned room are the only called professionals. Those who tilt the land are also professionals. They excel in their own way, in their own field. Farming is their turf and whether we like it or not they contribute a lot in our daily life. We can not pretend not to eat their produce because in reality we need them. Sad but true, sometimes farmers are even more professionals than those who have finished a real degree. And finishing a degree in agriculture is neither embarrassing nor alarming. I see it as a heroic deed you do not only feed your own mouth but fill the stomachs of others.

  28. Thank you for sharing your immersion to farm life.
    For the farmers, agriculture is an important means of living or aspects in our society. They were exposed under the extremely hot and undisputed sun to maintain the growth and health of their crops in this degrading world. Thus, lending their own selves in the fields, giving their full extent of time in the farm to sustain and provide the daily needs of the family, particularly those needs of their children whom they sending in the school to increase their knowledge and to learn and above all to be a professional someday specifically to have or to white-collar jobs.
    Every individual has it’s own capacity to decide their own, there is a limitation of human’s ability and the extent of their mind to do what is wright or wrong. As a student ,a son,a brother,inside or even outside the house we learn from any individual arts of the society. Agunit and the farmer wannabe story shows the wholeness of a parents can be to their children as one.
    As myself seeing my parents giving the best what their self can do in order us to feed, to sustain our daily needs and to send us in school,it is not that easy seeing them like hopeless, it feels like that my heart is punching a million times but as long as there is God guiding us I will fight till the very end that I will succeed this trials and consequences of life and someday be a professional and look like a king. Likewise of the the article tells about and like every parents taunting them saying that education is the key to success. Even if your life intend to be an agriculture no one can oppose you what you want to do no one can control you if agriculture is your cup of tea.

  29. Yup! My old man (God bless his soul) is a graduate in Agriculture from Araneta University Foundation but when he was still alive, he spent more time in his office, a few hours at their nursery/laboratory farm, than at our own farmlands which are tended by our tenant farmers. He was with the then Bureau of Agricultural Extension of the Dept of Agric & Natural Resources, before it became 2 Depts & their office was dissolved before he retired. He heads Agricultural technicians to educate farmers of modern farming. He attended seminars in Taiwan and Japan regarding modern as well as natural fertilizer use. I still recall during my younger days when he taught me on how to plant rice and harvest with “rakem” with the tall and old rice variety. Awan pay tilyar idi, isu nga mabayo ti pagay pay laeng idi. He introduced the manual thresher that year, and our tenant farmers in Solsona are very pleased! Then Apo Marcos introduced the Masagana 99 which increased our rice production, wherein Pinas was then an exporter of this staple food in Asia. Alas, our farmlands and farmers cannot duplicate the same feat today, as we now importers of rice!

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