Personal and communal garden plots mean hope for Hacienda Luisita residents.

By Yvette Tan

It is remarkably easy, if a bit expensive, to get to Hacienda Luisita. The hacienda, is one long tricycle ride away from Robinson’s Tarlac. On the way there, you zoom past high end subdivisions and convention halls. This gives way to more modest houses and residential villages, and then finally, tiny houses, sometimes built close together, sometimes separated by small fences that enclose small yards.

AMBALA members gather for lunch. With the exception of dinner, most of the meals are communal.

The land has recently been returned to its residents, who have established smallholder farms where they plant different kinds of vegetables. Many of the farmers are organized under AMBALA, or Alyansa ng Mangagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita. AMBALA’s members are close-knit; lunch is a communal affair held in a covered area that houses a large table. Meals are made from vegetables grown in the members’ plots. It’s also where meetings and lectures, mostly on farming techniques, are held.

Meals are cooked with vegetables freshly picked from members’ gardens.

 

Mang Rudy

Rudy Corpuz, AMBALA’s Vice President, is 63 years old. He was a maintenance welder in the Hacienda until 1997, when he resigned to seek his fortune elsewhere, leaving his five children behind. He returned in 2004 at the behest of his kids and the recommendation of the Department of Agrarian Reform so that he could reclaim farmland of his own under the Stock Distribution Option established by President Corazon Aquino. “Sabi ko nga, ang aking trabaho ay hindi ko pwede ipamana sa aking anak, dahil sa akin lang yon,” he says. “Ang kailangan ko lupa.”

He’s had his .6 hectare plot since 2014, in between and after much struggle that has lasted until as late as 2016. He plants many kids of vegetables. There’s squash, corn, sitaw, and okra. “Pag may bisita, pang-ulam lang. Unti pa lang eh,” he says. “Pero ako kasi kahit sa paligid ng bahay naming mahilig ako magtanim. Dalawa lang kami o minsan nakakasama ko yung mga apo ko, yun ang kasama naming kumakain. Kaya doon lang sa paligid ng bahay namin, nakukuha na naming yung mga pang-kain namin.”

He’s very big on organic farming and hopes to expand his farm. “Hindi ako gumagamit ng mga pataba na binibili dahil mga pesticide yan. Organic ang nilalagay ko diyan. Ang mga fertilizer namin nakatambak doon, parang compost,” he says. “Ang plano ko, gusto ko may palayan ako kahit pang-kain lang. Tapos magkaroon ako ng mga alagang hayop- mga manok o kaya pato. Tsaka kalabaw. Kasi ang kalabaw, hayop pang-bukid yan.”

Mang Rudy’s farming advice: “Maging sa palay o maging sa gulay, nasa tao naman yan. Kailangan parang bata yang inaalagaan mo. Kung anong kailangan niya, ibigay mo, para ibigay naman niya yung bunga.”

The communities of Hacienda Luisita may have gotten their land, but they know that vigilance is still important. “Sana tulungan nila kaming manawagan na mapatupad yung tunay na reporma sa lupa… Kasi kapag nagustuhan nila yung lupa, gagawa ng paraan. Gagamit ng abogado, pagagawa ng titulo dahil may pera sila,” Mang Rudy says. “Pero hindi namn nila kami madadaya. Marami na kaming alam sa batas ng Agrarian. So, marami pa kaming kailangan na suporta.”

Corpuz hopes that there will be more support for farmers, as they literally keep the world from starving. “Importante ang magsasaka. Wala na tayong pagkukunan ng makakain kapag nawala na ang mga bukid sa magsasaka,” he says. Importante tayo, kasi pag Pilipino, bigas ang kailangan natin, at gulay. So, yun ang kailangan ng mga magsasaka, suporta sa pakikibaka sa reporma sa lupa.”

Mang Nestor

Nestor Domingo has a 500 sqm. plot that he’s meticlously filled with different crops. “Meron akong tanim na saging, mga kamoteng kahoy, talong, okra, upo, patola, tsaka sitaw,” he says.

Seeing the plot in person, it’s quite amazing that he’s managed to fit that many kinds of crops in such a small space. Mang Nestor explains his stragegy: “Nagkasya nga po lahat eh. May bakante pa konti. Kasi ang ginagawa ko tuwing umaga, mga 9 siguro or 10, nagtatrabaho ako, nagtatanim, nagbubungkal,” he says. “Hindi rin naman lahat para sa akin kundi para rin sa mga kasamahan ko. Tsaka meron din sa amin doon kahit unti-unti pag nakakatulong kami kahit konti lang.”

He is a huge believer in organic farming. “Yung ginamit ko po, organic, meron nagbigay. Galing siya ng Nueva Ecija. Lahat organic at yun lang ang ginagamit ko. Paminsan-minsan nilalagyan ko ng abo ng konti, yung mahinang klase, yung mga sulfate ganon. Yun lang po ginagamit ko. Hindi ako nagko-composting.”

It’s only been three months since he started planting. It’s a slow process since he’s only started organic farming, but his yields are slowly increasing. “Medyo ayos naman po (ang ani). Konti-konti po kasi hindi pa masyadong namumunga yung talong tsaka yung mga okra, pero yung kalabasa meron na,” he says. “Konti-konti pa lang kasi yung talong maraming nasisira dahil sa pesticide.”

Mang Nestor stands amidst his very well organised garden.

He cites the challenges he faces: “Pag minsan mahirap, lalong-lalo na malayo kami sa tubig,” he says. “Kasi po medyo malayo kung minsan meron akong panahon kumuha ng tubig dito. Tutubigan ko lang.”

Still, he’s proud of what he’s accomplished and is looking forward to growing more things. “Kung pwede dadagdagan pa ng mga tanim, kasi meron pang mga bakante,” he says.

Mang Nestor is proud to be a farmer because it allows him a degree of security and self-sustainability. “Kaya ko ginagawa to kahit papano kung magsasaka ka makakaraos ka.”