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..and now, the end is near for the People’s Farm

Like in a story and a song, the People’s Farm at San Agustin, Canaman, Camarines Sur will soon end. It will face the final curtain in April next year after five years of a productive agreement between the Archdiocese of Caceres and the Ilaw ng Kababaihan, members of the People’s Organization of Disaster Survivors (PODiS) organized by Tabang Bikol Movement in the aftermath of Typhoon Nina in 2016. I know that all those who have been a part of the journey at the People’s Farm will shed tears as the day of reckoning approaches.

Those years with the Farm as the center of TBM community-based events hold many memorable experiences for many. Came the Pandemic in 2020, the People’s Farm became a sanctuary, a recluse for lost souls, and the birthplace of many special events - the formation of the Ilaw ng Kababaihan, the HEAL or Health, Environment and Alternative Livelihood program, learning and production of Ilaw citronella scented candles, the GBT or Gulayan sa Bakuran at Tahanan, the Balikasan or Back to Nature campaign for climate change, Kurit Aki, a psycho-social intervention for children of disaster survivors among families, Pagheras or sharing of agricultural inputs and relief. Here, TBM organized the Bugkos Kabataan, a community-based youth organization engaged in social entrepreneurship—such endeavors extended to other Camarines Sur towns, to Masbate and Albay.

The People’s Farm is known as a mini citronella-growing Farm. This social enterprise produces citronella oil from distillation machines that the DA-Region V and the Central Office awarded to TBM in a successful campaign against the spread of dengue with citronella as a natural mosquito deterrent. It was Archbishop Rolly Tirona with the clergy from the Archdiocese who first showered their blessings on the day the People’s Farm took off as a citronella growing demo farm, who walked with us on the muddy footpath, who shared good news and partook of foods served from the Farm and volunteers.

The Farm used to be a one-hectare idle wooded church property nestled at the heart of the barangay beside the covered basketball court, the MRF, and the half-finished evacuation building that bore the name of the former VP Leni Robredo. It was in one of TBM’s relief distribution activities held at the covered court in 2018 that Nay Virgie Blasa, the acknowledged leader of the disaster survivors, called my attention to the nearby vast idle land with a bright green cover of weeds, papaya, banana, and assorted small trees and plants. I had earlier asked her to look for a vacant area for growing citronella plants and vegetables as a potential livelihood project for the distressed families who did not have to leave their homes but plant and grow citronella to drive away mosquitoes, then produce oil from distilling them and sell to the neighborhood.

In 2018, the Archdiocese of Caceres signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Ilaw ng Kababaihan, a community-based women’s association registered with the DoLE and represented by Nay Virgie. The MoA was a simple document of taking care of the church property while it was still unused and for Nay Virgie and members to cultivate it for their purpose. With the MoA, the PODiS, Ilaw, and TBM volunteers transformed the property into a spacious land to grow citronella plants and farming. For weeks, months, and years, I joined the journey with the other TBM volunteers to build and develop the land into what it is today. Such efforts that extended to the Pandemic years were gratifying; TBM was awarded Most Outstanding Volunteer in 2020 by the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency. The collective experiences with the People’s Farm and the evolved social enterprises soon inspired a two-year project on Social Enterprises led by Dr. Cely Binoya, with a grant award from the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Central Office. An off-grid solar power panel from the DoST now powers up the Citronella Distillation Plant.

So, when the letter from the “Palasyo” reached Ilaw president Nay Virgie last October 10, it was the beginning of the end. The People’s Farm was her home for nearly five years; as the acknowledged leader of the more than 500 families in Canaman who lost their houses and livelihood to Typhoon Nina, she served as the “caretaker” and “manager” rolled into one. The letter was in English, but she accepted the news with some trepidation. People’s Farm members will turn over the property back to the Archdiocese which plans to set up a school in its stead. The People’s Farm is simply a borrowed land.

Nay Virgie could not hold back her tears. It was as if a typhoon struck once more. This time, there are no rains, no thunderstorms, no flooding. The news that very soon, she, at 69, and her husband, at 74, will move out of the People’s Farm, and the Farm itself will no longer be as it was, the citronella growing Farm with the cow named Podis, the stable of healthy chickens, goats and rows of vegetables. But grieve not. The struggle continues. Let us be thankful and celebrate the victories.


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