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The first time I encountered the word “rabus” I was instantly enamored and literally bewitched. I have not stopped searching for its meaning and origin since it cropped up during a random conversation among TBM members in a group chat. As it is now practiced, the word still captivates me no end.

It may sound a bit strange to my readers because I am a Bicolana by birth and family origin. But why would I not know what it means when everyone around me - organizers and advocates alike – in our TBM communities understood each other right away. I felt like a stranger in my birthplace. I grew up and schooled in Manila. I traveled around the country and outside and became more fluent in Tagalog and Cebuano. To feel “in,” I made a poster titled “RABUS,” confident that it would attract the volunteers who signed up for the collective clean-up activity last week. That, I thought, could make up for my deficiency in the Bicol language.

My search for the meaning of this word began two weeks ago. With the regular Pagheras of vegetable seeds from the DA, and donations of bamboo shoots, dwarf coconut plants that I received for growing at the People’s Farm, around the Berde Asul vicinity of the TBM-DA distillation facility, and at the Tinago Urban GBT (Gulayan sa Bakuran at Tahanan).

Pagheras is a regular occasion for sharing seeds, seedlings, and tubers for family disaster survivors, TBM’s primary program beneficiaries, which began at the start of the Pandemic lockdowns when families were confined to their households to avoid the spread of Covid-19 and ensure food in the backyard.

Before the seeds are planted on new grounds, our TBM experts in resilient agriculture, led by Mam Joyce and Doc Cely, advised the volunteers to prepare well for the upcoming Rabus. “Madoot na satuyang tatanuman” (“The areas where we would plant are already bad), reported a volunteer. So, what followed was a vigorous exchange in the GCs of what to prepare for a successful RABUS. Again, I saw the excitement, especially of the young members of Bugkos who thought of the planned rabus as a way to get together, stay connected and have fun while engaged in a back-breaking community chore.

I then found that “rabus” is a Bicol term very familiar among those who till and work manually on the soil and the surroundings – among farmers, women vegetable gatherers, people, including the youth in the barangays, and the schools who volunteer their manual labor to help.

On the TBM GC, I posted to ask what is “rabus” and what does it mean? The president of Ilaw ng Kababaihan, Grace, quickly replied, “sama-samang paglinis.” There were also a couple of private messages sent, which told of their experience of doing “rabus” in schools as part of the parent-teachers activities. Mama Marilou of Nabua talked about doing rabus in the barangay, where everyone engaged in collective cleaning.

The renowned Bicolano historian Doc Danny Gerona, sent his brief scholarly note, which Board Trustee Doc Cely Binoya forwarded to the TBM board messenger account. Danny texted, “The term rabus or rabos is also called rabas based on the 17th century Bicol Spanish dictionary of Fray Marcos de Lisboa. It means to carry out completely, a task in a group. This is almost the same with the Tagalog (word) bayanihan, from bayani which, according to the 1613 Tagalog dictionary of the Franciscan Friar Pedro de San Buenaventura means a work of bayanihan.” The following day, who else would I meet at a nearby mall but Danny and his wife, Karen. I told Danny, it’s Tabang Bikol! “Tarabangan!” Mam Joyce echoed gladly, “... iyo man gad, rabus ..iyo yan pagtarabangan sa sarong gibo o trabaho sa komunidad.” Again, it is about working together, in this case, cleaning up a place, spade and shovel in hand, toward a clean community.

Framework of Bayanihan

Mag-rabus Kita is, therefore, an expression of a collective spirit of civic unity and cooperation among the people for a typical desired result to have a clean surrounding. It fits nicely into the larger framework of Bayanihan, one of the enduring positive Filipino values that inspire the community to help fellow countrymen. In Philippine culture, the Bayanihan spirit is one of helping others without expecting rewards to achieve a common goal. Rabus is rooted in the communal spirit of our pre-colonial ancestors, shown among barrio folks carrying together on their shoulders the houses of their neighbors who move from one place to another. Another Tagalog word for Bayanihan is pagdadamayan which means sharing other people’s burdens, especially in times of crisis, and if things change for the better, a sharing of a better life.

Today’s relevance

The world is a planet in danger. The country is in a grave crisis. Cleaning up the mess of pollution, debt trap, corruption, food insecurity, crime, homelessness, joblessness, miseducation, high prices and low wages, disease, and natural disasters is more than a tough job. The larger context of cleaning up the world and the country of their garbage is a daunting task. The challenge at hand is not only to pull out the weeds and clean up the trash in the world but to plant certainty and a future. Last night at the Rawis, Legazpi City, Albay campus of Mariners, Mam Nila, an environmentalist, and Mam Merle, a women’s rights advocate, joined my husband and I in a walk on the park overlooking the beautiful bay across the road. They agree that rabus in the context of climate change should be about working together to raise awareness on the most critical environmental issues in human history, among others.

Next week, the state of the nation (SONA), the first by a new President of the Republic, is expected to present the problems of the country and how he and the administration intend to cleanse or purge them. For, if there will be no thorough cleaning of the social weeds, how can it plant certainty and a better future?


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