THE man on the other side of the globe seems to know my world better than I do. He was not friendly. He was not interested really to hear my answers to his questions but to land his verbal blows during our social media conversations.
He took me by surprise, to be honest about it. I just posted a press statement on the vegetable market glut during specific dates late last year and early this year by Dr. Cameron Odsey, OIC-Regional Executive Director, Department of Agriculture (DA)- Cordillera Administrative Region, and it did not take him one minute to send back his reaction.
I am peeved but for the sake of our readers, and my unreliable blood pressure, I held on to my better temperament.
But for our sake also, I gave in to the kind of talk that he seems to understand. I hoped to stop his generalized accusations against the DA, its partners and beneficiaries, on its tracts.
When I uploaded the press statement on the vegetable market glut, he wanted to know what “tangible and concrete” plans and actions the DA is doing to address the problem and the development concerns affecting the region's highland vegetable farming.
That is fine if he is someone who is really interested in helping the situation, not just to put us down.
In a previous post, he declared that the government and its systems “bankrupt” the farmers, pinning it to introduce a blog that he shared showing a truckload of carrots and other vegetables being dumped allegedly somewhere in the mountains.
Our conversation, on the vegetable industry and the market glut that happened late last year and early this year, was rather long. In all, he just wanted to say we have done nothing and we are not doing anything good for the farmers.
He simply noted an album I shared, showing some 28 photos of our tangible accomplishments for the farmers in Benguet as “our side of the story.”
Every response I make to his comments, he dismisses “simply as long and useless ad hominem arguments.”
It turns out that the “corruption thing” that he readily points out and attaches to our conversation pertains to an experience that happened, way back in the past, the details of which, he did not wish to present. But this person is no different from the others, I just encountered.
I believe social media should help to inform people in resolving their problems together. It is not there to demonize, lynch, and burn people like “sacrificial animals.”
Earlier, several farmers and their netizen supporters had me reeling from the blows they all sent in my direction, on social media, denouncing any accomplishments that the DA has done for them. They were reacting to a social media post I uploaded regarding our 2018 accomplishments with our farmers and local government unit partners for the Province of Benguet.
Our public report was uploaded simultaneously with “the blogs” on the market glut that occurred during the holidays of December 24, and 29-31, 2018, and January 2-7, 2019, to be specific.
Most of these angry reactions saw corruption and inept performance in our joint rural and agricultural development projects, even if these were regularly monitored internally by our people and externally by the financing and regulatory institutions.
I stare at the negative blogs and "highly emotional" remarks and reactions on my computer, wondering when this old refrain will stop from recurring.
You see, I spent some three decades or more in the Cordillera promoting agricultural development in the highlands along with my peers in the DA and its special projects. I see this nightmare coming back, time and again, every time a problem occurs in the sector. Some people have this need to vent their frustrations on us as if all problems in the sector are within our control. It seems to me, that we have always been there, not as development partners, but as “whipping boys and girls,” instead.
On most of those occasions, I was also seen to take up the cudgels for the DA and my peers. I can see there was no point for me taking on a defensive stance on such occasions, but to take the dizzying blows. When things get worse, all one does is to find a place to vomit and be relieved from the anger gathering within. You cannot carry all the curses an incensed public is venting against you, made worse nowadays with the advent of social media.
During these difficult moments, it is damn too hard to wake up and report to work. I am surprised I have not acquiesced but dutifully reported to work still, with a bruised ego and all. But on another note, I have actually, always acquiesced to this master and bully, like what Herbert Hoover, 31st president of the United States, once said, while confronting the critics and realities of his presidency. “Democracy is a harsh employer.”
Like Hoover, I take everything in stride and thank everybody for spending their precious time in airing their concerns and bringing it across to us, in all platforms they think fit, along with their expectations to be served with our very best, as soon as possible.
But there is a limit to that. If our communities would rather see us as super folks, gods, and miracle workers to solve their individual and common problems, we might as well get on with a dictator government instead. And if we could not be helped to take good care of our people, they might as well replace us.
I cannot speak for my fellow staff at DA-CAR, but I recall a period in its history when the budget for agricultural development for the region, was barely enough for office operations and the implementation of a few projects. We should have left too like the rest, but we remained.
It was Dr. Bong Bolo, who convinced me to return and work with the DA-CAR in the mid-1980s. Back then, we traveled to our operational areas using our salaries. In some instances, our farmer friends hosted us, because it was not possible to return back to Baguio City from your destination on the same day. In those days, it takes two days to travel to nearby municipalities from Baguio and back, unlike now. When the farmers started to ask us about “tangible and concrete plans and activities” for them and not just talk, we lost face.
When doing fieldwork, we made sure that the well-oiled private and corporate technicians are not around. In these private technicians selling chemical inputs traveled in style with their vehicles and offered farmers promotional T-Shirts, bags, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, knapsack sprayers, among many others. They hold meetings in restaurants, hotels, and public places that they hosted for the farmers.
We at the DA-CAR and our LGU partners are simply viewed as “tactacnicians,” or people who come for a free meal and disturb or waste their time.
Some of us at DA-CAR and its special projects have since moved out of the country as overseas Filipino workers. Some of them contact us every now and then. When they are able, they are helping us explain and clarify issues affecting our operations. The others, who have gone out and joined the private sector or moved to other government agencies, laugh with us when we are yet considered “tactacnicians,” this time in a different light.
The times have changed indeed, and I walk with a cane now. Thanks to government, many of the major and minor roads connecting our communities in the interior are cemented, and a number of us do not use the public utility vehicles to visit our project areas all over the region. Like the rest of us, who remained, holding on to our post, I wish we can congratulate one another as faithful soldiers.
Slowly, through the years, the budget of the DA-CAR increased. Credit that to the sacrifices of the DA-CAR and our central office staff, our LGU agricultural staff, and our friends in government, and financing institutions.
Over the last three years, government investment for agricultural development in the Cordillera dramatically increased to P1 billion to P1.7 billion. That never happened in the history of this republic and the DA. This does not seem to matter when a problem occurs. The bullying is even worse when the public seems to take on you on social media like it is your fault.
As I said earlier, I am not being defensive in writing this. Perhaps, I am guilty, inept, and corrupt. I have defended myself against these accusations with the Office of the Ombudsman and the Civil Courts, on a number of occasions, throughout my career. It follows a long process, is time-consuming, and very expensive. During the duration of this process, you are left on your own to confront your fears and shame. But it is more specific than simply accusing the DA, its people, and our Agriculture Secretary of "doing nothing" for our farmers. That is not only unfair but is out of character for the real Igorot, if I may say so.
Over the years, the youth have been abandoning agriculture in favor of the other professions. We have been enthusiastically encouraging them to reconsider.
I do not know if they see our encouraging them to become professional farmers or agricultural development workers and scientists as just talk, having no essential meaning at all.
I sigh narrating this story now to a young fellow beside me. “Sir,” he asks, “you have been encouraging us to study agriculture and help the sector to nourish our people. Seeing what is happening, I know better,” he said. I want to ask him what he meant. But, I preferred silence, more than anything else, this time around. I pray that after us, some super guys will come and take over where we left.