PASSING through the sinuous Halsema highway, I delight at the foliage painted on the mountains. But over the years, the hues have been changing. With the film “The Conjuring” playing on my mind and indeed conjuring a grim tomorrow, white mausoleums have mushroomed on the green landscape.
Disease hounding the mortals and vehicular accidents must be the culprit. And some, intentional self-injury or suicide. If the latter is the cause, the tombs most likely have young men (15-24 years old) who ingested farm substances containing paraquat, pyrethroid, or organophosphate. Paraquat is a highly toxic herbicide- a teaspoon spells death. The lung cells love this chemical and this deceptive love eventually deprives the body of air while the other vital organs are being attacked too. The pyrethroids in insecticides are neuropoisons just like the organophosphate compounds which compose pesticides (those with "–thion" suffixes like malathion). (Sarin is an organophosphate compound in nerve gases. This was responsible for the many deaths of innocent civilians recently in Syria.)
These agrochemicals have been harvesting our youth depriving our society with promising productive farmers and shattering families silently but in escalating proportions. Proportions that are worthy of attention for even one case of suicide is one too much for a caring community.
The accessibility of these chemicals and alcohol has been identified as an enabling factor in the suicide phenomenon in our farming communities. This was documented in the project “Pansigdan: Promoting Well-being in an Agricultural Community in Northern Luzon, Philippines- Understanding Suicide in the Context of Cash Crop Farming” implemented by the Benguet State University Institute of Social Research and Development and ResearchMate Inc.
The project also noted the lack of social integration (a connection between farm preoccupation and the lack of integration-bonding and support- that young people have in their families), personal and relational problems, life stressors and low frustration tolerance as predisposing factors to suicide. Reinforcing factors which prop up the potential for this occurrence include lack of social support, pursuit for attention and cultural ideologies or practices like toknang (satirical humor) and ginnuyod (contagion effect).
The project generated insights on how the Benguet households carry the brunt of yielding farm produce for others while the problems on globalization, policies, marketing, technical, infrastructure and financial stresses coupled with nature’s pests and climate change pin them to a corner of no choice and a hard life. Without adequate support and affirmative action, farmer families become victims of poverty many times. Poverty of quality time, of health, of information, of income, of a safe environment, of choices, of dreams, and of life.
If the trends endure, these vegetable terraces we see from the highways will be awash in white-painted tombs soon. From the greens that gave them money for life came the reds and yellows that sapped life that no money can assess. Green crops and red or yellow-labeled toxic agrochemicals aren’t a lovely pair. Life and death are horrible twins.
In the vernacular, "singin ta" was what green and red/yellow said to each other. Awfully, that sounded like the mother and factory of the deplorable yellow.
The society that condones the heavy use of pesticides actually is committing "socie-cide" (suicide) on a large scale and over time. Many pesticides are persistent organic pollutants (POPs). They stay and spread in our environment, get in the food chain, stick in food that we eat and water we drink, and build up and accumulate everywhere.
When we have to take sides, let us not be on the sorry side of suicide.
As we understand the causation of phenomena, so should our culture, practices and technologies adapt. As we understand the factors of the phenomena, so should the good in our culture, value system and communities be innovatively capitalized on and not be permitted to be lost.
Our condolences to the family of Dr. Charles Cheng, a respected community leader and health advocate. Thank you for your life of service that you have dedicated to the people especially the farmers of the Cordillera.