Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos struggled early in life to provide for his family’s needs. He may not have impressive academic credentials, having finished only Grade 6, but his knowledge of the national situation is more impressive and credible than some government officials. Ka Daning has a distinct advantage: He knows poverty because he lives it and he integrates with those like him.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
In May 2000 in Benguet province, campus writers discussed the call to oust then President Joseph Estrada. Everybody was in deep thought as to who could replace such a corrupt president. After some time, one of the participants exclaimed, with all certainty, “Ka Daning!” (Ka is short for kasama or colleague)
Of course, that didn’t happen. But to the many young students who listened to his speech, Ka Daning or Danilo Ramos, the secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines), was more credible than any politician they hear every day.
Ka Daning spoke on the national situation. Holding palay in one hand and a drawing of a typical landlord and tenant-farmers, Ka Daning narrated vividly the plight of the peasants. He related to the urban-based students the exploitation and oppression of the poor majority in rural areas.
Some wept at the end of his speech. Many others felt outrage. Everybody was convinced of the need for genuine land reform and national industrialization.
His ability to articulate the sufferings and struggles of the peasant class comes from Ka Daning’s own experience as a landless farmer. Born on Sept. 17, 1956, Ka Daning grew up in Bgy. Dakila in Malolos, Bulacan (located in Central Luzon, south of Manila). His father, a carpenter and tenant farmer, died when he was five years old. His mother also came from a peasant family. They made bangkaso, a bamboo-made tool used for spreading fertilizer, for a living.
They planted rice, mongo and peanuts. During his elementary years, Ka Daning said he and his siblings walked for about a kilometer to deliver food for the tenant farmers. As a boy, he helped in preparing the seedbed, which they call pagbubulubod. Even though they were times of hardship, Ka Daning could recall the joyous singing of the farmers while planting. Someone would play the guitar while the farmers sang, and the rhythm of their steps in planting went well with the music.
That early too, he witnessed how the landlord family in their community lived like gods. Ka Daning said his relatives and their neighbors who were all tenant farmers always gave their best chickens and produce to the landlord family. During fiesta (celebration), the farmers and their children will go the house of the landlord to provide services for free.
Like many children of poor peasant families, Ka Daning was compelled to stop schooling after finishing Grade 6. He remembered making salakab, a bamboo-made tool used for fishing, to earn a living instead of going to high school.
Still, he cherished his years of learning. They would walk for almost two kilometers from home to school. He used a bayong (a bag made of dried buri leaves) as a school bag and was given five centavos as allowance. Ka Daning regrets that he did not make it to the honor roll when he was in Grade VI. He was influenced by his peers to skip classes. They would play tatsing (a game using bottle aluminum covers) or go swimming in the river.
When he was older, he immersed himself in farm production, working from as early as 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. Ka Daning said that even as they perform bayanihan (collective farming) in the community, they still had to work very hard.
After the harvest season, Ka Daning and his colleagues earned extra income as farm workers. They went to other peasant communities to work.
At 21, he married Trinidad whom he calls Ka Ining. Ka Ining, also of peasant origin, does embroidery work for a living.
From Bro. Danny to Ka Daning
Unknown to many, Ka Daning was Bro. Danny to his compatriots in Bulacan. In the 1980s, he became involved in the Kristiyanong Kapatiran (Christian Brotherhood) in Sta. Isabel Parish. Later, he became an officer of the Council of Formation and Community on Service of the Parish Pastoral Council.
Ka Daning related how his co-parishioners encouraged him to teach catechism to children. At first, he was apprehensive of his educational background. But the trust shown to him by colleagues and the trainings he underwent made him confident. His leadership in the church community was later on recognized at the diocese level of Malolos.
Today, he looks back at those days as being decisive in overcoming his docility and shyness. At that time, they were repeatedly told it was not their fault that they are poor.
It was also in the church where he became exposed to the realities of the Philippine society. He remembered taking up a short course on the subject. When he learned the meaning of the word feudalism, he realized it was the bare truth. “Totoo ito sa amin. Namatay si amang, hindi pa rin kanya ang lupang sinasaka. Gayon din ang iba pang mga magsasaka sa baryo namin.” (This is true in our case. My father already died as a farmer and yet, he still did not come to own the land that he tilled. The same is true with the rest of the farmers in our village.)
He recalled the first rally he attended. Their parish was invited to join the protest against the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. “Noong una, nagtatakip ako ng mukha. Baka makita ako ng mga kababaryo at ipamalitang sumasama ako sa rali.” (At first, I would cover my face. My neighbors might see me and spread the news that I was joining rallies.)
Years after, he decided to join a peasant group and organize among the peasants. Ka Daning said his decision was consistent with the teachings of the Church. “Sinabi ni Kristo, anumang ginawa mo para sa iyong pinakamaliit na kapatid ay ginawa mo para sa akin. Si Kristo mismo, ipinaglaban ang mga dukha at api.” (Christ said that what you do to the least of your brothers, you do it to me. Christ himself fought for the poor and oppressed.)
In 1983, he was elected secretary-general of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan (AMB, Alliance of Peasants in Bulacan). Recalling the first time he participated in a dialogue with government officials, Ka Daning said both his knees and voice trembled. He feared that the provincial agriculturist would debunk his statements. But his extensive knowledge of the problems of fellow peasants gave him the courage to speak out.
Five years after (1988), he became spokesperson of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL, Alliance of Peasants in Central Luzon). He served as the group’s secretary-general from 1989 to 1993. In November 1995, he rose to the central leadership of the KMP. Since 1997, he has served as its secretary-general.