Bungkalan in Hacienda Luisita: Dreams Realized, One Tilled Hectare at a Time

“Tiyaga lang talaga” (patience is all it takes), a cane worker says as he joins other farmers till idle lands waiting to be cultivated in Hacienda Luisita. They would not let the rich soil be left unattended.

The residents of Barangay Asturias, one of the ten barrios in Hacienda Luisita, have a lot to be grateful for. Their revolutionary post-Cojuangco vision of the 6,000 hectares (has.) hacienda is slowly but surely becoming a reality, one tilled hectare at a time.

The struggle against decades-old abuse suffered by generations of farmer workers in the much-disputed “sugarland” of the powerful Conjuangco clan did not end with the revocation by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) with the order to distribute land titles to the farmer workers. The true measure of resiliency for the new landowners is how to cultivate their resources to meet their daily needs, and if possible, alleviate their lives with some comfort.

Triumph of the Bungkalan

The bungkalan, a Filipino word meaning “to cultivate,” is the most damning counter-argument to the grounds raised by the Cojuangcos and their allies that self-sufficiency through the tilling of the land is not feasible.

Starting out as a propaganda vehicle to help in the 2004 strike of the sugar cane farmers and plantation workers of Hacienda Luisita, which culminated with the massacre of several farmer workers in the hands of the military and police manning the picket lines, the bungkalan is now a source of sustainable income for the former farmer workers. Or at least, an assured source of food to feed their families three times a day.

The most prolific example of the bungkalan’s success is Barangay Asturias, situated at the northern part of the hacienda, with more than 200 has. of cultivated land. Sixty of the two hundred has. are devoted to planting vegetables like talong (eggplant), okra, ampalaya, kamote, and Baguio beans. The remaining 140 has. are planted with palay (rice husks). And because of the prevailing labor exchange system of collective farming, where a family helps out another family in tending their plot for a cavan or two of rice, food has ceased to be a distressing problem for one can ask a neighbor for some provisions until their own patch of land can be harvested.

Tilling the land to grow rice, not sugar

Rodolfo Tolentino, 56, may be all smiles when asked of the bungkalan’s impact on his life, saying that his situation is better now than when he was working for the Cojuangcos. A member of the United Luisita Worker’s Union (ULWU), he used to earn a meager P9.50 per week without any stake to the land in his own backyard. Securities of the Hacienda would shoot anyone who was caught gathering any crops from the soil or taking fishes from the stream inside the property.

But the success of Rodolfo’s harvest of 17 sacks of rice from a 2,500 sq. meters land is not bereft of difficulties manifested by calloused hands from hours of manually tilling the land in order to make it yield rice, not sugar canes.

Rodolfo is one of the many former Hacienda workers who are not used cultivating the soil as they were trained to just be a member of the assembly line in factories, with a supervisor watching their every move closely. And it is with the bungkalan that he felt the difference of working solely for one’s self and for someone else.

“Amo mo sarili mo, sariling tanim, sariling kayod. Mas maganda ang ganito. (You are your own boss, your harvest is your own through your hard work. This is better.)”, he told Bulatlat.

And it is not only because of their lack of knowledge and training in agricultural practices that hinders some families to participate in the bungkalan, the initial cost of cultivating a patch of land may run a little high, leading most of the families to borrow from relatives and friends. Also, the influence of the former land owners is still widespread especially with the present government officials handling the Hacienda. It was only in Asturias where the people were able to isolate the Cojuangco loyalists as well as continued military presence in the area, though now guised in civilian clothing.

Investing for a village’s future

For the novice farmers of Hacienda Luisita, the initial outlay to tend the land consists of the fertilizer, pesticide, seedlings, and diesel for the irrigation pump. For the harvest, they would need to borrow a tracer to separate the grains from the husk and then pay for its gas. Because not all of them own a carabao (water buffalo), they also rely on the goodness of other persons in letting them borrow one.

Federico Cruz and Dong Gabuco, both in their late 40’s, are tending the same patch of land, reaching around 2 ½ has. Cruz put up the capital as Gabuco does not have any money he can use as outlay. Their 2 ½ has. are expected to produce 200 canvas of rice, with 58 canvas already yielded. They spent P7,000 for 10 fertilizer bags, P2,000 for two liters of pesticide, and P4,000 for 40 liters of diesel, aside from the price of the seedlings and other miscellaneous payments. All in all, their initial cost was P34,000 which would yield to a net income of P16,000 after selling their present 58 canvas produce for P500 per canvas.

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