Artists offer music, poems in honor of development workers

Pordalab music
Surprise performance from Pordalab members at the concert ‘Ipagtanggol, Development Workers’

“They try to bury us. They didn’t know we are seeds.”


MANILA –Artists and musicians performed in a four-hour concert to call for an end to the killings, vilification and harassment of development workers at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City, Saturday March 25.

One of the performers, Noel Taylo of the group Talahib, told the audience about their talks with indigenous people in their communities, such as the Igorot in the Cordillera. The latter had told them, he said, about how often they encounter researchers and investors coming in and promising a lot to their communities, yet, up to now, they haven’t seen positive changes in their lives.

“We in Talahib have no money to give them. But singing a song for them, singing about them, is what we can do, and what we can give them,” said Taylo.

Development workers are those engaged in various non-government projects to uplift the lives of ordinary Filipinos. They support livelihood projects, run schools, conduct training and research, with the participation of the locals in the poorest places in the Philippines, which are not being served or are hardly reached by government services. Their projects range from agricultural to disaster readiness to health and education and literacy.

They promote socio-economic initiatives addressing the right to food and education of farmers and indigenous peoples (IPs) in the country. Among these are development programs on sustainable agriculture, food security, appropriate technology, women’s empowerment, disaster risk reduction and management and cooperative development.

Although the projects they implement are vital and, in many cases, life-changing to the beneficiaries and participants, these have been viewed with suspicion by the government’s armed forces. The Armed Forces of the Philippines describe these projects and its proponents as “communist fronts.” Since the administration of President Arroyo, it funded and launched wars that openly included development workers, even though they are civilians, in their targets and identified “enemies of the state.”

The extrajudicial killing of Romeo Capalla, manager of a Fair Trade program in Panay, Markus Bangit an elder of the Binodngan People’s Organization of the umbrella organization of development programs in the Cordillera, and the torching, harassment and closure of alternative learning schools for the Lumads in Mindanao namely ALCADEV, CLANs, MISFI and others, indicate what development workers’ groups noted as a systematic effort to destroy genuine development programs for the farmers and IPs who are their program partners and beneficiaries.

Under the Duterte administration, the war that included development workers in the list of targets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is continuing. Since the Duterte administration began office less than nine months ago, at least 43 development workers have been killed and 118 have been illegally arrested or detained, said the non-government thinktank Ibon Foundation. However, the people continue to need and welcome the services and projects of development workers.

To stop this violence against the development workers, various groups launched a campaign opposed to the Philippine government’s war against the people, of which last Saturday’s concert was one of the activities.

Talahib music
Talahib band singing for people’s development at Bantayog ng mga Bayani (

To support the campaign seeking to put a stop to the killings and harassment of development workers, the Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT-Philippines), Philippine Network of Food Security Programs, Alay-Bayan Luson, Inc., Musika Publiko and KM64, sponsored a concert and poetry reading dubbed as Ipagtanggol, Defend Development Workers.

Outside the concert venue, their organizations brought products of their projects in the communities – mangoes, peanut and peanut butter, herbal medicines and ointment, wallets, bags and pouches, fashion accessories, organic rice and fruits, cookies, fruit wines, juices and coconut oil, among others.

Development work ‘only for love’

Karl Ramirez, vocalist and songwriter for the band called Pordalab which performed at the concert “Ipagtanggol, Development Workers,” said their music tackles not only what the people are fighting for but also the many other aspects of the ordinary peoples’ lives. It included love, getting heartbroken, and continuing to stay open for loving once more, said Ramirez.

The band fuses their music with their challenge to themselves: “We perform to inspire people to love. We perform to encourage people to care about others and our country.”

Indeed, at the concert, the participating musicians led by the more experienced Talahib offered compositions about the ordinary people and their hard working lives, about farmers and about the indigenous people. Talahib’s songs “Bumangon ka Kaigorotan” and their catchy version of “On Potok,” a song of the Dumagat tribe, gave tribute to the tribes’ defense of the land and its rivers from multinational corporations’ intrusion.

Talahib is a music band with a strong voice and identification with the ordinary hard working people. Their repertoire included original danceable tunes, blues, folk and rock. They blend into their music the stories of the progressive sections of the people, the contemporary music with the indigenous sounds and instruments.

Talahib has been performing since 2001 and immersing with the indigenous peoples, absorbing in the process their music and culture. Onstage the group radiated energy and solid identification with IPs. They have been wowing crowds at performances in public parks and other musical venues.

development worker Cecil Ruiz
79-year old Sr. Ateng (Cecille Ruiz) has worked for years with development workers such as Willem Geertman in communities of the indigenous people and farmers in Central Luzon.

Toward the end of the concert, Lani Santiago, spokesperson of Justice for Willem Geertman Movement, thanked the musicians, the poets and the rest of the development workers who took part in the concert. She also honored one of the concert-goers, Sister Ateng, or Cecile Ruiz, a 79-year old human rights worker who has worked for years with Geertman, traversing to organize the communities in the mountains of Central Luzon.

Ruiz would turn 80 years old in September, and she remains working in support of human rights. Before attending the concert, she just wrapped up with fellow rights advocates a fact-finding mission report into the rights violation case of Rommel Tucay, 38 a peasant organizer of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL). Their investigation revealed that Tucay was abducted and tortured by 30 composite elements of the 73rd Infantry Brigade and 56th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, and the Philippine National Police in Caranglan, Nueva Ecija on March 22.

She said they are bound to issue the report as soon as possible in their quest for justice. She fully agrees with how the concert was concluded with a couple of poems and a line that goes like this: “They try to bury us. They didn’t know we are seeds.” (

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