By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Jey Mart Erasquin, a civil engineer, was bored.
Erasquin, 26, had just stepped into the corporate world when the nagging feeling of wanting to help people began. A year later, in 2020, he decided to resign and return to his work as an engineer for Sibol ng Agham ng Agham at Teknolohiya, a non-government agency that brings development projects to the country’s rural poor.
“It is a different feeling when you are working to make your executives rich, and that you are just out there to earn. It also feels different when you know you are able to help people,” he told Bulatlat in a Zoom interview.
Erasquin is among the engineers who volunteered to work on a solar-powered irrigation pump for the farmers of Lupang Ramos, a 372-hectare disputed land in Dasmariñas, Cavite. Behind this effort are groups of scientists from Agham, Pro-People Engineers and Leaders (Propel), and Sibat.
The ongoing land dispute has made it difficult for Lupang Ramos farmers to avail of government programs, including water for household and farming needs. As such, families buy water by the bucket, which is more costly, while land productivity for their farms has yet to reach its full potential.
Erasquin said it is important to explore how science and power can help communities.
Project in Lupang Ramos
The letter that farmers sent to Sibat immediately caught Erasquin’s attention. He saw both the need of the people and their resolve to fight for their right to the land they are tilling. The situation that farmers were in, Erasquin said, was an eye-opener.
“There are still many communities where government assistance is out of reach, including basic necessities that should be rightly afforded to them. Organizations need to stand with communities and demand that the government listen to them,” Erasquin said.
Read: ‘Bungkalan’ in Lupang Ramos: The collective struggle for land and climate-resilient and community-led food production
Erasquin and the rest of the volunteer engineers for the project have been able to conduct their field research and design.
Farmers originally suggested a hydraulic ramp pump, which would only require simple tools to build. However, the current of the community’s water source was not strong enough to build on. Volunteer engineers have also checked the water pump that was provided to them by the Department of Agriculture. Running this, however, is too costly, as farmers need to shell out about P2,000 ($40) daily.
Erasquin said their team has designed a solar-powered water pump that can irrigate the 54-hectare land and provide potable water for the community.
If the project pushes through, a ten-hectare irrigated rice field can yield 500 cavans of rice. He said there will also be a 20-hectare land allotted for corn, and another 24-hectare land for vegetables.
As it stands, they are looking for funds to be able to start the construction. They will also be training farmers on how to maintain the solar-powered pump.
“When non-government organizations carry out projects like these, we want to make sure that it is sustainable and that it leads to the empowering of the people,” said Erasquin.
Erasquin was even more awed when he finally visited Lupang Ramos, a farming community in the middle of a commercial area. Waging a struggle against real estate giants to keep the land is not easy, Erasquin added.
Joining bigger causes
Another scientist involved in the project is geodetic engineering graduate and physics teacher Franklin Maraya.
Maraya said it is important to be able to know more about the community and their way of life before introducing any project or technology.
During his one-week stay at Lupang Ramos, Maraya, also a member of Agham, joined farmers in their daily activities. He was amazed at the traditional knowledge of Lupang Ramos farmers, including how to spot a weed from palay in one look.
“I was quite successful at it. But there were some of the palay that did not make it,” he said in jest.
The harsh realities confronting Filipino farmers are not new to Maraya as he grew up in San Miguel, Leyte. Farmers there, his relatives included, risk their health for a small pay at the end of the day. He also witnessed teenagers leaving school to become farm workers to bring food to their table.
But when he visited Lupang Ramos, Maraya said he was awed to see the collective struggle of farmers to assert their rights. From the young residents to their elders, Maraya said that each member of the community has a place to contribute in their struggle.
As a teacher, he said that integrating with sectors is important in learning, and found it unfortunate that in most schools, the education is seemingly limited to the four walls of a classroom. As a scientist, on the other hand, he said this helped him a lot in seeing how his organization’s advocacy on national industrialization could eventually materialize in the future.
“Agham has long been advocating for national industrialization. So, it is important that we can see the link between pushing for this and the problems being faced by farmers. We cannot achieve national industrialization if landlessness among farmers and the support for the agriculture sector have yet to be addressed,” Maraya told Bulatlat.
Up for more challenge
However, no matter how good these projects and initiatives are, scientists like Erasquin and Maraya, as well as the organizations that they belong to, are not spared from red-tagging and other forms of attacks.
“I think every NGO has their own share of red-tagging no matter what initiatives they do. Eventually, we learned to shrug it off and not be worried,” said Erasquin.
Their constant engagement with communities pushes them to dream further projects that will benefit the people, including a platform that can link farming communities to institutions that can assist them, said Maraya.
For Erasquin, on the other hand, the decision to walk away from what could have been a lucrative job was not at all easy. It took a lot of might, Erasquin said, to finally decide as he was the family’s breadwinner. Relatives, he said, questioned his decision and found his pursuits unworthy.
“But I remained steadfast. Soon, they saw that I was happy. And when they finally see that, they will eventually support you, most especially when they see the good things that we are doing. You just have to pluck up the courage,” Erasquin said. (RVO)
To donate for the project, go to this link: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/drinking-water-for-500-threatened-farmers/