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PRRM Prez leads PRRM Negros’ 25th Year Celebration, Visits first PRRM communities in Negros

by Nappy R. Manegdeg and Edwin Balajadia

PRRM President Isagani Serrano led PRRM Negros’ 25th anniversary celebration in October 2011 by going back to the first communities that PRRM has served with support from the German-Agro Action (GAA), now Welthungerhilfe (WHH), at the height of the sugar industry crisis in 1986.

PRRM Prez Serrano shares stories with the CIS beneficiaries in Hacienda Tizon.

Joined by PRRM staff and partners, Seranno’s work tour in Negros commenced in the upland village of Hacienda Tizon, Brgy. Gawahon in Victorias City, where the village leaders proudly shared that the communal irrigation system (CIS) built by PRRM increased the irrigable land from a one to 11 hectares. The local organization still abides by the “no work, no food” dictum. According to farmer-leader Randy Pedroso, each farming household has to earn a minimum number of hours working on the land to qualify a division in the farm’s produce come harvest time.

Serrano with Negros Occidental Vice Governor Genaro Alvarez discussing poverty alleviation strategies for the sugar workers

He said that the CIS has brought hope to their lives, and hence they were not forced to migrate to the city center to look for employment, as was the case of other upland farmers. Eddie Buanafe, the CIS project team leader, also explained that the members regularly clean the main irrigation canal from debris and that the watershed area is maintained and improved by tree planting activities. Another CIS project in Brgy. Montilla in Moises Padilla town is being operated and maintained by the Montilla People’s Association for Development. CIS Project Team Leader Benedicto Castillo said that the project expanded irrigation service to 10 hectares, enabling farmer-members to plant two rice croppings in a year, and providing the households a secure source of food for their families. During Serrano’s courtesy call to Negros Occidental Vice Governor Genero Alvarez, Jr., the latter explained that poverty levels remain high in the upland areas of the province, particularly in sugar farming households. He added that the provincial government is demonstrating crop diversification and agricultural value-adding to give farmers and rural communities opportunities to increase their incomes.

Among PRRM’s best practices in Negros is its pre-school/day care education and nutrition program. As a response to the threat of famine, particularly to toddlers and children during the sugar crisis, PRRM implemented a food and nutrition program. PRRM established day care centers where parents left their children while they searched for odd jobs and other sources of food for their families. In these centers, feeding programs were implemented to prevent the incidence of malnutrition of children under five years old. These centers have been sustained to date. In Brgy.Guinpana-an, Moises Padilla, the laughter and singing of the children can still be heard in the day care center run by the Grupo Para sa Kauswagan.

Pre-schoolers from Brgy. Guinpana-an gamely pose with Serrano.

“I have witnessed the growth of my pupils into becoming productive members of society,” shared a proud Elma Plaquino, the day care center’s teacher for the past 13 years.  She said that around 95 percent of their graduates have finished elementary, while some have gone to high school. Plaquino added that poverty remains to be the biggest obstacle for children to finish primary and secondary education in their area.

In Brgy.Cabagnaan, La Castellana, leaders and members of the Sustainable Organization for Forest Protection and Agricultural Development (SOFPAD) led by Nanay Virgie Rico warmly welcomed the PRRM delegation. During conversations with the community, SOFPAD leaders displayed their processed food products from banana chips to powdered yellow ginger. Rico said that their advocacy work have paid off because the provincial Department of Trade and Industry has been regularly assisting them in product development and packaging of the processed food items through the One Town One Product program. Their only hurdle now is to get certification from the Bureau of Food and Drugs to allow them to sell their products in the mainstream market.

Serrano and Negros Area Manager Edwin Balajadia with Isabela Mayor Francis Malabor meet on attaining the MDG on education.

The PRRM group passed by the municipality of Isabela on their way to Kabankalan City to pay a courtesy call to Isabela Mayor Francis Malabor, who has been a member of PRRM Negros Chapter since he was still a town councilor. Mayor Malabor said that many of the day care centers established by PRRM in the late 1980s are still operating and that the LGU is supporting eight of these centers. He thanked PRRM for its projects in the area, which are in line with his office’s thrust in meeting the Millennium Development Goal for education; every year, the municipality sponsors the college education of 200 selected students from poor families.

One of the old cities of Negros Occidental is Kabankalan, and it is also the first city to pass its own Environment Code. PRRM Negros with like-minded city legislators drafted and rewrote the Kabankalan City Environment Code until it was approved by the city council. During Serrano’s visit, the city council suspended its session and invited the PRRM President to give a message. Serrano thanked Kabankalan Vice Mayor Delia Anacan and the members of the city council for its continuing support to PRRM’s work in the area, and announced PRRM’s forthcoming 60th anniversary. Hosting the group in Kabankalan is City Councilor Raul Rivera, president of the Philippine Legislators League-Negros Chapter, and concurrently the vice chair of PRRM Negros Chapter.

The PRRM group finally reached its last stop at the Fishery Learning Center in Brgy. Pilar, Hinigaran, which is one of PRRM’s successful mangrove reforestation sites. Initiated in 1999 with a few mangrove propagules, the reforested area now covers more than 12 hectares and continues to expand. Every year, students from colleges in Bacolod City troop to Brgy. Pilar to plant propagules and conduct coastal clean-up. Thriving oyster farms owned by small fisher-members are located within the mangrove forest. Oysters are gathered and processed into oyster sauce by PRRM partner, the Federation of Fisherfolk Associations of Hinigaran.

Role of PRRM and Negros CSOs in Sustainable Development

The week-long 25th anniversary celebration of PRRM Negros culminated in a forum themed, “The Challenge of Sustainable Development under P-Noy: Urgent Tasks for Negros Civil Society and Social Movements”, held last October 14 in Bacolod City. Representatives from people’s organizations, local government units, the media, and PRRM Negros Chapter participated in the forum with PRRM President Serrano as its keynote speaker. Considering the local, national and even the international development scenarios, the forum participants shared what they viewed should be the priority areas for their development initiatives.

Forum on the urgent tasks for the the Negros civil society and social movements culminates the PRRM Negros’ 25th year celebration.

In a one-hour radio guesting with Bombo Radyo Philippines-Bacolod, PRRM Assistant Vice President Carla Santos and PRRM Negros Area Manager Edwin Balajadia discussed how PRRM’s food aid program in Negros started in 1986, and how the work of the institution has shifted from relief to rehabilitation to focus on capacity building initiatives for CSOs in Negros for the past 25 years. “In preparation for PRRM’s 60th anniversary in July 2012, we are also organizing a year-long set of activities to celebrate PRRM’s continuing role in building sustainable communities not only in Negros, but also in other parts of the country,” Santos announced at the DYWB 1269KHz Good Morning Philippines radio program.

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