by Lovely A. Carillo
Anne Wayan came from a family of natives who have resided in the boondocks of barangay Suawan in Marilog District, a mountainous part of Davao City that can be reached after a four-hour walk if one shuns the difficult road network.
“Nagsige lang man na saka ang akong papa sukad gianak mi pero wala man mi katilaw ug hayahay kay barato man lang ang kape ug mais na ginatanom namo unya lisod pud inaog sa syudad ang mga abokado namo ug laing tanom kay lisod ang dalan ug layo pud (My father has been farming our land since we were born, but we never tasted the good life because the prices of coffee and corn remained low and we could not even take our avocado and other fruit produce to market because of the difficult roads),” Wayan said.
Wayan is lucky because she was one of the indigenous people in the area who were able to seek employment in the city. She was able to finish high school as a working student at one of the Catholic-ran schools here. However, education has not changed life for the better and her family is still servant to their land which produces agricultural products they can’t even sell in the market because of the tortuous road network.
Wayan and her fellow indigenous peoples are supposedly among the priority beneficiaries of foreign-aided and government-funded programs, like the Mindanao Rural Development Program of the World Bank and the Department of Agriculture.
But while the Program has in part been successful somewhat in alleviating poverty of the indigenous people, particularly those who belong to the Sibulan Upland Farmers Association in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, there are more IPs like Wayan’s family who still are not aware that the government has plans for them, or that help is on the way.
The $84 million MRDP (the WB-DA’s poverty alleviation program) is in the second phase of its 15-year target. Because it now includes all the 27 provinces of Mindanao along with 225 municipalities, this could go either way — more provinces would be covered but at the same time, more people would remain untouched by the program.
While the project requires greater participation of local government units since they will be contributing 50% equity to the total amount of the project, it also brings some disadvantages since it is the LGUs which will be proposing the types of projects they need for their areas.
This virtually puts the faith of the indigenous people and the disadvantaged sectors of society in the hands of local chief executives, who may not be aware, or may have overlooked the needs of certain communities, much like that of this lowly barangay in Marilog District, which does not even quality under the selection criteria of the program.
“It is the local government which should submit their proposals for projects involving agricultural infrastructures like farm-to-market roads, irrigation, post-harvest facilities and potable water so they can access the funds,” MRDP deputy director Arnel V. De Mesa said during a media briefing held at the Waterfront Insular Hotel.
The problem is that a big bulk of DA’s anti-poverty program fund for Mindanao has remained untapped because of very few proposals coming from the LGUs. In fact, a few months ago, De Mesa said more than P450 million had been allocated for Mindanao’s agriculture infrastructure for the year’s first semester, but only half of it has been accessed.
Lucky for small towns like Bansalan, Davao del Sur or San Isidro in Davao del Norte, which are among the beneficiaries of the anti-poverty alleviation program, because they have well-defined and targeted needs for their people. As for the other barangays in the boondocks, which were unfortunately included in highly developed cities like Davao, accessing the fund should have been easy and yet, it has not turned out that way for one reason or another.
So far, the community fund for agricultural development under the MRDP has released more than P47 million to more than 500 livelihood projects, mostly for women and indigenous people in Mindanao. More than P250 million worth of projects are on-going or near completion, while close to P26 million worth of farm-to-market roads have been completed.
While these figures can make a very big difference in the lives of Mindanaoan’s, it is a grim reality that are barangays still wallowing in poverty. Most IPs in these barangays are resigned to the fate that befell their forefathers — to live and die in poverty.