Neneng’s Idea. Louie Tabing & science in Asingan

MANILA – Sunday, 06 December 2009, we are in our hometown of Asingan in Pangasinan in Central Luzon in the Philippines; my old/new girl friends Neneng Manuel, Neri Tepace, and Lady Councilor Julita Orpiano and I am in a seminar in, shall I say, the sciences of restoring the health of the soil (using organic fertilizer), and of growing healthy foods for the people (locally produced milk from local and imported cattle, eggs & meat with poultry & livestock grown with natural feeds, and virgin coconut oil from local nuts). You're nuts if you don't think health is wealth as it comes naturally.

In this seminar, 67 farmers are in attendance, 21 from Asingan, and 46 from other towns in Pangasinan: Alcala 2, Bayambang 2, Binalonan 2, Laoac 1, Manaoag 2, Pozorrubio 4, Rosales 4, San Manuel 1, San Nicolas 6, Santa Maria 5, Sison 1, Tayug 4, and Villasis 2. They came from other places. From Nueva Ecija Province: Cuyapo 1. From Tarlac Province: Gerona 1, Moncada 2, and Ramos 4. From La Union Province: Rosario 1.And Palayan City 1. (Photo: Louie Tabing and his virgin coconut oil with farmers in the Asingan seminar)

The numbers are a little indication of how many farmers listen to "Sa Kabukiran" (In the Farms), a radio program anchored by Louie Tabing at DZMM TeleRadyo (TV-radio simulcast) and aired 4-6 AM Saturdays and Sundays. DZMM is the flagship AM radio of the biggest media network in the Philippines, ABS-CBN. They are all here to listen to him in person, and so am I. Soft-spoken, Louie Tabing is a leading voice in the firmament of Asian radio broadcasting of science for development. Reading and thinking about its history today, the way I see it, Louie's Tambuli Project had the germ of an original concept of a community radio that becomes a medium for empowerment. Thus, in the words of Alfonso Gumucio Dagron, the station "talks about their daily problems and works hand-in-hand with the community to find solutions" (2001, comminit.com). Serendipity! I found what I wasn't looking for. What can be a more beautiful, practical, encompassing, if unintentional, definition than this? Empowerment is "talking about problems and working hand-in-hand to find solutions."

Over the years since the 1960s, the name "Louie Tabing" has cropped up in my consciousness because of his consistent advocacy of, not to mention achievements, in promoting applied science for farm families in the Philippines and other countries through what I shall refer to here as the LT brand of broadcast journalism. He has a good voice to begin with; he has the heart that goes with that.

And this has something to do with why I, a college graduate of agriculture and a certified teacher, am here today listening to him expound on opportunities offered by agricultural science and technology in the villages. It was Neneng's idea (her first idea of a whole seminar coming over) to invite Louie and his all-volunteer group, the Pangkat Kaunlaran (Group for Growth, my free translation). She was an avid listener of his radio program, and the idea had struck her to invite him via a text message (SMS) to visit Asingan, and he had consented. Then Louie remembered that a certain friend / dorm-mate in the 1960s at the Aspiras Dorm right next to the campus of the University of the Philippines' College of Agriculture, UPCA, by the name of Frank Hilario, was a native of Asingan, and perhaps he could meet him? (I stopped listening to the radio and reading the newspapers in 1983, as a silent protest, after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated.) To make a long story short, I have traveled more than 200 kilometers to meet an Asian hero of village communication, not because he acknowledged our friendship of a long time ago but because I thought it would be a very interesting story to tell after all of 23 years, when sometime during the last years of Martial Law, perhaps early 1986 Louie had me as one of the talking guests in his radio show at Radio Veritas, and he was one of those agitating for change for better, not worse. You may forget your friend, but your friend may not forget you. Together, friends can do more. Louie is a thinker, talker and doer; I'm a thinker and writer - thinking synergy, we'll meet again and we can think more about what to do for the old country.

To recollect: After graduating from UPCA, Louie had risen from the ranks and become Station Manager of Radio Veritas, the station that deposed a ruler (Ferdinand E Marcos, 25 February 1986); he had trained with the BBC in radio and TV broadcasting; he had succeeded in getting a million-dollar funding from DANIDA for his serendipitous idea of low-power transmitters for community radio stations, 500 watts and below, run by people volunteers, the Tambuli Project. He was recognized for that achievement and he became the Asian advocate for community radio, that which is non-franchised and is operated collectively by the community. He set up his Tambuli Project to provide technical assistance and training in this medium. This is "moving towards popularizing and democratizing communication," he said (Dagron as cited). He set up the Tambuli Foundation to sustain the growth of this medium in the Philippines, where tambuli is an acronym for "Tinig ng Aming Munting Bayan upang Umunlad ang Lalong Maliliit" (The Voice of Our Small Town for the Growth of the Really Small Ones, my translation).

Today in my hometown, Louie talks some more about a favorite health-related product: virgin coconut oil; I like to simplify and call it virgin coke. His advocacy of virgin coke as a food supplement that is excellent for the human body has reached the point where he himself now makes and exports cold-processed Kaluwi (Tagline: "Extra Virgin Coconut Oil") - and yet, here he is, teaching those of us who cared to listen how to make our own virgin coke in the practical way. "2 minutes," he said, was all he needed to explain it: Extract the milk from the virgin meat and mix it with its own virgin water and let it stand still - and wait for the virgin oil to separate from the cream (top layer) and the water (bottom layer). To harvest the oil cleanly, store in the refrigerator for some time until the oil solidifies, which is when it's easy to separate from the top and bottom layers. That's how to make virgin coke? That's virgin advice.

Now, how do you explain why Louie is teaching us how to make our own virgin coke when he knows that he is competing against his own brand of virgin coke? (I bought a bottle of his.) If we produced our own and decided to sell, it would then be something like it's Kaluwi vs Kaneneng vs Kaneri vs Kajulita vs Kafrank, so why share? Why, I can guess. You share a blessing. Louie Tabing knows that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

When I heard enough about how today's seminar came about after Neneng's initial idea, it struck me that, with a little help from friends JO and Neri, she was much enthused and seemingly indefatigable in seeing to it that the event happen more or less as she had imagined it, with very little funding support, that I said to myself, "There is hope for Asingan after all." I was very careful to tell JO that. You don't say die until you're dead.

My old hometown has been a sleeping Rip Van Winkle for the last 50 years; too long. I've written about it, not too much. Notwithstanding, for all I know, Asingan is the intellectual capital of Pangasinan, even of Central Luzon. She has given the country a President (Fidel Valdez Ramos), a Senator (Letecia Ramos Shahani), an Ambassador (Narciso Ramos), 2 Chiefs of Staff (FVR and Hermogenes Cendaña Esperon), a Governor (Rafael Colet), 4 congressmen (Narciso Ramos, Luciano Millan, Justino Benito Sr, Ranjit Ramos Shahani), 1st CPA topnotcher in the Philippines (Pascasio Banaria), and last but not least, a journalist: Crispina Martinez-Belen (the venerable Manila Bulletin) and a science writer and an author of books, yours truly (the online American Chronicle newsmagazine; 2 books, about ICRISAT). Our old school, Rizal Junior College, was the #1 high school in Pangasinan, and my great love for reading was much nourished in her well-stocked library. If you don't read much, you can't write much; if you don't read well, you can't write well; if you don't write more, you can't write better.

So I thanked Heaven that Louie Tabing and the Pangkat Kaunlaran came. We were all there at the Sports Center of Asingan, right next to the new municipal building in front and the old Roman Catholic Church at the back, both a stone's throw away - a vestige of Spanish occupation and domination. (That is past; I have forgiven; I have to move on.) For today, they talked about recognizing and seizing opportunities for personal growth and social progress. His group is pushing, he said in so many words, for the development of village economies. They are using radio and person-to-person media to get their message across.

When the topic turned to hybrid rice, it was nothing new to me as I had worked as consultant for the Philippine Rice Research Institute, PhilRice in Nueva Ecija 2 years before. But JO completely surprised me when she announced that the town of Asingan now had a funded program of hybrid rice in 5-ha clusters, with some free seeds and other materials offered to cooperating farmers. That would be a first. Was PhilRice into this? She had no idea that I myself had been unsuccessfully advocating hybrid rice through PhilRice for Asingan for the last 3 years and had been talking to some people who could be liquid if they wanted to and who had more than enough ricefields for trials (demos). I saw her dream and admired her drive and determination. Apparently, I had not been as enthusiastic and as resourceful as she had been. It takes a lady with resolve.

Rey Itchon, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, talked about his Sunshine Chicks, that is, the Sasso breed of native chicken from France introduced into the Philippines in the 1990s (Zac Sarian, 07 April 2008, Bannawag, page 46). Raised on the range and on organic feed, this is a fast-growing, high-performing, low-cholesterol, native-tasting breed. Itchon said the Sunshine Chicken grows to 1.4 kilos in 49 days. Delicious spring chicken. Isn't she perfect?

Ched Garcia, Professor Emeritus of UP Los Baños, talked about organic growing of crops, including the need of crops for 13 elements, which they get from organic materials, and not just 3 (N, P, K), which you give via chemical fertilizers. A family friend, she is, I know, the originator of Bio-N, the Azospirillum bacteria-based nitrogen fertilizer. For decades, she had promoted her science-based fertilizer idea, but it was only William Dar, when he became Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, DA of the Philippines, who threw DA support behind Bio-N (author not named, ANN, agribusinessweek.com). Isn't that lovely?

(More about Dar: He is indeed an innovative, pioneering Ilocano, from Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur. I have written about him; see for instance my "Servant Leader William Dar. Can't lead, can't follow," 10 October 2009, americanchronicle.com. From his, as it turned out, groundbreaking assignment with the DA, Dar went on and became the most outstanding among the heads of 15 international centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR, becoming Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, ICRISAT based in India, 2000-2004, and staying on for 10 years as DG. (If you want more of ICRISAT, visit its newsite here: icrisat.org.) Before that 2nd term is over, 2005-2009, he has been appointed by the ICRISAT board for an unprecedented 3rd term, 2010-2014. I wrote in that American Chronicle essay: "If you can't follow, you can't lead." Like Louie Tabing and William Dar, the Filipino can be a world-class leader if he makes himself a world-class servant. Isn't that beautiful?)

As an aside, Ched mentioned that poverty was not a hindrance to success on her part, and that she owed a debt of gratitude to a certain unforgettable Mariano A Micu of Macalong, Asingan for physically bringing her to the campus of the then-affordable, low-tuition, public UP College of Agriculture, UPCA, to study, as she could not have afforded any other college. Isn't she gracious? More on Micu: Neneng has just checked on him and he is alive, with 6 children; the whole family is in California. (My aside: Very public UPCA has since become income-conscious, still public UP Los Baños but multiplying the cost of education so many times over that thousands of poor and deserving students cannot afford it anymore. Isn't that crazy!)

Aga Adriano, former Regional Director of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, talked about the need of society for science and technology to push for common growth and progress among the people of the country. He is a candidate of party list AGHAM, which aims, if I may borrow the words of Louie Tabing, "to push development through technology promotion." Science for the people.

Rey Joaquin talked about the Bulacan Agricultural Training Center, BATC milking herds: cow, carabao, goat, and about the BATC being successful with a herd of 200 head of cattle. He also mentioned their latest acquisition: 25 head of Brazilian buffalo. Through science, milk for the people.

Carlos Lopez, Mayor of Asingan, dropped in and spoke briefly about how he was a poor farmer's son who succeeded, about how a poor farmer can become a Mayor. Through perseverance, hope for the poor.

Ruperto Salido, a successful pioneer of organic fertilizer, talked about how with organic fertilizer a farmer can harvest more than 300 cavans of rice from 1 hectare - on record, it was Pepito Millares who did it, with 319 cavans. The organic fertilizer is rich in nutrients; how can it not give a rich harvest?

Millares is from Villasis, Pangasinan, a town right next to Asingan. A farmer leader in Asingan has told me our town has been abusing the chemical fertilizer (and chemical pesticides) too long and too much they can't grow a proper eggplant or tomato anymore they have to buy vegetables from next-town Urdaneta. And to think that Asingan used to be the vegetable capital of Pangasinan, perhaps of Central Luzon! Chemical fertilizer killed it. A proper organic fertilizer supplies a balance of macro nutrients (such as N, P, K), those that plants need in relatively large quantities, and trace elements (such as Ca, Mg, Zn, Cu, Mn, Fe, S), those they need although in much smaller amounts. So many more nutrients translate to better health of your crops, higher resistance to pests and diseases, and higher yields. You give more, you get more.

Finally, I now want to list down the names of today's participants because, once a teacher, always a teacher, I would like to follow-up on them after this:

Acosta, Martin (Asingan)
Alcairo, Victoria (Gerona)
Alcantara, Samuel (Asingan)
Ancheta, Lorenzo (Asingan)

Badua, Dinisio (Asingan)
Badua, Epifanio (Asingan)
Badua, Jesus (Asingan)
Bagasan, Victorino (San Nicolas)
Balingcado, Clinton (Rosales)
Basaen, Alfredo (Asingan)
Bautista, Ciara Nina (Asingan)
Bautista, Nena (Asingan)
Bautista, Renato (Asingan)
Bernabe, Maximiano (Pozorrubio)
Bince, Arsenia (Rosales)

Cacay, Romy (Tayug)
Casilia, Carmen (Tayug)
Castillo, Benjamin (Pozorrubio)
Castillo, Erlinda (Tayug)
Castillo, Juanito (Tayug)
Constante, Romeo (Asingan)
Corpuz, Alex (San Nicolas)

Damondon, Lydia (Asingan)
Dapeng, Armando (Sison)
De la Cruz, Rebecca (Santa Maria)
Delmendo, Pascasio (Asingan)

Estrada, Ernesto (Bayambang)
Estrada, Lucena (Bayambang)
Gandela, Esteban (Villasis)
Gasmin, Myrna (Moncada)

Lacab, Armando (Manaoag)
Lagonina, Ernesto (Asingan)
Laroya, Em (Asingan)
Luzano, Melicia (Santa Maria)
Luzano, Ronaldo (Asingan)

Mamuyak, Rodrigo (Villasis)
Nogales, Alfredo (Binalonan)
Olleta, Recor (San Nicolas)
Oria, Joel (Santa Maria)
Oria, Mino (Santa Maria)
Oria, Virginia (Santa Maria)
Orpiano, Julita (Asingan)

Pararuan Jr, Graciano (Palayan City)
Parcasio, Marcela (Ramos, Tarlac)
Pascua, Honorio (Asingan)
Pascua, Julian (Asingan)
Peleo, Ramon (Pozorrubio)

Quibuyen, Jessica (Ramos, Tarlac)
Quibuyen, Junneth Marie (Ramos, Tarlac)
Quibuyen, Carina (Ramos, Tarlac)
Quintela, Gregorio (Alcala)
Quintela, Rowena (Alcala)

Reyes, Conrado (Rosales),
Sanchez, Ricky (Rosales)
Santos, Ester (Binalonan)
Sardenia, Melisande (Moncada)
Sarmiento, Ella (San Nicolas)
Sarmiento, Rodil (San Nicolas)
Serra, Calixto (San Manuel)
Simon, Jun (Laoac)
Soliva, Arnel (Pozorrubio)
Sudiacal, Abraham (Asingan)
Suyat, Feliciano (San Nicolas)

Taberos, Larry (Manaoag)
Ulpindo, Florencio (Rosario, LU)
Velasco Jr, Felomino (Asingan)
Verueco, Benedicto (Cuyapo).

After the seminar, what then? I find that what Louie had said about community radio in 2001 is relevant in 2009 (Dagron as cited):

For community radio, my priority is for the participants to be able to look around within the community and see the opportunities within the community. We provided at least 3 stations with computers. I said to them - "Community radio is your mirror to yourselves. Internet is your window to the world." We are indeed hoping that there will be a marriage of community radio to Internet.

I did not have time to ask Louie what he was hoping to happen after this one-day seminar, and I forgot to ask about the Internet and climate change. But inspired by his community radio example, I think he was hoping that the participants would see more opportunities within their villages, so that in the not-too-distant future there would be a marriage of thinking organic with thinking climate change. More speedily through the Internet. And yes, you can talk person-to-person via the Internet. Starting with radio in a remote place, graduating to digital media and talking with anyone anywhere in the world. Communication is more than ever the lifeblood of the nation.

In any case, I would be interested in some form of follow-up after today's inspirational, informative, instructive seminar on science for the villages. Being essentially empowering, today's technologies are meant to be more socially acceptable and financially viable; and being essentially favoring the organic, today's technologies are meant to be polluting less and saving more energy. Conservation is the urgent call of Mother Earth.

We want change for the better, especially with climate change. Welcome, massive people change may not come from a one-day seminar, but it can begin there. I can see that Asingan, my Rip Van Winkle town, is waking up. Watch out when this sleeping giant rises!

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