My 2012 visits to cities, encounters with hope

the face of faithMANILA - I call this image The Face of Faith, my first encounter with hope this year outside of me.

You're looking at a digital zoom image, #57, shot with my latest and newest digital camera, a Lumix FZ100, plus a Leica lens, minus a tripod. Yes, I'm a writer; I'm also a photographer. I have been writing, and taking photographs formally since 1975 when I began media work for the Forest Research Institute in Los Baños, Laguna, where I became Chief Information Officer. For FORI, Rody Maningas and I logged around the country, from North to South, a set of 4 Asahi Pentax lenses: normal, wide angle, macro, telephoto. Heavy equipment, great shots. That's why this time I bought the digital Lumix FZ100: Light equipment with an all-in-one Leica lens, great shots. Actually, all things being equal, great photography is not the photo equipment but the photographer.

At perhaps 10 km away from the highway, The Face of Faith is my shot at a bus stop, 26 February 2012, exactly 11:43:12 AM (dimensions 4320 x 3240 pixels, 5.3 MB). It's Sunday, and I'm late for the Panagbenga Festival in Baguio City, but it's only a side trip anyway. Tomorrow, I'm on my way to Laoag City, and from there to visit the Northern Foods Corp tomato processing plant in Sarrat and the tomato fields of farmers in Paoay, both towns in Ilocos Norte, and the tobacco fields of planters in Candon and Burgos, both towns in Ilocos Sur. Based in Manila, I'm going to all those places and spend only 72 hours, travel time included, all via public transport. Not to worry; I'm not harassed and I'm never bored; I always sit quietly and enjoy the views.

This is my first trip on my first book tour - I'm visiting places and people to gather enough photos and infos for a coffee-table book I'm producing for the Agricultural Credit Policy Council: The Filipino Farmer Is Bankable. The subtitle is: Celebrating 25 Years of the ACPC: Serving the Credit Needs of Small Farmer and Fisher Households of the Philippines.

I'm on a rush, actually. The book is supposed to come out 25 April 2012, which means I have only barely 2 months to shoot and write. Yes, including desktop publishing - designing, formatting, layouting, inserting images. Yes; this is a one-man job; I'm the writer, photographer, proofreader and publisher all rolled into one. While the assignment was impossible, I had accepted the assignment because I knew that if anyone could do it, I could. As a one-man band, I control almost everything, including time spent and more importantly, which computer programs to use and how - including shortcuts that probably number a thousand. You see, I'm been using the PC since 28 December 1985, or for the last 37 years. (I'm Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010, in case you wanted to know. My desktop publishing choice, you didn't guess it, is Word 2010.)

In 1975 BC (Before Computers), or 1975 AD (Age of Dinosaurs, that is, Typewriters), I was Editor in Chief of the FORI quarterly color magazine (Habitat), Editor in Chief of a quarterly technical journal (Sylvatrop), and Editor in Chief of a monthly newsletter (Canopy), and I never missed a publishing deadline in those 5 years and 7 months. Today, 25 April 2012, as I upload this, the book should come off the press to help celebrate 25 years of the ACPC. I hope so, but if it doesn't, this would be the first time I missed a deadline, and I'm 72 years old, and super computer-literate. It happens to the best!

AS I WAS SAYING before I interrupted myself, I went from Laoag City in the Ilocos Region, to San Jose City in Central Luzon, to Dumaguete City in the Visayas, to Villaverde in Nueva Vizcaya in Cagayan Valley, and to Talim Island in Binangonan, Rizal a few hours south of Manila. I met farmers, fishers, wives in entirely different places under entirely different circumstances, with different crops or commodities, different ways of earning better living via credit from the national government through the ACPC, which has commissioned me to do the coffee-table book in the first place.

For the book tour, I visited 5 cities (Laoag, Batac, Vigan, San Jose, Dumaguete) and 7 towns (Paoay, Sarrat and San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte, Villaverde in Nueva Vizcaya, Burgos and Candon in Ilocos Sur, and Binangonan in Rizal). Mind empty, camera loaded with 8 gigabytes of memory.

Starting around 2007, with a succession of 4 digital cameras - Canon, Samsung, HP, Panasonic - I now have a collection of 38,900 digital photographs, all of 101 gigabytes; from the book tour alone, I have a collection of 4,000 high-definition photographs and low-definition memories. I'm happy.

I travelled alone and lightly, bringing along not much more than a laptop, camera, and some clothes. I talked to farmers and fishers, conversationally. My questions were unstructured, as someone described it. Thank you for the left-handed compliment! I'm a creative writer and, I can assure you writers, unstructured is the way to go. I didn't write notes; I stored them in my random access memory, RAM if you please. I brought out my naivety; I didn't ask many questions, but even when I thought I knew, or even if it was obvious, I still asked. I wanted the encounter to be relaxed, as between friends. That is the secret of interviewing - you are here for some conversation, that's all. It never fails to bring out the best in people.

On hindsight, the thing that struck me most with those farmers and wives and officers of coop banks and NGOs was that I encountered hope from everyone.

What's this all about again? Technically, access to formal credit, mostly small loans to small guys in small places. Not very exciting if you think about it ordinarily. But I don't. We are talking about small farmers and fishers and their folks. We are talking about growing the Ilocos Red tomato bred by the NFC, about Virginia tobacco grown in Ilocos Sur, about rice grown in Nueva Vizcaya, about white onions grown in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija, about vegetables grown on the hillsides of Mt Canlaon in Negros Oriental, about fishing in Binangonan, Rizal. We are talking about unseen dreams.

I picked up an Ilocos Red tomato dropped by a picker in Paoay, took a bite on it, and I tasted optimism. National Tobacco Administration people and I visited tobacco growers in Candon and Burgos in Ilocos Sur and I smelt hope. Kalasag people and I walked half a kilometer out into the morning to the onion harvesters in San Jose City and I saw a bright tomorrow. Coop Bank of Negros Oriental people and I walked a kilometer up a hill in Canlaon City and I saw mostly green. Two from the Nagbitin Development Cooperative and I walked up the hill to a corn field and I felt good. An officer of Ahon Sa Hirap Inc and I rode a motorized banca to Talim Island in Binangonan along Laguna Lake, and I sensed great expectations.

The Development Bank of the Philippines is into wholesaling small and medium credit for agriculture, and so is LandBank among the big banks. And so is the People's Credit and Finance Corporation, and the ACPC if you think about it. All things being equal, great credit is not the bank but the banker.

The banker must sow hope, all the more reason if she doesn't see it. The image above was what I saw on the side of the mountain being mined for cement; we must go into the construction of hope even in the midst of what seems to be destruction.

Ultimately, from what I've read and seen and heard, I must credit the ACPC managed by Executive Director Jovita M Corpuz for their dedicated, indefatigable, honest, investigative, innovative work in helping bring affordable loans to the poor farmer and fisher families in the villages. No, you don't know how big a little cash is if you're not little. No, you have not seen faith if you have not seen faithless. No, you don't know hope if you have not seen hopeless.

Yes, thank you, ACPC, for the hope!

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