BrightWorld

Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom

DEVELOPMENT COUNCILS – PHILIPPINE EXPERIENCE May 27, 2008

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 04 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

Good afternoon! Food be with you! (Hmmm that’s to borrow from Christian’s ‘peace’ maxim…)

You may wonder how we stakeholders of development do our coordination here in the Philippines, and I’d say coordination is practically the same everywhere. It involves ‘partnering’, an unraveling of distrust and a sincere effort to cooperate and collaborate. Partnering eventually creates strong institutions, thus catalyzing development further.

I was just a 23-year old enterprise supervisor in the defunct Ministry of Human Settlements (MHS) in 1982, when news came out that development councils will be constituted at the regional level. It used to be part of partnering mechanisms at the regional level, with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) serving as secretariat, till it floundered and slept in the late 1970s.

When the regional development council or RDC woke up again, circa 1982, the MHS was already making waves in the development arena. This agency was eventually mandated to revive the council, in collaboration with the NEDA and all provincial governors. I remember then that the charismatic and management-savvy Governor Faustino Dy of Isabela was elected 1st chair of the revived RDC, with Area Manager (regional director) Tito Osias of MHS serving as convenor.

Down the hierarchy of power and influence the provincial development councils or PDCs were also constituted. I had the luck then of representing the MHS to begin building the PDC core in Batanes, the same core being the members of the KKK Secretariat (KKK = Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or National Livelihood Movement, a major state funding program for enterprise) then emerging. My provincial and deputy bosses, who was almost always out of the region (their families were in Manila), mandated me to be the lead convenor for the core building of both bodies.

It was a fruitful work to begin with, the task in Batanes. State and business representatives were invited to comprise the core, down the mayor’s level. Civil society was weak here then, there were no developmental NGOs to invite here then, so it was purely a state-market synergy we had there in Basco (capital town). Within just three (3) months of consultations, our coordination outputs were simply enormous, the targets could overwhelm a single agency if it were left alone to implement them. But with many partners to achieve the goals, including modernizing the pier and acquiring a ship dedicated for Batanes alone (the islands were practically isolated from the ‘mainland’ Luzon), development goals are optimistically achievable.

Acquiring the experience I needed for my next task, Cagayan, I then moved to add inputs to a PDC core plan that was already begun then before I occupied my Tuguegarao office (capital town). Because there was a provincial manager-designate, and my post was just recently upped to deputy provincial manager, my first tasks were to travel to different towns and subtly convince the mayors and line agency partners at that level about the need for development coordination at the provincial level. That ‘massaging’ had to be done, because mayors were reportedly luke warm about the idea of a PDC.

After three (3) months on the job, my provincial manager was sadly sacked from duty, and so I had to take over as Acting Provincial Manager. Then did I do the convenor tasks at its core, with Governor Cortez role-playing PDC chair. Mr. Bagasao, provincial head of the Ministry of Local Governments (MLG), was co-convenor. There was no NEDA office at the provincial level, so the MHS-MLG-Governor’s Office served as lead implementers of the council. I myself prepared the agenda for all succeeding meetings.

It was quite tough a work there, I recall. Cagayan was quite large a territory to navigate, state officials and business groups too many to manage, but we did make headway in forming the active core. State officials could hardly see each other eye to eye at local levels, but there they were in the council, forging inter-agency linkages as semblances of ‘committee work’ of a gigantic cooperative. Sadly, the mayors were absentee, and this almost piqued me at some point to the extent that, warlord-like, I would challenge those pretentiously all-knowing absent mayors to some war games to show them I was serious in the job.

But again, like the Batanes narrative, the Cagayan experience was largely a state-market synergy, with nary a developmental NGO to invite. What we did then was to invite peasant and fisherfolk groups, which were largely enterprise-group types, but that was the best remedy then for the absence of NGOs there. (Contrast this to today’s Cagayan where dozens of developmental NGOs are in operation.) We set the rules of engagement, built interagency teams, ironed out convergences among state agencies’ plans, got inputs from the chamber of commerce and dealers’ groups, and then conceptualized new projects. Among those new projects during my watch was the industrial estate in Sta. Ana (today’s CEZA).

It was an altogether fulfilling experience for me then as a budding technocrat. I loved every bit of the job. Walls among state officials were broken down, cooperation gelled, new bold and ambitious projects were identified, existing ones were fast-tracked (irrigation, electrification, public works, enterprise finance, food sector development). It was beautiful!

Sadly, I had to leave that work, as I needed to go back to my schooling: to the University of the Philippines where I longed to take up my masters degree in sociology. I simply monitored the ensuing institutionalization efforts for the councils…till later, I heard about the constitution of municipal and barangay (village) development councils. That’s partnering at work, and mind you, it surely works if you put your heart and mind into it. It brightens up the world a bit.  

 

TREE PLANTING & DENDROTHERMAL, ECOLOGY BALANCE May 23, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago

 

[Writ  05 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

 

Perhaps the readers may recall that a couple of years back, Sec. Angelo Reyes of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) initiated massive tree planting and the  constitution of ecology volunteers’ groups for the purpose. The trees were visibly planted along the pan-Philippine highway and strategic areas, for greater impact generation.

 

That project was very appreciable, but it was not the original thing. In the years 1979-81, the new Ministry of Human Settlements or MHS constituted village brigades comprising of volunteers, one such brigade being the ‘ecology balance brigade’. With ‘ecology balance’ identified among the ’11 Basic Needs of Man’, it was but proper to organize brigades and enact ecology balance via massive tree planting, biodiversity where appropriate, recycling or ‘waste utilization’ projects, and new laws declaring as mandatory in all new residential villages the allotment of 30% of land for parks & open spaces alone.

 

I joined the MHS in early 1981, then fresh from college, as a community services assistant at the Regional Liaison Office – Regioin II. I recall well that one of the first tasks I had to do was to monitor the brigades and town-level organizers (Human Settlements’ Officers). The ‘ecology brigades’, to my amazement, were at par in organizational development with the others (water, power, education, S&T, mobility…), its members actively engaged in localized projects.

 

But the most focal impactful project of that time was the massive tree planting, with the giant Ipil-Ipil serving as lead crop. The small native ipil was also massively disseminated, more so that it served as good input for livestock feeds. The miraculous thing about the giant ipil-ipil was that it grew so fast, its branches extending outward at rapid rates, and so it took no time at all to harvest them.

 

Unlike the Reyes-initiated project that concentrated cultivation in main arterial roads, the Maharlika tree planting (as the MHS dubbed the project then) cultivated in both the arterial and peripheral roads. And, in pioneer ipil tree farms inland, many of which took off and benefitted the small planters with great fulfillment.

 

It was during my monitoring sortees to the different towns of Cagayan Valley that I conducted the extra task of morale-boosting the ecology brigades and briefing the HSOs accordingly about the massive tree planting program. By the start of the 2nd quarter of 1981, we staff devoted succeeding days for immersing ourselves in the tree planting efforts, documentation and consultations with tree planters, and networking with state agencies that supported the project. We did the same thing again in 1982, and another session in 1983 (my last year in the MHS/Region II).

 

Seeing the success of the 1981 wave of ipil cultivation, the newly constituted livelihood program quickly caught the ecology fever and designed ‘tree farming’ and ‘dendrothermal’ projects, utilitizing ipil trees. They were circumscribed within the ‘agroforestry’ and the ‘waste utilization’ project modules (there were 7 such modules then). Seeing my acumen for project development, the new management pulled out pronto from community services and was directed to be among the pioneer staff for livelihood, which I so gladly accepted. I had many wonderful moments brainstorming and conceptualizing enterprise projects, from micro- to SME levels, including this wave of ‘tree farming’ and ‘dendrothermal’.

 

The seedling banks for ipil trees, both giant and small, were simply too many that they dotted the entire archipelago, including Manila. Likewise was the market for ipil so huge and well established, including the feed mills. It need not belabored that the giant trees contributed in no small measure to the oxygenation of the surrounds, and protective canopies for travelers and pasture breeds.

 

We volunteer and small planters than considered ourselves true ecologists. And, thanks heavens, there were no ‘environmentalist’ groups then, whose ceaseless sloganeering is so annoying they could have slowed down the projects altogether. I really have the great wish that these ‘environmentalists’ will immerse their hands in production and re-green the mountains, so they can join the true ecologists and exercise Oneness in spirit and action. It may not be too late for them to do just that. 

 

BATANES’ GARLIC & ROOTCROPS, WORLD BRIGHTENERS! May 22, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago

 

[Writ 04 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

 

As I went around Batan Island, Batanes province’s main isle that contains the capital Basco and the domestic airport, for the 1st time in 1981, I immediately scheduled visits to the Mayors of Mahatoa, Ivana and Uyugan towns. I heard from my kins, the Basco Mayor Castillejos included, and staff that these towns still practiced consuming ‘sweet potato’ and ‘gabi roots’ as staples. Prior to that, I saw with my own eyes the huge bulbs of garlic that dwarfed the golf-sized ‘native’ varieties we had in the ‘mainland’ (Luzon). I told myself I can’t miss out on this opportunity to biz-track the root crops of Batanes.

 

I was then livelihood coordinator of the Ministry of Human Settlements for Northern Cagayan & Batanes in the 2nd semester of 1981, so I had the mandate to do development tasks for this paradise island. So enchanting was this province that I literally experienced heart pains whenever I left Basco back for Tuguegarao and Gonzaga in Cagayan where my official headquarters were located. Part of the enchantment was the wonderful root crops there: sweet potato (kamote roots), gabi roots, garlic, onion, and ginger.

 

Right away, upon arriving at Mahatao town hall, the lady mayor served my team fried sweet potatoes that were sliced so thin they would pass for some manufactured sweet potato chips. The lunch came, and there went out the boiled sweet potato, served alongside the viands. Lunch was also served with the wonder wine made from sugar called palec. No rice was served at all.

 

After lunch we visited farm lands planted with the root crops. I was amazed to see farms planted in the old biodiversity way rather than the nutrient-damaging monocrop system. All the root crops mentioned here co-existed in plots as small as half a hectare. The small planters than informed me that they were interested in increasing the volume of production and explored marketing some products to the ‘mainland’. They needed some fresh funds to increase the land area (via purchase), install good storage facilities, and working capital for farm inputs and marketing expenses later.

 

I was then motored to Ivana town after that, and lastly to Uyugan (hmmm am I right in my ordering?). Traversing these towns was via an asphalted road at the periphery of the islands, and overlooking the sea below. To your left are the stone houses of Batan, much like those of the isle of Capri in Italy. Herds of Brahman cows and carabaos could also be seen, consuming the luscious verdant pastures of the rolling hills. Perfectly idyllic! Splendid! …I heard practically the same things from the small planters there, about the need to expand production.

 

That is, the prototype ‘root crops project’ there would turn planters from subsistence producers to commercial producers, turn them into agro-businessmen. Seeing that the planters knew what they were aiming at and how to achieve it, save for writing the technical papers (biz plans, proposals) and processing them, I “jumped the gun” pronto and declared that for the whole of Batanes (including the other isles of Sabtang and Itbayat that was nearer Taiwan than Batan) will have root crops production as priority investments for state assistance.

 

As soon as I convened the new Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran Secretariat there (I was already the deputy provincial manager-designate), I put on the top agenda that root crops and indigenous crafts of the island shall be preserved, not only as part of the development program there but also because the products and crafts are part of the national heritage. Anticipating the ‘green revolution’ in Batanes then, I also put on the agenda of the core Provincial Development Council the fast-tracking of electrification and wharf expansion, and the acquisition by Batanes of its own maritime ship that will enable trade expansion by leaps and bounds.

 

With only a year to operate in Batanes, I did everything I can to see to it that the development principles and targets I initiated there will take off at least, sensing that I might be re-assigned (promotions for this young technocrat was dizzyingly rapid). P500,000 worth of root crops projects alone, owned by small planters, were approved in early 1982, during my watch (that’s P10 Million today). Couples of millions more worth of projects were on the pipeline. Happily, when these projects took off, the National Electrification Administration team arrived, installing at last the long awaited electrification facilities in Batan.

 

Finally, let this be stressed strongly, I moved for the retention of the biodiversity practices in Batan. With ‘ecology balance’ among my agency’s priority agenda, I had sufficient weapon to support biodiversity rather than shift the planters to mono-cropping that sadly sapped out soil nutrients in ‘mainland Philippines’ since their inception during the time yet of Spanish Governor General Basco (1700s).

 

Every time I left Basco back for Tuguegarao then, I also had on hand more than a kilogram of garlic, sometimes with onions and ginger. I was so proud of the garlic that I always brought a few samples to show to my kins and fellow state officials in the ‘mainland’. The same variety now is cultivated in many regions of the country. But Batanes’ cutting edge is fully recognized: garlic & rootcrops here were planted in the sole paradise islands of the north. Ipso facto, they are root crops that enchant too, like their mother soil.

 

DEVELOPMENT COUNCILS – PHILIPPINE EXPERIENCE May 20, 2008

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 04 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

Good afternoon! Food be with you! (Hmmm that’s to borrow from Christian’s ‘peace’ maxim…)

You may wonder how we stakeholders of development do our coordination here in the Philippines, and I’d say coordination is practically the same everywhere. It involves ‘partnering’, an unraveling of distrust and a sincere effort to cooperate and collaborate. Partnering eventually creates strong institutions, thus catalyzing development further.

I was just a 23-year old enterprise supervisor in the defunct Ministry of Human Settlements (MHS) in 1982, when news came out that development councils will be constituted at the regional level. It used to be part of partnering mechanisms at the regional level, with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) serving as secretariat, till it floundered and slept in the late 1970s.

When the regional development council or RDC woke up again, circa 1982, the MHS was already making waves in the development arena. This agency was eventually mandated to revive the council, in collaboration with the NEDA and all provincial governors. I remember then that the charismatic and management-savvy Governor Faustino Dy of Isabela was elected 1st chair of the revived RDC, with Area Manager (regional director) Tito Osias of MHS serving as convenor.

Down the hierarchy of power and influence the provincial development councils or PDCs were also constituted. I had the luck then of representing the MHS to begin building the PDC core in Batanes, the same core being the members of the KKK Secretariat (KKK = Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or National Livelihood Movement, a major state funding program for enterprise) then emerging. My provincial and deputy bosses, who was almost always out of the region (their families were in Manila), mandated me to be the lead convenor for the core building of both bodies.

It was a fruitful work to begin with, the task in Batanes. State and business representatives were invited to comprise the core, down the mayor’s level. Civil society was weak here then, there were no developmental NGOs to invite here then, so it was purely a state-market synergy we had there in Basco (capital town). Within just three (3) months of consultations, our coordination outputs were simply enormous, the targets could overwhelm a single agency if it were left alone to implement them. But with many partners to achieve the goals, including modernizing the pier and acquiring a ship dedicated for Batanes alone (the islands were practically isolated from the ‘mainland’ Luzon), development goals are optimistically achievable.

Acquiring the experience I needed for my next task, Cagayan, I then moved to add inputs to a PDC core plan that was already begun then before I occupied my Tuguegarao office (capital town). Because there was a provincial manager-designate, and my post was just recently upped to deputy provincial manager, my first tasks were to travel to different towns and subtly convince the mayors and line agency partners at that level about the need for development coordination at the provincial level. That ‘massaging’ had to be done, because mayors were reportedly luke warm about the idea of a PDC.

After three (3) months on the job, my provincial manager was sadly sacked from duty, and so I had to take over as Acting Provincial Manager. Then did I do the convenor tasks at its core, with Governor Cortez role-playing PDC chair. Mr. Bagasao, provincial head of the Ministry of Local Governments (MLG), was co-convenor. There was no NEDA office at the provincial level, so the MHS-MLG-Governor’s Office served as lead implementers of the council. I myself prepared the agenda for all succeeding meetings.

It was quite tough a work there, I recall. Cagayan was quite large a territory to navigate, state officials and business groups too many to manage, but we did make headway in forming the active core. State officials could hardly see each other eye to eye at local levels, but there they were in the council, forging inter-agency linkages as semblances of ‘committee work’ of a gigantic cooperative. Sadly, the mayors were absentee, and this almost piqued me at some point to the extent that, warlord-like, I would challenge those pretentiously all-knowing absent mayors to some war games to show them I was serious in the job.

But again, like the Batanes narrative, the Cagayan experience was largely a state-market synergy, with nary a developmental NGO to invite. What we did then was to invite peasant and fisherfolk groups, which were largely enterprise-group types, but that was the best remedy then for the absence of NGOs there. (Contrast this to today’s Cagayan where dozens of developmental NGOs are in operation.) We set the rules of engagement, built interagency teams, ironed out convergences among state agencies’ plans, got inputs from the chamber of commerce and dealers’ groups, and then conceptualized new projects. Among those new projects during my watch was the industrial estate in Sta. Ana (today’s CEZA).

It was an altogether fulfilling experience for me then as a budding technocrat. I loved every bit of the job. Walls among state officials were broken down, cooperation gelled, new bold and ambitious projects were identified, existing ones were fast-tracked (irrigation, electrification, public works, enterprise finance, food sector development). It was beautiful!

Sadly, I had to leave that work, as I needed to go back to my schooling: to the University of the Philippines where I longed to take up my masters degree in sociology. I simply monitored the ensuing institutionalization efforts for the councils…till later, I heard about the constitution of municipal and barangay (village) development councils. That’s partnering at work, and mind you, it surely works if you put your heart and mind into it. It brightens up the world a bit.

 

EARTHWORMING WAFERS, VERMICULTURE APPRAISED May 17, 2008

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 03 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

Dios ta aggawaw! (Ibanag equivalent for ‘good day’!)

It may seem yucky a reportage to many obsessive-compulsives out there to hear that earthworms serve the most noble purpose of reinforcing our food needs. I mean not only the wormy task of processing our soil, but the true-blue blending of processed earthworm to produce biscuits and wafers.

 

That technology—of vermiculture—was born for way back three (3) decades today. I was just an entry level community development staff at the Ministry of Human Settlements’ RLO (regional liaison office) in 1981 when I had my first taste of wafers containing vermiculture inputs. The wafer was distributed by my agency to disaster refugees, often alongside the nutri-bun or bread reinforced with protein.

 

Protein is the nutrient so potently contained in the worm. And the agency’s Technology Resource Center (today’s Technology Livelihood Resource Center) was itself among the developers and distributors of the technology, aside from the National Science Development Board (today’s Department of Science & Technology). The wafer, as you ought to realize, tasted so damn delicious you’re going to ask for more packs right after your first taste.

 

When I was moved to livelihood as a coordinator, my reverie about this deli-earthworm wafer was jolted by the arrival of a team of entrepreneurs, young and ebullient, right at my office. The year was late 1981, and the team was bullish about installing a full-production base of vermiculture, right in my hometown of Tuguegarao. “Vermiculture in this semi-sleepy town! Hello!”

 

Upon a cursory review of the business plan forwarded by the team (both gentlemen, names now escape my memory), and then moving my focals back to the gentlemen, I recognized not only the feasibility of the project but also its vitality for Cagayan province that was essentially agriculture till these days. I told myself, “these guys are pretty serious!”

 

Cognizant of the competence of the team, who were already trained in vermiculture as indicated by their certificate, I immediately arranged for a visit to their demo site that was inside the home of the main partner. Right in front of my eyes I beheld these worms so huge I thought they must be some extra-terrestrial earthworms. But no, they were the simple backyard worms we know, though grown specially or in controlled environment. A sample worm was as stout as my forefinger and as long as 14 inches. Wow!

 

Not only that, but the two gentlemen (who applied as a partnership for funding thru the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK) even demonstrated before our eyes (I was with some junior staff) that the worms can be prepared salad-style. Vinegar and salt with pepper was prepared, and voila! The worms, still alive, were dipped right into the salad dressing and eaten raw. By golly! You’d puke if you’re not prepared for this.

 

Well, to cut the story short, I had this project recommended for priority funding and take off. The team knew what they were doing, from production to marketing of the products. They already had some commitments with their end-users that they attached to the application documents. In 1982, it became one of our showcase livelihood projects in Tuguegarao, and the gentlemen had their feast of invitations for demo lectures, radio interviews and recognition in the KKK Recognition Day (held once monthly).

 

Now, as to tasting the ‘dancing salad’ of live worm, well, hmmmm I’d prefer the wafer (smile). No, no, I can’t eat any raw live animal thing, my stomach is quite weak and sensitive. Let them cook the worm, and maybe I’ll try it. Well, that’s a culinary item, so let’s just hope someone’s got to write something about nice spicey earthworm cuisine.   

 

SAMURAI PRODUCERS OF LARION May 14, 2008

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

[Writ 01 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

 

Samurais in Tuguearao! That must be a farfetched chimera, but truly in this capital town of Cagayan province (Northern Philippines) is located a village of cottage industries run and managed by marginal artisans. Their chief craft was, and remains to be that of bladed metal works.

 

I was pretty busy scouring for bankable projects in my own hometown (my basic education years were spent in Tuguegarao) as early as 1981 when news came to me that a certain group of Larion craftsmen desired to bolt away from their tradition and diversify into hmmm samurai swords. Already a junior executive of the Ministry of Human Settlements after barely out of college, I had the luck of having among my personnel a driver who was bona fide resident of Larion village (barrio was the term then).

 

The driver (Rolando Tumpalan), an Ilocano like all of his neighbors in Larion, was very vivid in his presentation to me one day of the plan of his neighbors to diversify into samurai swords and accessories. I knew since childhood that Larion produced bolos and knives, made from cast iron scraps, even as my own family abode possessed couples of the same products. But to say of samurai swords, well, my encyclopedia set was telling me that the original thing was made of a specially forged steel alloy. Besides, I knew by then that samurai craft (it was home industry in Japan) was dying if not dead already. Japanese considered themselves as Western people and had nothing to do with seemingly phoney items from their past, including kimonos and samurai blades.

 

Before some Larion guys might be playing tricks on me, I summoned my operations manager (Mia Calimag) and Livelihood Coordinator (Bong) to immediately set a rendezvous between the regional director of the National Cottage Industry or NACIDA (name now escapes my memory) and myself, with our technical staff around. The NACIDA was one of our partner agencies in implementing the KKK and was already in operations way ahead of us in the region (my agency was regionalized only in mid-1981).

 

Well, thanks to this magnanimous NACIDA official, he came right to my office, breaking protocol by visiting the office of an erstwhile official of lower rank. We than set our joint agenda and modus operandi first of all, updated each other about initial enterprise support operations of our respective agencies, and determined whether the Larion metalworkers were worth supporting. To my own surprise, this director (quite a fat guy but very intelligent) was very enthusiastic about the samurai project.

 

This being so, we immediately arranged for a visit to the proposed project site in Larion, had a chat with the officials of the cooperative (the coop served as beneficiary), inspected their facilities, and then delivered pep talks to the members. We were then shown models of the proxy swords produced by them, and wow! My eyes almost popped out of wonderment. The products were splendid! The intended captive market was the tourists, with domestic tourist resorts and trade exhibit sites serving as primary forward linkages.

 

The funding support from the KKK (Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran) was needed to procure extra machines (metal lathe included), mini-furnace, increase the volume of raw materials (steel scraps), improve the storage area, hiring marketing & sales staff, re-train the artisans, and for around three (3) months of working capital. Funding level was past P0.5 Million, with approval done merely at our regional level (past the P1 Million it has to go to central office).

 

The Larion coop members were very elated over the support shown by us state officials over their venture. Such an elation would extend throughout the processing of their documents and pre-operational trainings, and on through their appearances in some KKK Recognition Days (held once a month).

 

The project did take off and operate successfully, and made the name of Larion blade makers shine brightly beyond their previous marginal state. It’s now over a quarter of a decade since that project commenced, and I wish the Larion samurais had graduated to global standards in any way.

 

ONE-ARMED EX-CONVICT SUCCEEDS IN BOTTLED CRAFT May 12, 2008

Bro. Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 01 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

Hi Fellows! Kumusta kayo! (How are you doing!)

 

You may wonder how a man, convicted for murder and imprisoned for a long period, possessing just a single arm (he was amputated of his left arm), would survive life after prison. This is the success story of a man from Solana town, Cagayan province (northern Philippines), whose name now escapes my memory when I met him in 1982.

 

Solana is a new town carved out of its mother town, the capital town Tuguegarao, and lies just across the mighty Cagayan River from the capital town. 700,000 years ago mammoths roamed this area, whose remains, including those of Paleolithic man, were freshly discovered by anthropologists in the 1990s. This town could very well be the ‘cradle of mankind’ in Southeast Asia, who knows?

 

But among those news that enlivened the quite sleepy town in 1982 was about its scion, whom I’d call Asyong here. Freshly out of prison, possessing nary a thing but a few clothes, he “jumped the gun” right away and took on the challenge of heading towards a successful middle income life, minus his left hand. His town was notorious for producing Jesse James-type assassins, and without him telling me what he did then, I knew he was a dreaded Jesse James (besides my staff whispered the fact to me hmmm).

 

He was morbidly repentant of what he did in the past though, as I can see in his face and aura (I was already a spiritual seeker than and had started doing yoga meditation). I was the designated Deputy Provincial Manager of the Ministry of Human Settlements for Cagayan, and here was this man whom I thought was bankable and would fit our search for human interest stories of our livelihood program (funded through the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK). I was also dabbling as concurrent Regional PR Manager, edited our KKK newsletter, was on radio every Saturday of the week for livelihood talks, and here was this petite but dangerous artisan of murder who now wanted to mutate into a genuine artisan of a preferred craft.

 

Dangling behind his back was a handbag containing a bulging thing. And were it not that one knows his real intention for coming, the bulging thing might be suspected for a caliber 45 hand gun. It turned out to be his model of his craft that he learned inside the Muntinlupa correctional (prison), a transparent 750 gin bottle that now contained inside it a replica of a house surrounded by a mini-garden. It was beautiful! How did this one-armed jack ever do the trick? Well it was no trick but craft, serious craft.

 

Selling for a mere P35 apiece then, I immediately ordered for three (3) pieces, one would be mine while the two others would be for gift items. I also did the peddling within my office by urgently meeting my staff and informing them of the product, while the Livelihood Coordinator and his assistants did the selling for this humble and short man (he must have  been mid 40s then). After hearing his sad travail, I instructed my staff to prioritize this beneficiary, and expected the business plan be done in a couple of weeks or less. His project will be funded pronto upon completion of the biz plan and fast-track training.

 

Just by viewing the esthetics of the prototype, I was convinced that the product will sell. That was all I needed to establish: the marketability. The rest would be marketing strategy, branding, and packaging. With my good staff behind me to prepare the business plan, it did turn out in the cash flow and income statements that the project was highly feasible. Seeing the bullish biz mien of the proponent himself, it didn’t take long before my staff would complete his training so he and his assistants (he had apprentices) could handle the organizational, financial and marketing aspects fairly well.

 

The project, funded again through the KKK, did take off not soon after my first encounter with this reformed ex-con. In couples of KKK Recognition Days (we held one every month), I requested this beneficiary to be around so he could be duly recognized. In some occasions I also requested him to do some talks before the audience, which he shyly complied with.

 

So  Fellows, from mammoths and Paleolithic Man to ex-con producing wonderful craft, this town of Solana had it in the 1980s. It’s worth visiting, this town, which now has tour resorts, and hopefully that man (he must be early 70s if he were still alive today) had more than amply exhibited to his town-mates the true way of the Solana Man: a harbinger of civilization.