Breaking labels: 'I am not a rebel'
Nestor Arpia lived most of his life proving his identity as a simple farmer in the mountainous barangay of Tagbacan Ilaya in Catanauan, Quezon.
For years, he tried to escape the impression of being a rebel hiding at the heart of the mountain.
“Masukal sa aming lugar at madalas daanan ng mga rebelde. Hindi naman kami makapagsalita dahil sinabihan kami na tatagpasin ang aming leeg kapag kami ay nagsumbong. Hanggang sa mapagkamalan kami ng mga awtoridad na kasapi ng grupo (Rebels often pass through our barangay but we cannot report them to authorities because they threatened to hurt us if we do. Until authorities suspected us being members of the group),” shared Nestor, 54.
Back in 2009, Nestor recalled how hard it was to be trapped between the disputes of the two groups. Their area was allegedly suspected as the hideout of the rebels. He received warnings to leave their house to be free from trouble, but Nestor decided to stay and protect the land he inherited from his parents.
“Dito ako binuhay ng mga magulang ko at eto na rin ang bumubuhay sa aking pamilya ngayon. Wala akong sapat na dahilan para umalis dito dahil wala naman kaming kasalanan (This is where my parents raised me and where I am raising my own family now. We are not doing anything wrong so there is no reason for us to leave),” Nestor exclaimed as he told the hurtful past.
Despite persistently trying to prove his innocence and non-affaliation with any of the groups, an encounter still pursued in their area which damaged their house and crops. Worse, it took the lives of three of his children.
Nestor admitted that the incident tested his family’s desire to continue on in life. For them, trying to put their lives together will be like having to through the eye of a needle.
However, instead of living in fear, Nestor sought refuge in the community by involving himself in barangay projects and activities. He then realized how they, as a community, can collectively change the fate of their barangay.
Nestor and the other villagers of Brgy. Tagbacan Ilaya knew that the remoteness of their barangay is one main reason why rebels flock their area. Aside from security issues, the difficult path to reach the nearest highway affects their livelihood especially for farmers delivering harvests to the market.
Farmers need to reroute and take the roads of other barangays to reach the highway since carabaos and horses are having a hard time to go through the narrow trails of Brgy. Tagbacan Ilaya. This gives them a three to five-kilometer walk, which takes them almost half a day to reach the highway.
“Ramdam din ng mga hayop ang pagod. Madalas ay baliko na ang kanilang lakad at nababangga ang mga pananim sa daan. Nagagalit tuloy ang mga may-ari ng pananim sa amin (Often, the animals get tired and veer away from the path. They accidentally destroy nearby crops which make the owners mad),” shared Nestor.
Aiming to resolve these problems, Brgy. Tagbacan Ilaya proposed for a farm to market road sub-project when DSWD’s Kapitbisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) started in the community in 2012.
Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA aims to empower conflict-affected barangays in planning, budgeting, and implementing need-responsive projects that would hasten delivery of basic social services and normalize their living condition.
As the chairperson for the sub-project, Nestor religiously attended trainings and meetings to be familiar with the process of project implementation. He always shares the things he learned with his co-volunteers and guides them as they do the project proposal, procurement of materials, project construction, and maintenance plan for the road.
“Sa dami ng gawain, nagagalit na ang misis ko dahil hindi na ako masyadong nakakatulong sa pagsasaka. Hiningi ko na lamang ang kanyang suporta at ipinaliwanag ang magiging ginhawa sa buhay namin kapag nagkaroon na ng kalsada (Before, my wife scolds me because I can no longer help in the farm due to my volunteer work. I simply asked for her support and explained to her the benefits we would get once the road is constructed),” Nestor shared.
After five months of dedicated work for the project, Nestor finally saw the worth of their efforts and sacrifices. He always has a nice view from his window as the road is constructed near their house.
“Grade six lang ang natapos ko pero lubos kong ipinagmamalaking nakatulong ako sa paggawa ng ganitong klaseng proyekto (I am proud that I have contributed something for the project, even if I am only a grade 6 graduate),” Nestor said with a big smile.
Through the collective efforts of the Tagbacan Ilaya community, they were able to utilize the P511,800 grant to construct a shortcut road towards the highway. The 920 linear meters road now eases the travel of 47 households residing in the barangay.
With the shortcut road, the economic activities in Brgy. Tagbacan Ilaya prospered.
Traders with tricycles and jeepneys can now directly go to the barangay for pick-up of agricultural products. The lengthy transport time to the highway was cut short to only 30 minutes which improved the quality and value of the delivered goods.
The community also found new source of livelihood with charcoal making as buyers these now visit the barangay. Also, the residents have lessened their trips to the market in the town proper since food vendors now go to the area.
Nestor said that these changes helped them to save more.
They also observed the decline of encounters in the area. They have not noticed any rebels passing through the barangay anymore since authorities can easily drop by and conduct regular operations.
Nestor shared that the Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA process made them realize of the government’s interventions in bringing peace to their area and putting their lives back to normal. They have recognized the importance of participation and support to these programs to further improve their lives.
Giving their full trust and support again to the program, Brgy. Tagbacan Ilaya has collectively implemented and completed another community project through Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA in 2013. Their old classroom without walls and stable roofs was replaced with a one-classroom high school building worth P391,000
Nestor helped in cutting the project cost by lending his welding machine for free.
“Ngayon ay ligtas na ang mga bata tuwing umuulan dahil may pader na ang bago nilang classroom (Now that the newly built classroom has walls, the students are safe every time it rains),” he said.
Seeing all the improvements in the barangay, Nestor is glad that the community’s efforts finally marked an end to the conflict and fears.
For a person who once lived in darkness and being falsely marked as a rebel, it is a sweet taste of victory to finally live a peaceful life at home with his family.
“Ngayon, masaya ‘kong natatanaw dito sa bahay ang isa sa aming mga proyektong lubos na nakatulong sa aming pamilya. Magaan na ang buhay sa piling ng kalsada. Ipinagmamalaki ko ang pagbabagong ito sa aming komunidad sa tulong ng ating gobyerno na nagtiwala sa kakayahan namin (It makes me happy to see one of our projects just outside our home. Our lives are now better because of the road. I am proud of this positive change in our community through the help of the government which believed in our capability to transform our lives),” Nestor contently said. ###