“Only here did we feel warmly welcomed and heard when those in power failed to listen,” said one of the coconut farmer leaders during the final weeks of their 71-day march from Davao to Manila in 2014.
KILUS Magninyog, a national federation of farmers’ organizations, launched a direct action aimed at the President of the Philippines to expedite the recovery of ill-gotten wealth from coconut farming families and establish a fund to rectify the injustices wrought upon one of the poorest sectors of Philippine society.
At the time, I was a young sophomore student and one of many from the Ateneo community who welcomed the farmers onto the campus. Wide-eyed, I devoted most of my energy in the weeks leading up to that moment to supporting a campaign with which I had little to no personal connection.
Yet, at this moment — when I first heard from the farmers — I found meaning that would drive my work for quite some time. Here, I discovered a purpose and a potential future career in bridging people whom I felt were deeply divided by systems that caused farmers’ poverty, and even my own experiences of exclusion, albeit to a lesser extent.
Years later, I decided to work for PAKISAMA, one of the farmers’ groups that co-led the campaign that inspired my activism. Later, I realized their struggle was closely linked to the land. Whether one ‘owned’ their land was one of the primary determinants of whether rural communities would lead lives out of poverty.
While working with rural organizations, I was thrown into organizational and community settings that were heavily patriarchal and predominantly composed of older generations. By some estimates, the average age of Filipino farmers is 57 years old. Men’s names are usually the ones reflected on land titles. These realities permeate many organizations leading agricultural and rural development work.
The significant age and gender gap became more apparent to me in retrospect as I moved on, studied, and worked in settings outside of rural development. As a young queer person, I was inspired by women and queer individuals who made up more than half the room, speaking their minds and making decisions. In the health sector, I witnessed how non-hierarchical work settings created an environment where innovations and ideas flourished, and making mistakes was considered part of the learning and discovery process.
As I return to the circles I used to work in previously, I plan to bring all these experiences into my new role. Now, with fresh eyes, I intend to remain grounded in the moment that initially inspired my activism. Despite our vastly different backgrounds, building solidarities across economic divides in the same, albeit minimal, way as when I was a sophomore remains possible. It is, in fact, the call of the times to bring people together across generations, geographies, cultures, gendered experiences — beyond many of our differences if our movements have any chance to transform systems that cause harm and exclude.
I have realized that these solidarities are not found naturally or as they are. They are created, nourished, and actively sustained over time. I want to contribute to this mission in my new role, especially in bridging rural peoples and generations across Asia.