NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Primitiva S. Sta. Ana remembers the years her family moved from village to village in the southernmost highlands of Negros Occidental.
The native of Canlaon town in Negros Oriental moved to the hamlet of Bugtong Lubi in Barangay Damutan in 2006. Until 2015, life was a series of evacuations, said the 52-year-old mother of eight.
Primitiva never saw the movie, “Lost Horizon”. But her life’s wish matched the lyrics of its theme song: to find a place where the sound of guns doesn’t pound in your ears.
Now, she is settled in the hamlet of Maatop, Barangay Sangke. Primitiva is with a group of women weavers who help keep the peace while ensuring their families’ financial well-being.
Negros Occidental, long known as the Philippines’ “social volcano” for the yawning gap between rich and poor and its record of injustices, has been a stronghold of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency.
Maatop is on the Philippine Army’s list of geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.
From 1978 to 1979; and again in 1989, state forces declared Maatop as “No Man’s Land” due to the strong presence of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Primitiva’s fourth daughter, Eden, awakened her talent for weaving in 2007.
Eden, then a first-year high school student, sought help for a school assignment on ecology.
Primitiva noticed how locals would just throw used plastic straws.
She collected the straws. With the use of a gas lamp and a needle, she created a simple mat for her daughter’s school project.
It was in Maatop, however, that Primitiva and other women received institutional aid for their livelihood.
The Philippine Army’s Community Support Program and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples of Hinobaan town helped organize the weavers into the Maatop Diversified Farmer’s Association (MDFA).
The Association of Negros Producers (ANP) came in to upgrade work standards and ensure market access. The group was born from the sugar crisis of the 1980s. It helps rural folk in a mono-crop economy diversify their livelihood activities.
The ANP helped upgrade work standards and ensure market access for the MDFA.
The organization later registered with the Department of Labor and Environment
From placemats, Primitiva expanded her work to bigger floor mats. She also learned ‘Macrame’, with artistic ways of knotting nylon cords.
Representatives of the southern town’s Retooled Community Support Program (RCSP) conduct monitoring visits, entrepreneurial mind-setting, and skills development training.
Hinobaan Mayor Daph V. Reliquias said the weavers’ products were a hit during the 36th Negros Trade Fair, considered to be the longest-running provincial trade fair in the country.
After a two-year pandemic break, the ANP-organized fair returned to full mode at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati City in September 2022.
The ANP gave extra focus on community-based development projects by the grantees of the Provincial Peace and Order Council.
Hinobaan DILG Officer Celso Nunez, Lt. Col. Erwin Cariño, and municipal accountant Ma’am Ofelia Tupas helped improve the capacities of the weavers, the mayor said.
“We will replicate the best practices of the Maatop community to other hinterland communities in Hinobaan and give them sustainable livelihood programs and bring government services closer to them so that no one will be left behind,” he added. – Rappler.com
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