Tatang Constancio: The Survivor

About 4 months ago, I submitted an article to Oxfam Blogs about  Tatang Constancio, a 79-year old farmer who was one of the recipients of the Cash for Asset Recovery project in Dulag, Leyte.

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In the course of the Haiyan tragedy, Tatang Constancio helplessly watched the super typhoon devastate the only livelihood that has sustained his family for generations. In a matter of hours, years of hard work tilling his two-hectare coconut land was laid to waste. There was nothing he could do but brace himself and pray that his family would survive the tragedy. His family was spared but the aftermath of the super typhoon showed a new reality. There was not a single trace of his coconut farm. What he saw were hectares of silted farmlands with toppled trees and all kinds of debris piled up, making it impossible to cultivate his land and immediately recover his means for income.

With Oxfam’s recovery of agricultural livelihood projects, farmers like Tatang Constancio were able to catch up with the planting of alternative crops which will help him earn while waiting for his coconut trees to re-grow. With the conditional cash grant and the provisioned tools donated, he was able to carry out the much-needed clearing operations in his land. He was one of those who openly expressed gratitude for the help he received. He said that he couldn’t have been able to do it on his own; further adding that being a senior citizen impedes him from doing the manual labor needed and that there was only so much that his family can do. Now that his land has been cleared of fallen trees and debris, he can proceed with planting using the second tranche of the cash grant he just received.

The cash grant was a big assistance. He proudly mentioned that it allowed him to preserve the last ounce of dignity he had left. He said that a man’s land is an extension of his moral fiber and after Haiyan, he felt that he had lost almost everything and he felt desperate. He thought that a man his age should not be borrowing money from private credit institutions; but after a while, he admits that it’s just his pride egging him not to. He adds that the interest rates were also implausible. He asked, “Kay ano?” (Why?) and shook his head. He could not understand why some were making business transactions out of other people’s tragedy.

He did not want to dwell on the sad facts, he quipped, as he tipped his hat to say goodbye. He apologized that he could not stay longer and explained that he needed to cycle back to his home in Pago and deliver the good news to everybody. He mentioned that the money will not only help him but also help the neighbors he hired to help him. “Hay salamat! Mababay-dan ko na ta’k mga trabahante.” (Thank you! I can finally pay the workers!) he announced.

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This was before Typhoon Ruby – the typhoon that made several landfalls in the Philippines before leaving. Although there was no reported casualty in Dulag, Ruby made sure her presence was felt by rattling people’s nerves and sweeping municipalities clean like as if it had something to clean in the first place. I wonder how Tatang Constancio is now? I have not had the chance to go back to his barangay yet and check if he and his family are okay, or if the whole barangay is okay.

People like Tatang Constancio remind me how fortunate I am. Fortunate, and somehow shameful at some point as I still find myself whining over insignificant things when there are people out there who have had it worst. These people find reasons for smiling despite the tragedy. These people wake, stand up, walk on with their heads up even though they have barely enough. These people, these people – they are my heroes. I am lucky to have ended up on the same road where they happened to have passed by.

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