CASTILLA, Sorsogon, July 30 (PNA) -– Hundreds of villagers in Barangay Mayon of this impoverished town gathered shortly after dusk Tuesday at the village square where a 32-inch television screen was mounted over head.
The show they watched was the playing of the recording of President Benigno Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered at the Batasang Pambansa and aired live over televisions last Monday.
The entire village was unable to watch it live at home because their power supply was cut off by typhoon "Glenda" last July 15 and yet to be restored by the local power distributor—Sorsogon Electric Cooperative II.
Cable TV connections were also broken.
And since it has been a habit of the barangay to watch President Aquino deliver his SONA since his first in 2010, Ferdinand Ballatan, the barangay chairman, was compelled to have it recorded so they would not miss the President’s 5th, although late, on compact disk and on a TV monitor run by a portable power generator.
Loudspeakers were also mounted around the venue to reinforce the audio output of the TV set.
“I requested a friend in Legazpi City to have the SONA recorded on CD and I got the copy Tuesday afternoon. After works, these people are now gathered to watch together the SONA, as what we have been doing yearly since PNoy became our President,” Ballatan told the PNA.
He said “the President knows best what really is happening to our country and what the government is doing for its people like us, that is why it is only upon him that we rely when it comes to the state of the nation,” Ballatan said in local dialect.
He and his village mates, Ballatan said, seldom pay attention to news reports concerning the political affairs and negative issues constantly being raised by the opposition against the Aquino administration.
“Yes, we listen to news over radio and TVs from the limited number of channels reaching us, but we always take them for granted as these information outlets are most of the time not objective. Newspaper circulation does not reach the village and we do not have Internet connection to provide as more information.” according to him.
But when it is the President talking on radio or TV, that’s the time that they take news seriously and the SONA, the village chieftain said, is the best source of information that they can rely on for the truth.
Unlike the lavishly furnished Batasan Hall and gallery where the legislators, their spouses, invited guests and cabinet secretaries, among other VIPs, in luxurious attires watched and listened to the President delivers the SONA, the village’s plaza where the villagers mostly in their dirty work clothes gathered for it is a fenced open pavement that serves as a basketball court, palay drying area and public dance site.
And in contrast with the Batasan where the President’s audience ceremoniously arrived walking gracefully on the red carpet raring to catch the attention of TV cameras and press photographers, the entrance of the village plaza was muddy.
While people at the Batasan were seated comfortably on foamed chairs, the village square had no seats for everybody and villagers were either standing or sitting on the concrete floor as they attentively watched the President delivered his speech for over an hour.
Occasionally, they would break their silence with hand clapping and yells of approval everytime the President made mention of something of their concern -- one of them the free vocational training program that the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) offers to poor students.
“Totoo’yan. Isa ako dyan (That is true. I’m one of those),” Alexander Mangampo yelled when the President on the early part of his speech stressed on the accomplishments of the TESDA program that have benefited hundreds of thousands of poor youth.
Mangampo, 25, later told PNA that he completed a two-year auto mechanic course two years ago at the TESDA Mayon Campus and is now gainfully employed as an instructor in the same school.
Barangay Mayon plays host to a TESDA training school for short-term vocational and technical courses.
The agricultural education campus of the Sorsogon State College is also in the village.
When President Aquino made mention of his administration’s anti-poverty programs, particularly the Conditional Cash Transfer under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) being undertaken by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the villagers acknowledged it with cheers as among them are over 200 household-beneficiaries.
The Department of Agriculture’s undertakings toward farm productivity was another item in the President’s speech that was wildly applauded and Romeo Llandelar, president of the Mayon Irrigators Association, explained that the irrigation systems of their rice farms are now working, providing sufficient water to their once rain-fed paddies.
Technical and farming inputs interventions have also been coming to them from the DA under its Agri-Pinoy Program on Rice that provides new technologies, hi-bred seeds and farm mechanization equipment,he said.
“Sagana na kami sa ani at kumikita nang maayos mula sa aming palayan (We now have abundant harvest and earning substantially from our rice farms),” Llandelar said.
Barangay Mayon is a modest agricultural barrio of about 600 households that rely mostly on rice farming, vegetable production and livestock-raising for their livelihood.
Llandelar said his group appreciates very much DA’s intervention program in line with the Aquino administration’s Food Staples Self-Sufficiency Program (FSSP) that has something to do with the rice self-sufficiency target with the implementation of a medium-term agricultural sector mechanization and modernization program that commenced in 2011 and to last until 2016.
The mention of the government’s gains in its anti-insurgency campaign was another item in the President’s speech that drew a thundering applause from the villagers.
“Yes, yes, yes!” they applauded with their clenched fists raised.
The village, which sits four kilometers from the national highway, was a hotbed of insurgency for decades until in mid-2000s when then town mayor Renato Laurinaria, who later became Sorsogon’s provincial governor, declared an “all-out war” against the New People’s Army (NPA) unit operating in the municipality.
That campaign, motivated by the abuses and atrocities ranging from extortion and public executions of “uncooperative” civilians committed by local elements of the NPA, gained support from the barangays and the military, forcing the rebels to give up the area.
Now, Barangay Mayon is a peaceful community with people living normally without fear from the cruelty of the insurgents and even by abusive government soldiers who once treated barangay folks as enemies.
A detachment of the Philippine Army manned by friendly soldiers now exists in the village safeguarding the gains of the local anti-insurgency campaign and helping the villagers live a peaceful life.
After the show, the villagers, satisfied by what they learned from the SONA, moved in good spirits from the plaza.
“Masaya kami at malayo na pala ang narating nating mga Pilipino tungo sa mga pagbabago at maayos na pamamalakad ng ating pamahalaan. Saludo kami kay PNoy (We are glad that we, Filipinos, have already gone that far towards reforms and good governance. We salute PNoy),” Llandelar said.
But before the villagers could disperse, Ballatan addressed them: “Pagkatapos ng SONA ni PNoy noong Lunes ay may mga negatibong pagpuna mula sa kanyang mga kalaban sa pulitika na ating narinig. Huwag nating silang pansinin. Basta tayo, tanging sa Presidente lang naniniwala tungkol sa mga usaping sangkot ang pamahalaan (After PNoy’s SONA last Monday, we heard of negative comments from his political enemies. Let us not mind them. For us, it is only the President whom we should believe when it comes to matters concerning our government).”
So, for these lowly villagers, feeling that President Benigno Aquino III had spoken directly to them once again for the fifth time through the SONA, the government has been coming so close to them even as the same occasion happens only once year.
Ballatan said, “the President has one more and we will never miss it next year. After that or when PNoy completes his term, we hope that his successor does the same.” (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD