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From rebels to organic farmers

Former NPA members surrender firearms to cultivate farmlands

At a young age, Nita Capirayan, dreaming to be a teacher, found herself listening to the preachings and teachings of New People’s Army rebels who were doing an aggressive “info drive” and recruitment in Iloilo, which eventually led her to ponder several questions.

“Based on the teachings of the leftist groups, I began to think: Why are there still a lot of poor people? Why are there still a lot of people who are hungry? Why are there a lot of children who can’t go to school? Why are there are a lot of people who do not have jobs?” Capirayan shared in the vernacular.

Nita Capirayan and other former rebels grow their farms with the help of Cencia Clarito (second from left), agricultural technologist of the Department of Agriculture Iloilo who regularly visits the progress of Leon farmers.

So in 1981, Capirayan packed a few clothes, abandoned her family, and went up the hills to join the rebel movement. Naturally enjoying talking to groups of people and organizing activities, she led the group’s educations committee and was obsessed with recruiting more members.

For close to three decades, she lived and breathed the life of a rebel, in the process meeting and marrrying another rebel, Antonio, and bore kids. Misfortune struck when she lost an older sister who was salvaged, and her father mercilessly tortured, leaving him an invalid.

Former rebel turned organic farmer Nita Capirayan harvests some of the produce in her small farm in Leon, Iloilo.

But it was only five years ago when Capirayan, then 53, lay sleepless in her lair, a gun beside her, and realized that their fight was leading nowhere.

It dawned on Capirayan, her husband, and a couple more rebels that there has to be another way to fight poverty, and that the solution is not in the hills and not with the underground movement. They surrendered their arms and returned to a life of “normalcy.”

“We went down the hills and went back to the fold of  the law,” she shared.


Same fight, different battlefield

Today, Capirayan sleeps beside her kids, still sleepless at times as her mind is constantly busy thinking of strategies on how to grow the organic farming community she now heads together with other rebel returnees. The former fighters are now all farmers, still waging war against poverty, but instead of firearms, they carry shovels; from growing their movement on the hills, they’re growing crops on the field.

Nita Capirayan and a former comrade in arms, now comrade in farms, gaze at their new battlefield – their own organic farm.

“If before I was active in the revolution against the government, now my revolution is against poverty and hunger,” enthused Capirayan, who is the president of Leon Vegetable Growers Association in Leon, Iloilo.

“Our group is still small. We only have 50 members, 30 of whom are into organic farming, but the rest are already trying it out,” she shared.

Leon is a quiet municipality two hours away from Iloilo City. Its fertile land and temperate climate allows farmers to produce the sweetest fruits and good vegetable yield.

“We all know that Leon is blessed with rich soil and a great climate. It is so easy to grow crops here in our province. It didn’t take long for us to decide to go into farming and promote the concept of #MahalinPagkaingAtin,” said Capirayan whose association promotes Mahalin Pagkaing Atin program which is directed towards sustainable livelihood businesses.

Using her good communication skills and effective networking, she reached out to agencies and universities that could help their group. The Junior Marketing Association of the Philippines and the University of the Philippines in Iloilo were quick to offer them help.

“UP Iloilo helped us organize our group and linked us up with different organizations that could train us with effective farming practices. The Junior Marketing Association of the Philippines, on the other hand, taught us how to effectively market our produce,” Nita beamed with delight.

From the help of private groups and the province’s Agriculture department, her farm is now a small “paradise” of fruits and vegetables. “I have sweet pepper, lettuce, corn, chayote, carrots, papaya and others,” while the other members grow eggplants, string beans, okra and coconut in their respective farms.

Through farming, the former rebels found that it is possible to have food on the table every single day. And it definitely does not need an armed revolution to achieve that.

“We could only achieve peace if there is no poverty, but we have our own roles to play to eradicate poverty. Farming is one of these. And if we could pass on the love for farming to our children and the next generation, we could dramatically reduce poverty,” Capirayan declared with pride.

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