BUHI, CAMARINES SUR – For over 15 years, fishing in Lake Buhi has been the major source of income for 26-year-old Benjie Merelles, a member of the Agta tribe settling in Brgy. Sta. Cruz, this municipality. He used to earn P700 a day from selling his fish catch at the nearby market. However, his income dropped from P700 to P350 and even as low as P100 daily when the community quarantine protocols were imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To make both ends meet, he tried searching for an alternative source of income and got hired as a construction worker for P300 per day.

Thus, Merelles considers the release of the P5,000-worth cash and food subsidy to indigenous people (IP) farmers on January 22, 2021 as a blessing. Finally, he can now go back to fishing.

“Masaya kami kasi makakatulong ito sa amin sa pang-araw araw… Yung P3,000 ibibili ko uli ng mga palalakihing isda para may huli ulit ako araw-araw. Makakatulong din yung ibang binigay sa amin kasi unang-una hindi na kami bibili ng bigas at may pang-ulam na. Salamat po sa DA,” he said.

Merelles was one of the 43 IP beneficiaries of the Department of Agriculture’s Cash and Food Subsidy for Marginal Farmers and Fisherfolk (CFSMFF) Program in this municipality. Under this program, qualified IP farmers and fisherfolk like Merelles received P3,000 cash via Mlhuillier and P2,000-worth food pack containing rice, chicken and eggs.

“Ang mga IP mi digdi sa Buhi kaibanan duman sa vulnerable sectors. Ang mga IP digdi kumbaga tios na tios. During the pandemic lalo na nagbagyo pa, nahiling ko na grabe ang pagtios… kumbaga hand-to-mouth lang. Mostly sainda pag-lockdown mayo sinda resources o hanap-buhay… Ining program kan DA, kadakulang bagay kaini sainda na kumbaga bako sana sa sadiri ninda kundi sa entire family… Ang mga IP mi mostly farmers, mas maeengganyo pa… mas higusan pa sinda na magtanom. Sa ngaran kan NCIP ako po nagpapasalamat sa DA… Makakatabang ini sa land preparation and then ang iba kaiyan makakatabang pa sa mga aki ninda,” Engr. Andrea M. Villegas, OIC Head of National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Buhi Service Center Technical Management Services Division, said. 

Aside from augmenting the marginal farmers and fisherfolk’s income, CFSMFF is designed to help boost micro, small, and medium enterprises and serve as market support to the local rice and poultry industries.

In line  with Agriculture Secretary William Dar’s directive for an inclusive approach to further grow the agri-fishery sector this assistance is  being given for marginal farmers in 4th and 5th class municipalities and cities as  a manifestation that the government is also looking after the welfare of those in the peripheries of our society.

(“Sa side ko,) Bilang OIC-Municipal Agriculturist (MA), dakula ang kaogmahan ko ta natawan ning priority, natawan ning program kan DA ang mga IP ta kadaklan sa sektor kan IPs engaged sa agriculture. (Ngonian, minsan, nai-ignore yan, minsan nase-set aside, garu dae nahihiling an importansya). Sa tabang kaini mahihiling ninda na igwa palan project, madali ta sinda ma-encourage na maging cooperative, maging active sa gabos na activity or program kan government particularly sa DA,” Angelito Philip N. Ignao, OIC-MA said.

CFSMFF is being implemented using an e-voucher system developed by the DA-Information and Communications Technology Service (ICTS) which has a unique system-generated reference code or Quick Response (QR) code per beneficiary. To claim their cash and food assistance, beneficiaries only need to present their QR code, along with a government-issued ID. Also, per amendment to the Implementing Guidelines of the CFSMFF, the DA now allows its recognized supplier to conduct remote distribution and offline encoding of documents in the voucher management system in areas like Buhi where internet connection is poor.

“Nasisiyahan po ako ng husto na natulungan ng DA ang mga IP member ko–na nakakuha sila ng P5k. Malaking tulong po yun kasi sa panahon ngayon, hindi pa rin nakakarekober ang mga IP members,” Elena C. Abad, IP Mandatory Representative from Brgy. De los Angeles added. The CFSMFF program complements other national government agencies’ Social Amelioration Programs. In Bicol, NCIP identified 1,468 IP farmers with one hectare and below landholding enrolled in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA) as CFSMFF beneficiaries. About 58,462 eligible smallholder corn, coconut, and sugarcane farmers regionwide will also benefit from this program which will be implemented until February 21, 2021. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)