Home » Opinion » Of Trees and Forest » From user to farmer

From user to farmer

Addressing our most serious problems requires the cooperation of everyone. Democracy, they say, is the rule of the people. This does not only mean that we have equal rights but that we must also share in the burden of governance.

We cannot complain against government ‘till Kingdom come’, and just sit around doing nothing.

One of our nation’s problems, which the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has focused on, is the spread of illegal drugs and its attendant violent crimes. The alarming increase of drug users and pushers has destroyed many families and futures.

More than 8,000 barangays nationwide are considered drug-infested, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agenday (PDEA). In Metro Manila, 92% of barangays are said to be afflicted with the drug problem.

Through the Villar Foundation, our family intends to support government in its drive to address this problem and to assist in rebuilding the shattered lives of those who were victims of this vicious addiction.

This is our attempt to do our part in the collective effort to rid our society of the drug menace.

As the government continues its successful campaign against drugs, we need to provide opportunities for those who have decided to turn a corner and start a new life.

This effort dovetails perfectly to our vision of developing farm tourism in the country.

In an earlier column, I talked about the initiative of my wife, Senator Cynthia A. Villar and our very own Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance (SIPAG), which inaugurated last year an Urban Farm School in Bacoor, Cavite.

The Farm School is designed to teach men and women interested in farming to do actual hands-on sessions in planting and taking care of vegetables and other high value crops.

Since its opening in September 2015, the Villar SIPAG Farm School has given numerous trainings on vegetable production, mushroom production, livestock and poultry production, sweet corn production, orchid cultivation, bamboo propagation, cut flower production, and beekeeping to farmers around Metro Manila and surrounding provinces.

Just recently, SIPAG, in partnership with the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) of the Department of Agriculture in Region IV – A, conducted a training program on sustainable pig farming. Fifty farmers from Parañaque, Las Pinas, Laguna, Cavite, Muntinlupa, and Rizal, were trained on how to organically raise pigs from piglet to maturity. And we also opened another farm school in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan to cater to the training needs of farmers from Central Luzon.

Building on this idea, we can use the same strategy for drug rehab patients. We can provide them with the same training in planting, gardening, livestock raising, entrepreneurship, and other similar skills.

This strategy accomplishes at least two things: first, it provides drug rehab patients with skills and livelihood with which to anchor their redemption to more productive lives; second, it strengthens and sustains agricultural development in the country.

Complementing this effort, Cynthia has filed a bill seeking to lower rehabilitation costs for drug addicts and increasing the number of rehabilitation centers. I sincerely hope that our legislators approve these important bills.

The last number I checked, the intensified initiative of law enforcement agencies led by the Philippine National Police (PNP) have resulted in the surrender of more than 600,000 drug users. This unprecedented success needs to be sustained by providing drug users the opportunities and the facilities to make that turn towards changing their lives.

Obviously, state resources are limited in terms of providing drug rehabilitation facilities, although I was told that President Duterte has issued orders to increase the number of rehab centers. I am also happy that the Department of Health has announced its plans to include a two-week drug rehabilitation program in the coverage of PhilHealth.

These are important government initiatives but here is where the private sector can help. We can assist government by expanding drug rehabilitation programs into economically productive activities. In the case of the Villar Foundation initiative, our vision is to facilitate their transition from user to farmer.

I am aware that there are a lot of heated debates surrounding the President’s war on drugs. Well, this is a democracy after all, but I hope we also realize that we have a task to help government and our people. I am sure that if we step back from the bickering and the insult-hurling we can see that we have more important tasks to perform as Filipino citizens. (Senator Manny Villar)