BAGUIO CITY — At the age of nine, he had known the meaning of poverty which led him to become a courier of marijuana produced at his village of Badeo, Kibungan, Benguet.
“Charlie” (not his real name), in an exclusive interview earlier this week, said he used to walk from his far-flung barangay for six hours to the village of Sagpat where he could get a ride while discreetly in possession of a block or two of marijuana. “As a young boy, I experienced the difficulty of life and I wanted to finish my studies so that my life will be better,” he said in the Ilocano dialect.
He mentioned that as a young boy, being able to sell marijuana was followed by a treat of “karinderia” food, which was not available in his village.
On aerial distance, Badeo is 31 kilometers from Baguio and is six-hour walk to Sagpat and an additional four hours of bus or jeepney ride to Baguio City. Badeo is the poorest barangay in Kibungan, while the town is the poorest municipality in Benguet. Badeo’s annual Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) is Php1.4 million while the municipality receives Php80 million.
Charlie said their village has a population of 894 and only five have finished college. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work degree and at 33 years old, he is now practicing his profession.
There are three elementary schools in his village and the nearest high school is a five-hour walk away. A big number of his village-mates had either finished elementary or stopped going to school while in the elementary. They have limited access to medical services and most children in the village are either underweight or severely overweight.
The lack of access road was identified as the primary reason law enforcers regularly report the conduct of marijuana eradication and destruction operations in the area.
Charlie said “life in our village is difficult. My mother used to plant vegetables and rice but only for personal consumption because it was impossible to carry loads of the produce and walk for six hours.”
When his mother transferred him to Sagpat to go to school, he never experienced having an allowance. He brings with him to Sagpat the rice grains and sweet potatoes produced by his mother, which he cooks for food. He recalled that as a pupil, he spent his weekends working on the fields of neighbors or in cleaning their house, which earned him a little amount.
He was enticed to be a marijuana courier as a child because of the money. It was at that time when he first saw what Php800 looked like. “I am one of the lucky village-mates who came out of the trade without entering the jail. I have cousins and a big number of village-mates who are now in jail, some of them are at the National Penitentiary, serving their sentence after they were convicted of delivering and selling marijuana.”
Based on police record, Badeo in Kibungan is one of the barangays in the three municipalities of Benguet where marijuana is cultivated — a result of the lack of an access road that will allow residents to plant vegetables or rice that they can sell as a source of livelihood. Kapangan and Bakun towns are included in the list of identified marijuana plantation municipalities.
Former Kibungan Mayor Benito Siadto who served three terms, said that they introduced livelihood projects in the villages where there are known marijuana cultivation sites but the lack of road still poses the biggest concern. “Even if we wanted to help the residents, we cannot with our meager income. We get PHP80 million IRA and only two percent of that is locally generated income, not even enough to provide all the basic services for the communities.”
He said he supports the Korean investor who is proposing a hydro electric power plant project. “This is the first time that an investor sees our town. This is an opportunity to help our people. They will not only provide jobs and resources but income for the town and the province in the form of taxes,” he said.
Charlie, during the Free, Prior and Informed Consent Process (FPIC) consultation conducted by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in Madaymen on the proposed 500-megawatt hydro electric power plant in Badeo, said “the company is offering to give my village a road, who would not want that? We know what life is in our village, I am just one of the very few lucky persons from our place who have a better life and I want my young village-mates to have a better future and not end up in jail for selling marijuana.”
Aside from a road, the proponent Coheco-Badeo Company will give school sites, foot paths, footbridges, irrigation, potable water system, hospital and health stations, community and sports center and scholarship.
About 600 jobs will be created during the construction stage and 60 positions as regular employment apart from the taxes that will benefit the residents of Kibungan.
For Charlie, the power plant is a “light after the tunnel”, which will give them a life better than what they have had for decades. Liza Agoot/PNA-northboundasia.com