Unwavering Hope

In one of the outskirts of Malaybalay, Bukidnon, a Higaonon village named Manalog produce intricate Hinabol fabrics that were tailored to make handbags, tablemats, coin purses, etcetera, that are often sold in boutiques, in the annual provincial Kaamulan festival, shops trading native handicrafts and the like. These native but classy merchandises capture the eyes of the people from the cities, especially those whose taste are into unique native products.
 
The colourful abaca sheets used as the main material to create products sold by Puyo and 2N in shopping malls like Centrio, were woven manually by the Higaonon weavers of the Manalog using the Hablanan – an indigenous handloom that were assembled by skilled handloom makers of the community using locally available materials.
 
Because of its intricacy, you would even think that the Hinabol sheets went through complex textile engineering. But it did not. The abaca fibers just went through the hands of the Lumads who have mastered the indigenous weaving technique of their ancestors.
 
It is crafted by the Manalog weavers whose weathered hands are worn down by the continuing struggle to break the chains of poverty.
 
Unfair trade and crisis
 
The harsh market fluctuation of abaca price affecting abaca farmers in the area mirrors very concretely the living standard of the Lumads of Manalog. Soil type of the barangay is found unsuitable for cultivating staple crops. This impelled the residents to engage in cash crops production - abaca was thus proven their reasonable recourse. In fact, over 90% of the population in the community depend on abaca fibers for bread and butter. By trading or selling raw abaca fibers they earn cash to procure their basic needs like food, clothing, medicine, etc.
 
However, due to the prevailing exploitative market operation the community fell prey to the manipulations of the local buyers who dictate the price and terms of abaca buying. The buyers would simply tell them that there is an oversupply of abaca fibers to justify the rock-bottom drop in buying price and in the process rake more profit from the unfair trading scheme.
 
On the other hand, poverty in barrio Manalog is chronic. To get their families through the day they have no choice but to sell their products regardless of the unjust buying price.
 
“Ang amo man lang kay makapalit mi og bugas para sa among pamilya. Wala mi mabuhat bahala barato ang presyo (Our only goal is to get enough money to buy food for our family. We have no choice but to sell abaca fibers even if the price is low),” said Caloy Sawinhay while cutting off an abaca plant for processing.
 
The harvesting of abaca plant and the stripping proxess to produce the fibers is strenuous. According to one of the locals, it would take them a week to gather 40 kilograms of lanot that is worth P1,200. And, that amount of money is outrightly inadequate to provide for the needs of their families in a week.
 
Agrarian campaign
 
In August of last year, the price of abaca dropped to P48 per kilo. The Manalog abaca farmers joined hands with 300 other abaca farmers in the adjoining barangays to negotiate with the buyer an increase in the price of abaca. Before a horde of abaca farmers displaying unity and militance, a buyer named Boyan Olana from Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, was obliged to sign the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) raising the purchasing price of abaca to P50. In short, Pigyayongaan was successful in their campaign to increase the price, winning a P2 net increase per kilo and achieved a transient economic relief.
 
Because of that, the community decided to organize a multi-purpose abaca producers’ cooperative of the Pigyayungaan Manalog Chapter. They aimed to embark on an organized selling of abaca to (consolidate all their products and) demand a higher price from buyers. (The cooperative have a maximum and minimum demand regarding the price: P5 increase as the maximum and P2 increase as the minimum.)
 
For the community to survive amidst fiscal problems, they ventured to borrow rice from other farmers’ group – the BTL Farmer’s Cooperative. Unfortunately, Pigyayongaan’s debt reached the ceiling that amounted to P100,000. But the crisis caused by the low buying price of their abaca fibers continued.
 
Pigyayongaan reached the verge of bankruptcy. The cooperative bought the abaca fibers for P48 per kilo in a form of rice to help the community, but the buyers bought the lanot from the cooperative for only P30. As a result, although the coop was able to help the community’s sustenance, it suffered grave losses on its capital.
 
But it did not last very long.
 
‘Great depression’
 
“Wala gyud mi nakabenepisyo sa increase kai niingon napud ang buyers nga niubos daw sa P30 matag kilo ang presyo sa lanot (The increase did not benefit the members of Pigyayongaan. The buyers again told them that the buying price of abaca fibers in the market reached P30/kilo low,” said Datu Balabag, an officer of Pigyayongaan.
 
“Sulod sa walo ka bulan nga pag-hagsa sa presyo galisud gyud mi diri. Gani, kamote og batula ra among ginakaon para mabuhi among pamilya (For eight months the price of abaca fibers was on its all-time low. The crisis worsened and our families survived day by day with only sweet potatoes and cassava on the table),” said Lucilo Okit, a father of six.
 
Presently, their cooperative is still paying its debts. It has not yet recovered from the fiscal crisis it went through for eight months. However, the women in Manalog can’t afford to slack off watching their poverty-stricken community. They helped their husbands.
 
Weaving Hope
 
To compensate their husband’s income, and to help the Pigyayongaan cooperative pay off their debts, the women in Manalog opted to weaving that has a marketing agenda. They pour their meagre capital on synthetic dye to add color to the white, raw abaca fiber. As a result, they were able to produce eye-catching abaca fabric aka Hinabol that are salable even in the international market.
 
It is known that the abaca fibers from Manalog are top-class. The quality of the colourful fibers with its intricate interlacing made the hinabol fabric suitable as raw material to manufacture native, fashionable hand bags and other merchandise.
 
Painstaking
 
“Kapoy kaayo magbuhat og hinabol. Sakit ang imong likod og tibuok kalawasan kay tibuok adlaw ka maglingkod (Making hinabol is a tiring process. You will spend the day sitting, weaving until your entire body aches, especially your back),” said Edita Yandong, a hinabol weaver for 24 years.
 
Apart from that, during preparation, the weavers need to connect and sort the strands according to color. This process requires walking back and forth that, if they walk straight, they could have reached the city. Note that from Malaybalay City you need to cross ten rivers on a motorcycle to reach the area.
 
More’s the pity: expert weavers can only produce three meters in a day. If sold at P35 per meter, for sure it is not enough to provide for their daily needs.
 
Market deficit
 
The weavers need to travel an hour on motorcycle to reach Malaybalay City – the first large market to sell their products. But, the motorcycle fare is P500 per head and P1 per meter of hinabol. In other words the fare alone would cost them almost a week of painstaking weaving.
 
Worst, the local shop owner’s payment method is staggered--most of the time they only pay half the total cost on the day of delivery and advise the weavers to come back some other time to collect the rest of the payment. As a result, instead of expected earnings , they incur deficit due to the inability of the local market to absorb their products and high transportation cost.
 
Wrapping it up
 
The Higaonon community in Manalog relies mainly on selling raw abaca fibers and hinabol. The Pigyayungaan coop is in debt due to the low buying cost of their raw fibers. As a solution, the women in their community marketed hinabol to pay off their debts and to alleviate poverty in the area.
 
Also, although the hinabol is a bankable alternative, they don’t have enough market to sell the product. And it turns out that if they transport the product to the nearest market, they would be in deficit.
 
They are trapped!
 
Help the Higaonons of Manalog
 
The only solution to unlock the box is to expand the market. You can do so by buying hinabol products they produce. Click this link: http://www.rmp-nmr.org/index.php/articles/44-extras/227-support-indigenous-women-weavers to know more about the product.
 
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A tribe of the Lumads
A native product maker and retailer
ibid
local term for ‘village’
Abaca strips
An alliance of Lumad organizations in Malaybalay City