“I will live the rest of my life in Negros because the women, children and men in this island really make my life rich and valuable.”
Seiko Bodios Ohashi (born 1960) is the liaison officer of the Japan Committee for Negros Campaign (JCNC) that facilitates people-to-people trading of agricultural products by farmers cooperatives in Negros province in the Philippines to consumer groups in Japan. JCNC gets funding from donations of various Japanese consumer groups who want to help Negros farmers become economically independent. People-to-people trading is an alternative scheme that allows farmer producers to directly market their goods to consumers, thus doing away with middlemen.
Seiko Ohashi first came to Negros Island in June 1991. When the airplane she was on approached the island, she could see the vast green fields from the sky. “I wondered why there was so much hunger when there was this wide ‘green pasture’,” she recalls. The “tiempos muertes” or dead season had begun, the period between the planting and harvesting of sugarcane when there is hardly any work at the hacienda and the “sacadas” (migrant agricultural workers) become heavily indebted to their landlords for their families daily needs. By the time the harvest season comes, their earnings are hardly enough to pay their debts. “I spent several nights in the house of a sacada in La Castellana (about two hours from Bacolod City). I thought I knew enough about the Philippines and its people from my previous visits, but this experience gave me a very different view of their reality.” The sacadas gladly shared their food with her, even if they did not have enough. They gave her the most comfortable space in the house to sleep in. “I told them, ‘Sorry to disturb you, but can I stay a few more days to learn about your life?’ They said, ‘Do not say sorry. We are very proud to have you in our house. We thought only hacenderos could have guests. We are happy that even if our house is small, we also have a foreign visitor. We are no longer second or third class citizens’.” Seiko finally appreciated the situation of sugar workers behind the façade of the “green pasture” she saw from an airplane in the sky. Through the Japan Committee for Negros Campaign (JCNC), Seiko helps rehabilitate the socio-economic life of sugar workers by promoting independent agriculture and encouraging them to break away from their feudal relations with landlords who have enslaved them for decades.
Japan Committee for Negros Campaign (JCNC)
Southeastern Asia | Philippines