Producing a third of the country’s total rice production, Central Luzon is known as the Rice Granary of the Philippines. It is home to thousands of dedicated farmers, who tirelessly work on the fields to feed the nation.

While Central Luzon may be known for its vast plains cultivating the Filipino’s staple food, what many people do not know is that it also nurtures some of the best farmer-leaders in the country.

His nearly a decade RAFC Chairpersonship

Engr. Francisco Hernandez, or “Boy” as people fondly call him, has been farming rice for more than two decades in Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija. Although his upbringing involved agriculture, he admitted it never occurred to him that one day he will be farming his own land.

Boy’s interest was set on engineering and not the fields. This encouraged him to study and complete his Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering in Manila.

After graduation, he initially practiced his profession in a private company, and married his wife of 37 years. When the opportunity to go back to his hometown presented itself, he took it and became a Municipal Engineer in Santa Rosa while his wife established her dental clinic.

During this time, Boy bought a 1.28-hectare land. Not yet knowing what to do, he left it as it is and continued working in the local government for five years. Seeing no promotion in the near future, he decided to leave his post as a Municipal Engineer and work on his farmland.

Noong nag-aaral ako, ayokong tumungtong sa lupa. Gusto ko talaga engineering pero tadhana nga naman, pagbalik ko ng Santa Rosa, may nag-alok sakin ng lupa. Doon na nagsimula,” he said.

It was in 2000 when he discovered the Agricultural and Fishery Council (AFC). Seeing its vision for the sector after attending one meeting, he was persuaded to join and three weeks later became the Santa Rosa Municipal AFC (MAFC) Chairperson. 

Before the end of the year, Boy was elected as the Nueva Ecija Provincial AFC (PAFC) Chairperson in concurrent capacity as MAFC Chairperson. He held both positions for 12 years until he delegated the MAFC Chairpersonship, as per the guidelines of the AFC that one cannot hold two positions simultaneously. 

For another two years, he remained as the PAFC Chairperson until he assumed the Regional AFC (RAFC) Chairpersonship in 2014. His exemplary leadership did not go unnoticed as the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries awarded him the Outstanding RAFC Chairperson in 2020 during the 5th National Agriculture and Fisheries Volunteers’ Day. 

Boy held the position until 2023, making him one of the longest-serving RAFC Chairpersons in the history of the AFC.

Boy admitted that the position came with a lot of challenges, especially on his personal roles as a husband, a father, and a grandfather. In fact, his wife once asked him about his motivations for volunteering. Instead of answering it, he brought her to one of the gatherings with the AFCs, after which she said “Ngayon, naiintindihan ko na”.

Finally, when Boy was asked about it, his motivations lie on the teachings of the church that he had taken to heart.

Hindi naman sa akin yan [oras at talento]. Pinahiram lang naman sa akin ng Panginoon yan kaya bakit ko ipagdadamot,” he explained.

Dedicating half of his life to volunteerism

Onesimo Romano, better known as “One” among his peers, has been farming rice for 35 years. At 69 years old, half of his life has been dedicated to nurturing lands in San Marcelino, Zambales.

One came from a family of farmers. His grandfather farmed tobacco while his father was a rice farmer as well as a teacher and a carpenter. Despite his background in agriculture, One pursued Customs Administration and Laws in Manila.

After finishing his degree, One took on supporting his siblings to study in Manila. His first job was in a pier, where he worked for seven years and met his wife of 42 years.

Knowing that Manila is not where he wanted to raise his children, One brought his wife and six children to his wife’s hometown in Mindoro. He continued working in the pier, going home every weekend only to spend less than 48 hours with his family before leaving again for work.

When his sibling bought farmland in San Marcelino, One was offered an opportunity to tend to it while being with his family. This is when and where he started his farming journey.

One day in 1987, while checking his paddies, he heard a call from across the field. It was their Municipal Agriculturist, having a meeting with other farmers under a mango tree. He was encouraging the farmers to organize themselves to collectively lobby their concerns and requests from the government.

Kailangan maging organized na kayo kasi hindi kayo papansinin ng gobyerno pag kayo-kayo lang,” One remembered the Municipal Agriculturist saying.

Unbeknownst to him, it will be the start of his volunteerism journey.

In 1988, One became the BAFC Chairperson of San Guillermo and five years later the MAFC Chairperson of San Marcelino. During this time, he was also tapped by the Department of Agrarian Reform to be the Provincial Agrarian Council Coordinator in Zambales due to the disarray on land ownership.

After two terms, One went higher in the ranks as he sat as the Zambales PAFC Chairperson in 1999. He held this position for a decade until he was elected the Vice Chairperson of Central Luzon RAFC and finally as the Chairperson in 2023.

Campaigns of the former and the incumbent for the sector’s future

In the nine years that Boy Hernandez held the RAFC Chairperson position, he maintained a close rapport with the local government unit (LGU). This enabled him to lobby for multiple local interventions that will benefit his co-farmers. 

He spearheaded the drafting of policy resolutions recommending the practice of “bayanihan” among farmers during cropping season, as well as the involvement of youth in farming to ensure the future of the agriculture sector.

He is also a fan of broadening knowledge, which inspired him to lead “Lakbay Aral” sessions with AFC Officers and Members.

Because of the tight connection he established between the AFC and the LGU, Boy was able to propose various distribution programs for farmers that were funded by the LGU. This included the distribution of power sprayers, fruiting bags, and other tools and equipment that are very much needed by the farmers in the region.

He also initiated the Live Chicken Project, wherein they distributed 100 heads to selected beneficiaries to start their poultry enterprises. In this project, beneficiaries are expected to establish their operations and increase the number of their flocks. Once done, they are expected to pay with the same number of heads they received for it to be given to the next-in-line beneficiaries. The recipients were also trained to ensure the project’s and the enterprises’ success and sustainability.

Throughout his service, Boy learned that in life, what matters most is the good you do unto others.

Natutunan ko na hindi pwedeng basta wala ka lang gawin na masama, dapat may gawin kang mabuti,” he furthered.

As One steps into the RAFC Chairpersonship, he continues to implement and expand his previous initiatives during his preceding positions as well as that of Boy’s for the uninterrupted benefits of the farmers.

His advocacy remains to be that of sustainable irrigation and the empowerment of farmers to be agripreneurs and the processors of their own produce to avoid spoilage. To avoid importation and higher prices, he aims to stop hoarders/traders from manipulating the rice supply.

On top of it all, One Romano is focusing all efforts in capacitating the new set of AFC Officers through the provision of proper trainings, alongside his Vice Chairperson Boy Hernandez.

“Ang pangarap ko para sa ating mga farmer-leaders ay magkaroon ng sapat na training para magkaroon kami ng common understanding sa aming mga gawain at para magampanan namin ang aming targets at alam namin kung saan kami patungo,” One said. | Text by Joy Camille Luza, Photos by Jezebel Campaniel