Tomatoes similar to this one built a good life for a Mambulaoan family in Cebu many years ago.
By PERCY A.. OSTONAL
MANG GORING or Gregorio Belmonte (not his real name), a former resident of Santa Milagrosa, Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte whom I met in a Filipino- American birthday party at Taylor, Michigan two weeks ago, was simply excited: he learned that we both came from Mambulao.
He and his family left the place he called the "barrio by the roadside" after the complete shutdown of the Philippine Iron Mines (PIM) and returned home to his small ancestral farming town in the province of Cebu.
For almost 14 years, he said, "marami kaming naging mga kaibigan, kabaryo sa Santa Milagrosa at fellow PIM workers na hindi ko malilimutan tulad ng mga Berdins, Trampes, Tarins, Caballeros, Batallers, Paricas at marami pang iba (for almost 14 years, we had lot of friends and neighbors at Santa Milagrosa as well as fellow workers at PIM that we won't forget like the Berdins, Trampes, Tarins, Caballeros, Batallers, Paricas and many more).
With little savings and proceeds from the sale of house and lot at Santa Milagrosa, they re-evaluated all possible options on how to start a new life, making sure their two children will go to college.
"Ordinaryong karpintero lang ako Kabayan sa pelletizing plant sa Larap, (I was just a regular carpenter at the pelletizing plant in Larap, my friend) he said.
"Ang sabi ko nga noon, come what may, igagapang namin sila para they'll not be like us patakbo-takbo para lang mabuhay" (Like what I said before, whatever happens, I will do my best to send them both to college in order not to have the same unsecured life we used to have).
Later, Mang Goring and his wife thought that perhaps the two-hectare idle land that was left by his parents to him and his unmarried older brother Jose could be made productive.
One Tuesday morning when he was paying his real estate property tax, he learned from their local municipal authority that a tomato canning factory (tomato sauce and paste production) some five kilometers away will be in place in less than a year and the management is looking ahead for additional back-up suppliers in anticipation to projected volume production.
Immediately after getting all the information the company required, Mr Belmonte applied and was told that the production team will inspect the site to determine if the size and the quality of the soil would be suitable for tomatoes they expected to harvest every 30 days year round.
He was told that should he be one of the lucky individuals to be selected, the company will provide seeds and technical knowhow, assistance and training updates and he would be under provisionary contract for three years, subject to permanent-supplier status or cancellation by the company based upon solely on "quality harvests" each year.
Prevailing weather during planting and harvest seasons were factors that would be given due credit as "contract waiver".
He, however, did not say much as to how much compensation and mechanics of payment the tomatoe canning executives offered him after series of meetings. And finally the contract was signed.
Many years later, Mang Goring's "wisest decision" of investing in tomato farming enabled him to send their two children to medical education at the University of Santo Tomas (Manila) and fattened his bank account.
One after the other in 1988 and 1993, their two children, who both graduated with college degrees in nursing and physical therapy found jobs in Chicago, Illinois and Dearborn, Michigan.
Meanwhile, in 1994 the tomato canning factory they were supplying informed Mang Goring and the rest of his fellow tomato suppliers that after 19 years in business, they were closing the operation due to high cost of production, with market share not getting any better and overall business profitability not justifying further operations.
The new management team decided scrapping tomato canning in favour of "bangus with olive oil and tomato sauce mackerel" production.
With small amount of tomatoes needed for this new venture, there was not enough reasons for small suppliers to continue cultivating their lands at that time as the bigger volume was no longer required.
In other words, the large percentage of livelihood was cut-off and therefore tomato farming was no longer financially rewarding as before.
A wealthy businessman one day came to their barrio and offered to buy Mang Goring's former tomato plantation to develop it into a subdivision project next to newly-acquired land for the same purpose.
Mang Goring declined and said: "Dahil sa tulong ng mga kamatis sa pagpaaral ng mga anak anak, magtatayo ako ng bantayog ... dito mismo sa lupang ito" (because tomatoes helped my children's education, I will make sure that a monument is built right on this land)
After the death of his older brother Jose in 1995, Mr and Mrs Belmonte decided to donate the former tomato land to the municipal government. Later, they decided to join their children in the US.
Now both in their 80s, they are settled in Southgate, Michigan and a neighbor of their second child with her family. The couple came to America in the summer of 1996.
"Eh Mang Goring, anong bang klaseng monumento ang ipinatayo ninyo doon sa dating taniman ng mga kamatis?"(Mr Goring, what sort of monument did you build on the former tomato plantation of yours?") I asked.
Hindi naman monumento ang ipinatayo naming mag-asawa, Kabayan, kundi walong kuwartong rural elemetary school building at ang hiling lang namin ay pangalanan ito ng "KAMATISAN RURAL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL"
At saka nga pala, hiniling din namin na pulos kamatis lang ang tanim sa palibot".
(It was not a monument that we asked to be built, my friend, but rather an eight-room rural elementary school building and we requested that the name of the school be "KAMATISAN RURAL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL" with the surroundings planted exclusively to tomatoes.)
"Ang naging kapalaran namin ay produkto ng pagsisikap, tiyaga at pagdarasal. Pero dahil sa pagtatanim ng mga kamatis kami'y pinalad na manirahan dito sa America at maka-piling naming mag-asawa ang aming mga apo, anak at manugang.
"Kung kami'y mabubuhay pang matagal-tagal, gusto kung muling manirahan kahit saglit sa barrio naming iniwan at sariwaing muli ang mga panahong sa amin ay nagdaan" (our fate was the product of strong determination, perseverance and prayers.
"Tomato farming enabled us to live in America and be with our grandchildren, children and their spouses.
"Given the chance to live longer, we would like to go home even for a short stay in the barrio that we loved most and recall those wonderful bygone days.