I am still strong. I can still out-work many of the [much younger men.]
-- Lola Cresencia
Defying Age and Gender Roles
The story of Cresencia Martinez of Baras, Rizal
By Sherma E Benosa
Among the participants of the farmer field school conducted in Baras, Rizal given by the local government in partnership with Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) in 2015, Crecencia Martinez was a stand out.
At 67, she looked frail to still be working on the farm. She likewise did not fit the picture we have of people who would be interested in learning new things. But there she was, not only working alongside men and women some of whom were more than two decades her junior; she was also clearly their leader, and was enjoying it.
“I am still strong. I can still out-work many of them,” she said, smiling as she gestured toward the men. “I’m used to hard work,” she added.
“Where’s your farm?” I asked, expecting her to gesture vaguely to the farm around us.
“Over there,” she said, pointing to the mountains. “My farm is upland,” she added.
I didn’t try to hide my surprise.
Lola Cresencia, I learned, had a farmland which she worked on manually. “Farm work is difficult,” she shared, “but it becomes manageable because we do things here following the bayanihan system.”
Bayanihan system is a well-documented way of doing among Filipinos wherein people help each other in performing a task, usually for free.
Like the farmers in Baras, Lola Crecensia was also into organic farming. She farmed dinorado, malagkit, binikol and kimmalig rice varieties.
Asked if she saw herself retiring from farming anytime soon, Lola Cresencia shook her head, her smile lingering. “If I stop, what would happen to the farm?” She asked.
As her age didn’t seem to burden her, I asked if being a woman did, to which she replied: “It’s not difficult to be a woman and a leader. I go with the flow. If I am meant to be a farmer, I farm.”
Being an elder, Lola Crecensia is obviously respected by the younger farmers. Asked if she sometimes gave the younger men and women some advice, she laughed, “Sometimes.”
“What sort of advice do you tell them?” I pressed her.
“Huwag umasa kay Mayor para sa mga pangangailangan ninyo. Iasa ninyo ang sarili ninyo sa inyo. (Do not rely on the mayor for the things you need. Depend on yourself),” she shared.
“And they follow your advise?”
“Well, they’re farming,” she laughed.”