Isolated, mountainous, rugged terrain, few inhabitants, peace-loving citizens, undisturbed environment and an impoverished economy would be the best words to describe the humble municipalities of Sugpon, Ilocos Sur and Santol, La Union. They are both situated in the upland part of the two provinces and lies upstream of Amburayan River. The River serves as the natural political boundary and the mountain ranges separate them from the province of Benguet in the Cordillera Administrative Region. People living in these communities belong to the BAGO tribe.
The Municipality of Santol, La Union can be reached by motor vehicles via a onehour drive from the provincial capital, San Fernando City. Most of its villages are situated in the mountainous part of the municipality that are not accessible to vehicles during the rainy season. The use of motorcycles, although risky, is the common means of transport in the upland villages. High value crops such as ginger, tiger grass, ube, cabbage, sayote, and beans are among the common products of the community. Sweet potatoes are planted mainly for as substitute for rice.
Sugpon, Ilocos Sur lies in the southern most part of the province, just across the Amburayan river. The municipality becomes virtually isolated during rainy season and whenever a typhoon strikes the region. Bamboo rafts and small motorized boats are used to cross the Amburayan River during these times. Sugpon can be reached through two hour drive from the national highway in Bangar, La Union. Agricultural products are same as that of Santol. Ube is one of their main product and has become their own One Town One Product (OTOP). Due to the poor road conditions and relative isolation, agricultural products produced in these municipalities, even high value in nature, fetch lower than expected prices. This contributes to the snailpaced economic development of the areas and poverty of its residents. In these upland villages, only a fraction of the youth go through secondary education and even fewer reach college level education.
With all these hardships that makes their life a daily struggle, and maybe because of their isolation, some of our brothers and sisters surrender their peaceful life and gamble in the hope of fighting poverty. They gamble in the hope of sending their children to school. They gamble in the hope of ending their misery and poverty and they gamble by planting MARIJUANA (Cannabis sativa).
Local executives and officials with the help of other concerned government agencies strengthened their antimarijuana campaign and launched a series of operations in 2008 that resulted in the destruction of the largest marijuana plantation in Santol. It was tagged as the biggest haul of marijuana in the region. From then on, more clearing operations were carried out. Last year, marijuana plants were uprooted and burned in the upland villages of both municipalities. In the year 2010, Tanim Kalikasan Inc. and local officials of Santol, La Union joined hands in providing long- term alternative livelihood for villages engaged in marijuana planting by providing free coffee seedlings. Technical assistance, fertilizer assistance and planting incentives were also provided to each coffee planter. Last 2011, this undertaking was replicated in Sugpon, Ilocos Sur with the same scheme and objectives.
To date, a total of 22,172 and 5,806 coffee seedlings were planted in Santol and Sugpon, respectively. For 2012, a total of 26,000 and 4,500 coffee seedlings were already delivered in Santol and Sugpon, respectively and are now ready for planting. Providing coffee seedlings in the marijuana planting villages aims to give sustainable alternative livelihood to our brothers and sisters. The common hope of having a better tomorrow. The hope of regaining their dignity and eventually respect from others. Let us join together to make the seedbed of their hope filled with coffee seedlings… the seedlings of HOPE. Hope for our brothers and sisters that in the years to come they will bear fruits with good seeds that will grow to be the seedlings of HOPE for the next generation.