Magtanim ay di biro

The English version of this Filipino song goes, “Planting rice is never fun…”

It’s a song that tells about the difficulties of the life of a farmer, how one has to bend over the entire day, with no time to sit and no time to stand. And then it goes on to summon the listener to join in, to keep the industrious spirit alive, to continue the hard work in the hopes of securing a brighter future. Wonderful how the song reflects the positive, hopeful mentality of the Filipino.

Somehow, though, the true heart and emotion of the statement, sadly, gets lost in translation (boy, did that movie get the whole concept right in that three-word phrase!)

So. I love taking shots of farmers at work in the fields. Because the Philippines is primarily an agricultural country (“despite plans to turn it into an industrialized economy by 2000” ), it’s pretty safe to say that farmers constitute a huge part of the images that come into my mind when I think nationalistic thoughts.Β  Plus there is something so humbling about seeing these men and women working hard to give us the most basic of our needs.

I remember in my first year at the state university, I had a teacher named Judy Ick for English 2. I will never forget her, not just because she gave me my very first grade of 1.0 (though yeah, that added to her unforgettable quotient), but mainly because she was totally cool. Back in the early 80s when teachers wore proper 2-inches-below-the-knee skirts and tailored tops, Judy came to our classes in the mini-est of mini skirts and razor-cut hair, shorter on one side than the other, chewing gum, smoking a cigarette, and holding a can of Coke. She was the epitome of cool to the young teenagers that we were. And when the EDSA Revolution broke out, she held our classes underneath the trees in the university’s fields across Palma Hall. And best of all, she was smart.

So how does all that relate to farmers?

See, a group of friends and I–there must have been 6 or 7 of us–heady with the youngsters’ typical bloated sense of freedom that comes from knowing you have certain advantages in college that you didn’t have in high school, decided to make use of that wonderful freedom to absent ourselves from class via the “free cut” route. We stayed in the one sorry cafeteria then, called CASAA (what it stands for, I cannot recall anymore, although I always got a kick out of pronouncing the double-A ending because it sounded so much like the then-famous weatherman’s way of saying PAG-ASA. And this, I do remember, stands for Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, & Astronomical Services Administration. Phew, what a mouthful!).

So there we were, with our arms splayed out on the caf tables, chattering away and playing Pusoy Dos (poker, Philippine-style), when we really should’ve been in our English class. Just our luck… twenty minutes into class time, who came into CASAA looking to buyΒ  her regular can of Coke to go with the mint gum in her mouth?

I can still recall with 100% clarity how she looked standing there, staring at us, mouth agape. Wordlessly, she turned around, Coke can in hand, and marched off.

And we? We were as red-faced as overripe tomatoes, guilty beyond doubt. A flurry of debate followed:

– Should we tail her and attend class?

– No, what for? She already caught us cutting her class!

– But it’s worse to continue to sit here and play while we know that she knows we’re throwing her class away for a bunch of cards.

In the end we decided to follow her. In shame. And because we were a bunch of loonies, we bought brown paper bags for each of us, cut holes in them for our eyes, and wore them over our heads as we marched back to our classroom in a line. (And yes, the brown bags were meant to charm Judy Ick with a bit of humor. They worked. :D)

When we came in, she was giving a firm-sounding lecture to the entire class, and paused just a second before she said, “See? Here they are! These are the guilty ones I was telling you about!”

But because the brown paper bags worked their charm, she softened up and ended her reproach with these words of wisdom that I have carried with me throughout the years (and yes, I’ve told them to my sons over and over again).

She said:

You have to remember: when you study in this state university and you cut classes, you are not just wasting your parents’ money. You are wasting the money of Juan, Pedro, and Tomas, and all the other farmers who work long hours in the fields from morning till night, toiling under the heat of the sun, never stopping even when the rain pours down, just so that they can earn enough to send YOU to school while their own children sit in their homes, unable to attend school themselves.

(At that time, tuition in our university was largely subsidized by the government, and we had to pay a very very very small fee to add to it).

Oh yeah. It was the perfect guilt-trip laid on us. And it worked. I never cut another Judy Ick class again.

And I think I’ve loved farmers ever since.


*photo taken on the road during our trip to the mountains last week* more photos coming soon πŸ˜€ *

6 thoughts on “Magtanim ay di biro

  1. Hi there,

    I’m a music teacher from Singapore who’s planning to teach my students Magtanim ay’ di Biro as one of the Filipino folk songs. While searching for authentic photos to show the students, I chanced upon your blog and the little story that you shared here. I would like to seek your permission to share that story of yours with my kids and also to show them the planting rice photo that you’ve posted here. Thanks!


    • Hello! Thank you very much for your interest and desire to share my photo and story with your students. πŸ™‚

      I have a special place in my heart for teachers and students, having taught students myself for almost 20 years, so of course I will be glad to let you share with your students my story and my image, as long as credit is given to Liv.eimages for the photo and my story is attributed properly to me (liv.e simply by Liv E), with a link to my blog shared with your students. πŸ™‚

      Many thanks, and I hope you and your students have a wonderful time learning the song! πŸ™‚


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