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Beast of Burden

In my column last week, I wrote about the Villar Farm and how we are raising around 50 carabaos. Sometimes I would get up early in the morning and walk around the farm for my daily exercise. I also take the opportunity to visit the farm animals there and enjoy the fresh carabao milk and other dairy delights. There is nothing like gatas ng kalabaw early in the morning. Our carabaos produce the most delicious milk and the creamiest kesong puti I have ever tried. 


And as I explained in that article, we are doing this as part of our commitment to support local farmers and promote sustainable agriculture. But there is also another more significant cultural and historical reason — to revive our people’s interest in the national animal of the country. 

The fact of the matter is that, with our exposure to modern technologies and western cultures, young Filipinos have basically forgotten about this magnificent animal which is not only a symbol of Philippine agriculture and farming but also as a symbol of the strength, resilience, and hard work of the Filipinos. 

Hence the Filipino idiom “kayod kalabaw” which roughly means to work really hard and to persevere. Another idiom is “kalabaw lang ang tumatanda” which means even with advanced age we still work hard. There is also “balat kalabaw” referring to someone who is thick skinned or insensitive apparently alluding to the tough carabao skin on account of its being under the heat of the sun while working for hours.

But more importantly, the water buffaloes serve an important role in farming and agriculture. Aside from farming, the carabao is a reliable friend to our farmer by helping transport goods, for trudging difficult and perilous terrains, for food, and, it has also been a source of financial help for farmers when they do decide to sell their carabao.


These are the reasons why, for the longest time, we have celebrated the kalabaw as our national animal. We have organized festivals around this awesome animal. The Pulilan Carabao Festival is held every 14th of May not just in Pulilan, Bulacan but also in Rizal and Nueva Ecija. The highlight of this two-day festival is of course the kneeling carabaos. At the end of the parade, carabao owners would make their animals kneel in front of the San Isidro Labrador Church in honor of the patron saint of farmers and as a way of praying for a bountiful harvest.

But over time, the carabao has been relegated to the dustbin of our memory. According to a report published by the Philippine Carabao Center, the carabao has “suffered neglect in terms of its breed, proper nutrition and care. It dwindled in size and weight. It also suffered decimation of its population due to the onslaught of diseases, indiscriminate slaughtering, and even massacre during armed conflicts on suspicion that they were being used by the enemies in transporting armaments and provisions.”

I hope government strengthens its development program so that we can conserve the carabao’s contribution to national food security and its “genetic biodiversity for long-term and sustainable development.” In the end, our farmers will benefit tremendously from this program in terms of higher income and improvement of the overall living standard of farm families. For us at the private sector, we offer our small help to conserve the carabao, help local farmers and more importantly, regain the stature of the great kalabaw in the consciousness of our future generation.

It makes me happy to see children visiting the Villar Farm, feeding and interacting with farm animals instead of their mobile phones. While walking around the farm, I saw a family checking out some of our carabaos. They were laughing, the father was trying to explain to his kids what that animal is and what it symbolizes. Then the mother took out her cellphone and took a selfie with the carabao and her entire family. The modern and the traditional need not clash. We do not have to forget the old in order to appreciate the new things the modern world offers. As Jose Rizal wrote in his play, El Consejo de los Dioses: “I enter the future with a memory of the past.”




Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar