Pansig'dan: Promoting Well-being in an Agricultural Community in Northern Luzon, Philippines; Understanding Suicide in the Context of Cash Crop Farming

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Ruth Sidchogan -Batani Stanley F. Anongos, Jr. Mursha D. Gapasin Rachele D. De Guzman Betty C. Listino Beverly C. Sa-ao Tecah C. Sagandoy Gregorio Taag


The journey of understanding the complexities of suicide phenomenon in a chemical based rural farming community has brought so much reflexivity. The project team clearly remembers the experience of approaching a phenomenon that initially brought numbing silence, discomfort and fear. But as students of the social world, this action research has to be pursued.

The project is an exploration of how a commercial farming community presents itself as a landscape for decisions and choices. It also tried to understand the manifest problem of suicide and the recent alarming suicide incidents in the study site. Using focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and informal discussions, the research team consisting several disciplinal lenses tried to discern the respondents’ notions of suicide and to understand the context and the meanings linked to particular interactions taking place.

Profile of suicide cases show that victims are relatively young, ranging from ages 15 to 24; 73% of them are males. There are 52 suicide cases counted starting from the first case in 196] up to the last case recorded in 2010. Almost all of these cases were committed using pesticides. A suicide cluster was observed in 2008 - 2010 registering 38 deaths, 12 of which is caused by paraquat, 10 by pyrethroid and eight by organophosphate.

Results also show that self-inflicted injuries usually happen when the victims are under the influence of alcohol. However, on why these acts were committed, findings reveal that chemical-based farming with all its pesticide use, disposal, management as well as the dependency to “modern” technologies has been shaping the farmer’s character of everyday transactions. The labor demands as well as the desire to hit the “jackpot" price make farming households slave to their
gardens — and many times at the expense of personal leisure and relationships. This condition has to be understood in the context of farming communities that have limited access to balanced information on alternative technologies and education materials that are needed in self-determining decisions.

On the surface, the reasons of self-inflicted injuries range from being scolded, being frustrated with love, being teased, having dreams of the dead, family misunderstanding to name a few, but closer examinations reveal that there are suicide correlates interacting together. Person-level and relational issues are usually reinforced by the person’s environment such as the presence of enabling factors.

The multiplicity of conditions such as the predisposing, reinforcing, and enabling factors have been implicated. Predisposing factors emanate from the market-oriented economy and the loss of socialization support coupled with stressors and learned helplessness. The condition of producing for the market created a lifestyle that is in accordance with market demands. Since parents have to always catch- up with farm work, their time poverty robs the younger members of the family the needed care and attention. Teenagers are lefi‘ to tend to their own emotional conditions which cause them to turn to their peers resulting to complex outcomes.

Reinforcing factors to include the quality of interaction that one has in the family, peer group and the larger community may shape social behaviors, too. In the larger environment, the “bite” of satirical humor, locally called rakmmg can serve as avenues for self expression although it can also have dangerous implications. The contagion effect or the ginmryyod has also been marked socially with the young imitating the others who have committed suicide. All these have to be understood in the context of grief and bereavement which, if not properly processed, can result to self-harm.

Enabling factors such as the availability and accessibility of instruments which make thoughts of suicide more realizable is another layer. Drinking alcohol disinhibits sound behavior. In the same way, the availability of pesticides almost always guarantee their use for self-inflicted injuries.

The commercial agricultural landscape carved to produce for the market is indeed a fertile ground for cash and material enrichment, ironically, it is the same landscape where the manifest problem of self-inflicted injury through pesticide ingestion has become prevalent. How the community “make sense” of suicide is revealing of euphemisms which have to be understood in the light where the community themselves do not seem to understand what is happening.

However, this research project may still be limited even as it captured correlates of suicide that include predisposing factors, reinforcing factors and enabling factors as there have been changing dynamics of the community. The qualitative nature of the research as well as certain ethical guidelines that guided the team considering the intrusive character of the project are other factors that limited its scope. Nevertheless, all these provide the material and social context that
relate to the pervasiveness of risk factors that have to be considered in understanding and addressing the phenomenon.

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