Pozzorubio is a large town near the historic Manaoag Church in the province of Pangasinan. It is about five hours by bus from Manila. This rural area is known for very hot dry summers. The making of handicrafts, such as magazine racks, wine racks, baskets of various shapes and designs is a thriving and important industry that supplements the earnings of many low income farmers. The majority of the people in this area are tenant farmers whose plight has not improved because the land reform programs have failed. Common resources in the province include agricultural products such as rice, corn, and some vegetable varieties. Mango production is also an important industry.
The manufacturing of buri-rattan baskets and household accessories for PREDA began in 1980 when Marcel, a young worker, escaped from indentured labor at a sugar growing hacienda in a nearby province. He had endured backbreaking labor in the blistering heat of a sugar cane plantation with his brothers and sisters. The owner immediately confiscated his small earnings in order to pay the debts of Marcel and his family. Like many other families working on the plantation, poverty had forced them to become indentured laborers in the sugar cane industry. They lived in an open-sided shed in the middle of the sugar cane fields. Tired and hungry Marcel applied for work at the PREDA center. He began making baskets using the childhood skills taught to him by his father in his home village.
The hacienda owner, fearing other bonded workers would escape, sent an official to find and bring him back. PREDA intervened and promised to pay his debts. PREDA found a customer who ordered a hundred baskets and his family set up a small cottage industry in the shed in the cane fields. They were well paid for their baskets and soon were paying off their debt and buying their way to freedom. The hacienda owner was very angry with PREDA and the workers and tried to stop the project. But PREDA provided aid to defend the rights of the workers.
The workers soon were able to work their way to freedom and were able to return to their villages in Pozzorubio. Marcel and his wife returned to PREDA and began to teach the skills of basket making to the villagers in a housing area set up by PREDA after their waterfront village was demolished in 1982 by the Olongapo City administration under mayor Richard Gordon.
The orders for baskets continued to come in and the cottage industry flourished. PREDA then helped Miguel and his wife resettle in Pozzorubio and start their own cottage industry with their family and friends there.
Today most of the production in Pozzorubio is home based. Twenty families are loosely organized to work together. When the orders exceed their capacity, they share the orders with other neighbors. Traditionally men are the ones who make the skeletal structure of the baskets and the women weave the body of the baskets with buri split.
PREDA Fair Trade assisted the group to structure itself as a government accredited People’s Organization. In 2000, PREDA provided a 5-year low-interest loan for the purchase of hand tractor. It also assisted the farmers to formulate a policy concerning association use of the tractor. In addition, the farmers have received financial assistance in the form of soft loans for rice production. If their loans are paid in full and on time, 3% of the interest paid will be returned to the capital build-up fund of their organization.
Products produced are environmentally friendly. No chemicals are used to treat the materials (bamboo, rattan and buri). For example, to treat for termites, the bamboo and rattan are soaked in salt water.
The frame of the product is made from a rattan pole that is as thick as a human finger. The rattan is heated with a blowtorch and then bent into the desired shape.
The frame is held together with glue and nails. Tiny holes are drilled around the edge of the frame where the spokes or ribs are inserted. The short pencil like ribs are made of split bamboo. They are called spokes. These are attached with glue. The ribbon strips of buri are then woven through the spokes to make the finished product. The long ribbons of buri are made from the ribs of the buri tree leaf. Buri is a type of palm tree that grows in abundance in the countryside. The dried leaves are removed and used for other products such as hats and fans. The hard rib is split with a sharp knife. The ribbon makes a strong, flexible fiber material.
Rattan is commercially grown in the Philippines and is a renewable resource. The fast growing bamboo is also widely available.