Underrated, unsafe, rebel infested, and isolated.
These are some of the words that were used to describe a once far-flung Barangay in Rosario, Agusan del Sur called Marfil, where development could hardly stretch and people co-exist with plants, trees, and animals, striving to make a living.
But things have changed over the years. The once isolated place is now a haven of hope, it is all because of Barangay Captain Maria Fe Bade Montilla.
Just like her beloved Marfil, whom she chose to settle for all her life, she has its fair share of life’s hitches but eventually ended up to be somebody through her strong desire to change the circumstances.
Born on September 13, 1965, she is expected by the society to have a fortunate life being a daughter of the former Mayor who has political power and own vast landholdings in the Municipality.
“People thought that I have a great and easy life growing up but it is exactly the opposite.” She said.
Her father, being very strict and authoritarian, never indulged her and her siblings with favor. They were trained, at an early age, on how to live their lives and get up every time they fall. More so, to stand on their own when they would get married.
“I assumed there would always be open space for daydreaming when I entered marriage and that it will make my life more exciting, but no! it was a beginning of a more challenging days.” She narrated.
She has crossed over a lot of misfortune along the way. Two of her children died due to limited access to proper health care facilities and the roads were almost not passable during the time when she was supposedly transported to a nearby hospital for her childbirth.
In 1992, her husband died leaving her shattered and helpless. For years, she succumbed to depression and anxiety.
“There were times that I wanted to give up and surrender but when I gazed at the faces of my three other children, I know I needed to pick up the broken pieces and be strong.” She said.
She thought that if she stopped to absorb the enormity of her situation (being alone in carrying the entire burden from raising her kids to providing for them) she would become overwhelmed, emotional and unproductive. Thus, she needs to get up and do what she can do, even it means being alone.
She started growing vegetables in the backyard. Sometimes, she would go to the forest and collect wild vegetables like “pako” and she would sell it to the neighborhood.
But having lived in that way for a long time, she realized that she needs to step up some more. She wanted to make a change in her situation.
Then, she thought of her parents and the share of landholdings given to her. She thought of making it productive by planting coconut trees, falcatta and vegetables. Every day, before the sun comes out, she would be out to the farm, not mindful of the heat of the scourging sun that recoils through her skin while walking some two (2) kilometers away from her home.
Then In 1993, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) acquired his fathers’ landholding for distribution to qualified beneficiaries. She was then awarded with Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) under the Voluntary Land Transfer (VLT) Program.
Because of this, she became more drawn to farming. Aside from planting different trees & crops, she also engaged in livestock production such as chicken, duck & cultured hito. Every part of the landholding was never wasted.
As the years went by, she recovered her life back. She was able to build a comfortable home, send all her children to school and even invested other properties and farm lots.
Moreover, she became active in various organizations including the Coconut Planters Association in which she was nominated as the President, the Citizen's Action for Peace Democracy and Development (CAPDD) as Auditor and the Upland Sustainable Agri-Forestry Development (USAD) as Vice-President.
In 1997, she decided to join politics because of her strong drive to make a change in her community, particularly, she wanted to improve the healthcare program. For her, many people can find a doctor close to where they live, but for people living in rural communities like Marfil, health care is many miles away. In fact, it was the very reason why her 2 children died at birth.
She started as Barangay Councilor and eventually became the Barangay Captain until present.
She had implemented several ordinances for the improvement of the Barangay including the peace & order. Several infrastructure projects were constructed under her leadership including the FMR from Brgy Marfil to Brgy. Cabantao, Health Center, Potable Water System, Solar Street Lights, Covered Court and Multi-Purpose Hall.
As an Agrarian Reform Beneficiary of DAR she has also shown her full support to the Departments’ various projects & programs by actively participating in different activities and responding to requests or invitations.
During the pandemic, she stays firm & strong throughout her leadership even when she was anxious with handling the situation.
Because of her exemplary performance, she received various plaques & recognitions from LGU and different government agencies. Just recently, she received the DAR Agusan del Sur “Wonder Juana” 2022 award which is given to honor women ARB who fulfill extraordinary roles in the society.
Without a doubt, her life was a true inspiration to everybody to not give up despite how dark the past is and to believe that surely there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Her life proved that women, in which the society beheld as weak and incapable, are strong, empowered and unstoppable in doing greater things.
She is indeed a real life wonder woman, unmasked, no cape and no supernatural power, yet made exceptional by her perseverance and determination to make a change. (Rechel D. Besonia, PIO - Agusan del Sur)