Getting to Know Ben and Rita

At 64, Benito Quilloy is never grumpy and speaks the language of the youth. Perhaps it is because he loves working with young people, listening to their stories and also sharing his own experiences with them as a student activist and development worker.

A former President of the UPLB (University of the Philippines-Los Banos) Chemical Society, he was a student organizer known to be influenced by what he saw in his immersion with the sugar workers of Negros Occidental. As a Sugar Technology major, he was required to spend sometime in the sugar fields of Negros where he saw the inhumane working conditions of the sugar workers and the measly wages that they received. This proved to be the turning point in this life. Even if he was already employed at the Canlubang Sugar Estate as a laboratory technician and chemist, he opted to quit and worked full time first as a student organizer and eventually as peasant support service worker and development management consultant.

The image of the sugar workers and their long years of oppression would haunt him prompting him to say that “I lost interest in having a regular job in the mainstream. Working for the interests of the sugar workers — agricultural workers and landless peasants proved to be not only a most interesting job and but also the most meaningful.”

Rita Espinoza was always an honor student but his father still considered her an average student. For the latter he wanted Rita to be number one. But this was farthest from Rita’s mind. She did her best in her studies, and even with her household and domestic assignments, without even thinking if she was number one or not.

And when she was in her college years in the 70s, she did not think twice in giving up her formal education to again, “do her best” in education but outside the school and among the rural poor. She organized the farmers even as she also engaged in the buy and sell of ready to wear (RTW) clothes. She learned early in life to be hard working and independent. She can also sew dresses and curtains.

Her experience in farmers’ organizing led her to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) where she was a volunteer staff under the then National Coordinator Sr. Patricia Fox, the Australian missionary nun. From 2000-2007 she assisted Sr. Pat in the conceptualization of development projects for the farmers. They would also help RMP chapters in project implementation and evaluation.

“I have known her to be full of energy and enthusiasm in our work,” Sr. Pat said of Rita. It is no wonder then that Rita has spent most of her adult years starting when she was 18 years old in the service of the farmers.#

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AscentPH is a national alliance of development organizations determinedly working for the empowerment of the people through poverty alleviation and promoting and defending the right to development and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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