Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for December, 2013

Pasali: Bringing Peace and Lifting Families out of Poverty

Posted by butalidnl on 31 December 2013

This post is about Pasali, an organization which works in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. It is active in 7 municipalities and 1 city in the southern Mindanao, but is most active in one particular town – Palimbang, in the province of Sultan Kudarat, where it does almost half of its work.

Palimbang is a town that is different from most other Philippine towns. For starters, the majority of its population is Muslim, and that in itself is unique, since only 5% of Filipinos are Muslim (81% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic, and 10% follow other Christian religions). Palimbang lacks roads, electricity, and even mobile phone access – very un-Philippines. To make things worse, about 45% of the people live below the poverty line – making it one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.

Palimbang is special in another way – it is the cradle of the Muslim rebellion (which started in 1972, and has not quite ended). Major battles raged there between the rebels and the government military till less than a decade ago; hostilities continued till 2011.
Palimbang has a Muslim majority, but it has a substantial Christian minority. They were in a state of armed ceasefire with each other (always at the brink of hostilities) when Pasali started its work there in 2004. And both Christians and Muslims looked down on the Manobo tribespeople living in Palimbang’s hills.

Businesses and government development bodies avoid Palimbang like the plague. And so do NGOs. Except Pasali. In 2004, Pasali moved in (it had been founded in 1994 in Rotterdam, as a group of Filipino seafarers which pooled their financial resources for themselves, and for Philippine projects). Pasali started by forcing the Muslims and Christians to work together to build its Technical Center – and promoted cooperation instead of hostilities. Since there was no school serving the Manobos in the hills, Pasali launched a program of having Muslim and Christian families host Manobo children, who were able to then go to school in the lowlands.

Ten Years Later
Now, after almost ten years of work in Palimbang, many people in Palimbang are still quite poor. However, Pasali has improved the lives of many in various ways:
The Muslims and Christians work together in various ways – they help each other till their fields, are organized into mixed associations and cooperatives, etc.
The Manobos, from being despised by Muslims and Christians, have become valued members of the community. The Manobos now ‘export’ corn and vegetables which is sold all over Palimbang. And many families have close relationships with Manobo children, from many years of serving as host families for them.
Pasali installs water systems (including the revolutionary Hydraulic Ram Pump, which pumps water uphill – up to 200 meters vertically – without using a motor). This has brought water to hilltribes all over Mindanao island. But almost as important is the fact that Pasali’s water technicians started off as boys from the area; and they were child soldiers before becoming water technicians. These water technicians are now role models for the youth of Palimbang – children used to look up to rebels as role models, now their role models are Pasali water technicians, or farm machinery operators.
Pasali has a rudimentary Farm Machinery Pool, which has simple machinery that are used by rice farmers. This not only helps the farmers, but offers employment to local youth.

Reducing Poverty
Now that Pasali has brought peace and cooperation among the ethnic groups in Palimbang,  Pasali is setting its sights on lifting its population out of poverty.  It has some projects in this direction:
Farm Machinery and Improved Farming Methods. Pasali is promoting SRI (System of Rice Intensification) which increases rice yields with lesser inputs (uses organic fertilizer, but no herbicides and very little pesticides, less water, less seeds). This, in combination with farm machinery (Pasali hopes to raise money for these in the coming year), would effectively double their harvests, and lift them out of poverty.  This will be done in batches of 250 families at a time, over a two year period.
Reforestation and the Planting of Rubber Trees. The hills where the Manobo highlanders live are bare – they had been cut clean by successive logging companies in decades past. They want to restore their forest and also plant rubber trees to augment their income.  Pasali has made a start, by planting 20 hectares of rubber trees in the last two years. It plans to plant up to a total of 200 hectares to rubber in the coming years, as well as to restore up to more than 3500 hectares of native forest.

I believe that Pasali does quite good work. It is able to do a lot with modest resources; but could do a lot more if given more support. While helping one town (Palimbang, population of 115,000) in the Philippines (population of 105 million) seems like a drop in the bucket; Palimbang is one of the most difficult places to work in the whole country. If Pasali succeeds in Palimbang, it will mean a lot for lifting other poor communities in the country. After all, if they could succeed in Palimbang, others could succeed everywhere else in the Philippines.

See also: Pasali Philippines Foundation

Posted in Overseas Filipinos, Pasali, Philippine economics, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

2013 in review

Posted by butalidnl on 31 December 2013

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Recovering from Yolanda

Posted by butalidnl on 2 December 2013

In the aftermath of super-typhoon Yolanda, some people wonder if the Philippines will suffer a similar fate as Haiti – where people have not yet fully recovered after four years, inspite of massive international aid. I believe that this will not happen in the Philippines – the country will recover faster and in a better way than most people expect.

State of the Economy
The Philippine economy was growing fast before the typhoon, and it will continue to do so despite it. Gross Domestic Product growth was more than 7% in 2012; it is expected to decrease to be 6% in 2013 because of the typhoon. Part of this is because the storm struck near the end of the year; but economists project that it will also be 6% in 2014.

Typhoon Yolanda devastated Region 8 (Samar and Leyte); it damaged parts of Region 7 (Central Visayas) and Region 8 (Western Visayas). While it affected about 13 million people directly, all this happened in only 3 out of 14 of the country’s regions; affecting less than 15% of the total Philippine population.

More importantly, Yolanda missed the country’s important industrial and commercial areas of Metro Manila and Cebu. These centers now serve as hubs for the relief effort to the affected areas. They are now hubs for the relief effort: cargo planes fly from them with needed supplies; evacuees stay there temporarily. The parts of the Philippines that were untouched have mobilized their whole government machinery, businesses and private citizens, to provide relief. Region 8 regional agencies have temporarily moved their base to Cebu, ensuring continued operations. Local government units, from Metro Manila to Davao, have sent personnel and equipment to help.

The breadth and depth of the support that comes from the rest of the Philippines will ensure that the relief and rehabilitation of the affected areas can be sustained. While foreign support was needed, and thankfully provided, in the immediate aftermath of the storm; they will not be able to help forever.

Haiti was a very poor country before the earthquake struck it. It was then the poorest country in the Americas already. The quake only made things worse; it struck the capital, Port-au-Prince, totally flattening it. The country was in no position to provide local relief to the affected areas. They were totally dependent on foreign support.

Haiti needed a lot of help just to recover to pre-earthquake levels; which it has  achieved, in a sense. The problem is that they need to go farther in order to set up a properly functioning economy and society; but funds are more limited now.

Aid Supplies Hinder Local Production
In Haiti, the massive influx of aid supplies has led to the decline of local production of many products. Imported American rice, for example, has largely displaced local rice production.

In the Philippines, the relief effort is emptying the inventories of many local traders of food and other products. Suppliers of construction materials will have a field day supplying the needs of the rebuilding effort. Local resources, from trucks to medical personnel, are being used in the affected areas, and this will mean increased opportunities for local businesses and employment.

Did the Philippines Need the Massive Aid?
Yes, very much. Typhoon Yolanda hit a vast area; millions of people needed help at the same time. The Philippine government was in no position to adequately help all of them. For one, it did not have the logistical resources to reach out to them simultaneously.

The response to the call for help after Yolanda struck was impressive. Many governments immediately pledged or sent aid. Many even sent soldiers and technicians to help. Private funds were raised by Overseas Filipinos and peoples all over the world. People all over the Philippines gathered funds, goods, and volunteered to help. It was all worth it – the affected regions needed all the support that they received in this time of grave need.

The country’s system of decentralized disaster response management proved inadequate to a disaster of Yolanda’s scale.  It had worked well for most of the typhoons that hit it every year; but Yolanda decimated many towns’ capacity to respond by hitting the command centers (city halls), potential first responders and even the pre-positioned relief supplies. The system needs to be upgraded so that it can respond well to really big disasters like Yolanda.

But even if the country is made more resilient to storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and other disasters, it would still need massive foreign aid in order to respond to a disaster of the scale of Yolanda. Even Japan, arguably one of the most disaster-resilient countries in the world, needed help after the massive tsunami that hit it.

Yolanda was an extremely strong typhoon whose path was entirely within the Visayas. Unlike other storms that hit Luzon or Mindanao, Yolanda hit very many islands (some quite small) making the logistics of extending aid very important, and very difficult. Trucks and cargo handling equipment had to be brought in to remote islands, airports and ports needed to be repaired before meaningful amounts of aid could be brought in. When typhoons  hit Luzon, the affected areas can be reached almost immediately by land; big logistical problems similar to that which followed Yolanda usually do not happen.

How long will it take for the affected areas to recover? Well, recovery will be uneven: Running water has been restored in Tacloban and some other towns; electricity is expected to be restored to most areas by the end of the year. The economic activity of these areas is already starting to recover: jeepneys are running again, shops are opening, many evacuees have returned from Manila and Cebu. But reconstruction will take longer. New guidelines would need to be put in place, e.g. how far away from the shore should houses be built. In many towns, the local government would need to preside over moving the whole town inland. The necessary land for this would need to be acquired by the LGU and then distributed to new owners, perhaps based on the area of the original lands where their houses used to stand. And of course, building new homes and other structures need money (lots of money) and it will take time. All this will strain the available supply of building materials.

In half a year, crops like rice or corn would have been harvested; and coconuts may have been replanted, with shorter-growing crops planted in between.

In a year’s time, Tacloban and most other areas hit by Yolanda will be bustling. But many people will still be in temporary housing (probably tents or shanties) while the construction of more permanent housing would be ongoing. And, hopefully, there would be stronger buildings that are built (or retrofitted), which would serve as evacuation centers.

Four years from now, a visitor to Tacloban or other areas hit by Yolanda, will not see any trace of the storm.

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