Balay Mindanaw DR Update No. 5/2013
Feb 27-March 1 2013
by Arthur Neame
Many many thanks to BM and to the people of Ban-ao for enabling me to visit and for entertaining me with my questions and observations.
Perhaps the first, and maybe the most obvious, thing that has to be said about visiting Ban-ao, or any other place that has been visited by the likes of Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) is the fact that it really brings home the reality of the massive devastation this idyllic portion of the Pacific coast has undergone. That devastation is not merely physical, it extends to all arenas of life, including the cultural and psychological; it also leaves people extending every faculty, including mind and soul, in the effort to reclaim the senses of both security and hope that every human needs.
I don’t buy the usual argument I hear regarding Filipino resiliency, which is the ability to smile in the face of adversity. That ability certainly exists in Ban-ao, and it is surely an important coping mechanism, but alone it does not constitute resiliency. True resilience would mean people were not so vulnerable in the first place, and true resiliency would mean that the wherewithal to bounce back quickly from an extreme event such as Pablo and to ensure that anything like that could never impact so widely on a community again was already in place and functioning. We’re not there yet… None of us, including the National government, the local governments, the NGOs and those who give generously from all around the world to assist people like those of Ban-ao to re-establish their lives and livelihoods. At the same time, something may be starting in Ban-ao which can give hope to other communities, both locally and further away, facing similar situations…
Before I get into the signs of hope, however, it’s time to let off a little steam…. about National Government Agencies… And lest anyone think I have an ideological or a personal axe to grind, I want you to know that I wish all those on the inside the very best in the endeavors to achieve the ‘matuwid na daan’, even if I sometimes feel that the pronouncements over that straight path are themselves being blown awry and becoming dominated by a publicity machine answering the imperatives of media, elections and public impatience. In December, a matter of a days after Pablo, the President ordered the restoration of power in the areas affected by Pablo by the end of the year…has this happened in Ban-ao? The answer is a resounding ‘No’…and the reason? A missing transformer! Yup, a transformer, which the local electricity cooperative says will not be available till June! Apparently the high power lines passing thru Ban-ao are ‘live’ but they have no power in Ban-ao itself for the lack of once small piece of kit that will step the power down to a useful voltage! DOE, NEA et al..what the hell do us Urban consumers still pay a ‘missionary charge’ for (I can certainly tell you its got nothing to do with a stipend for the likes of me!)? C’mon! Follow the order you were given by the President, to the letter, and if the local co-op needs a transformer then for heaven’s sake provide one!
Next comes DSWD…notwithstanding the apparent looting of the Region 11 stockpiles the other day, which seem to have included the mobilization of a number of urban dwellers of Davao city, as well as some people who were genuinely disappointed by the agency’s failure to assure regular supplies of basic foods at a time of hunger, DSWD apparently fails in a number of other ways too. Ban-ao residents had been overjoyed to be one of the early recipients of DSWD’s cash for work program last December – this is a daily wage paid to willing residents in return for participating in clean-up operations – only trouble is they tell me that as of end February they still haven’t been paid! We’re talking here about people with no money, no houses and livelihoods that have been wiped out – of 437 houses in Ban-ao only 19 were left standing after the storm, there is hardly a coconut tree left standing, most of the fisherfolk saw their boats smashed to pieces -and they can’t even be paid on time! C’mon! Why the delay? It looks like the clean-up might be required in Region 11 office of DSWD.
What are the consequences of these delays? Well, I’d be pretty sure the birth rate will rise in nine months time in Ban-ao! The other more alarming consequence, however, is the increasing lack of trust people have in government agencies beyond the Barangay level. I was told that the municipal government recently came to the Barangay to offer more cash for work (there’s still a lot to fix!) only to be told by the people “If DSWD can’t pay us after two months, how much more you guys? No thanks!”
One further point pertains to the absurdity of election rules; as you know, it is election season here in the Philippines, and in order to prevent politicians from using state resources to further their bids for re-election there is an apparently quite sensible ban on the award of contracts for public works, on the release of new funds for such projects and on the hiring of new workers for a period of 45 days before the election. However, this will mean an election ban on new releases for the recovery and rehabilitation work of Pablo affected, and commencement of new releases will have to cease by March 29, unless concerned agencies are able to get exemptions from the Commission on Elections. Any new calamity that occurs will be mean all expenses have to be managed and disbursed by the Philippine National Red Cross. This will further delay recovery and rehabilitation at a time when it is most urgently needed.
So, having made those points about individual, logistical and institutional weaknesses, let’s also be clear that there a great many hard-working, sincere, courageous and intelligent people within government agencies at all levels and among communities and non-government actors, working at providing relief and recovery where it is needed most, doing their utmost to be both responsive and accountable as they do so… In that sense, it is the weaknesses that make for disaster, since an event is only going to be a disaster when the institutions are unable to withstand the enormous, physical, socio-cultural amd economic strains upon them…Disaster Risk Reduction, which must follow, will have to be directed at addressing such weaknesses and building the capacities of institutions to withstand the stresses; but it will have to start with communities themselves if it to stand the tests of the future and resolve the problems of the past.
Ok…having got that off my chest…where is Ban-ao at right now?
Well, 100 residents of the Barangay proper are housed in DAI tents. The tents are well spaced out, and each tent has a solar-powered light. Kids are attending school in the grounds of the elementary school, in temporary structures made of hardened plastic walls and tarpaulin roofs suspended on light metal frames. Every building of the elementary school suffered major damage, and all of them lost their roofs during the storm. It is evident that the school will need to be totally rebuilt.
In addition to the school, other buildings needing reconstruction will be the Barangay Hall, health center and day care.
Meantime, the health and governance functions of the barangay are taking place in Balay Ban-ao, a building constructed by Balay Mindanaw, to act as a partnership center, warehouse and offices as BM accompanies the community of Banao on its way back to recovery.
At this point water is still being trucked in to Ban-ao on a daily basis, where it is pumped into a large bladder furnished by Oxfam. Water is then collected from standpipes below the bladder. An urgent need is the reconnection of Ban-ao’s regular water supply, and expansion of its existing reservoir tank. Completion of this task would lighten the load on water deliveries and cut the cost of furnishing the communities with safe water.
A major challenge, aside from the need for permanent re-housing on a safer site (which is being pursued by the Barangay in conjunction with the Provincial government ) is rebuilding livelihoods. The majority of residents are coconut farmers, with fishing making up a large proportion of the remaining livelihood activities.
It was sitting under the shade of the water bladder that residents recounted what had happened during Pablo and, most significantly, the steps that many of them are taking to rebuild their lives – be it seeking the help of relatives to keep children in college, finding ways to borrow or buy vegetable seeds, experimenting with new crops and new techniques, planting one small piece at a time whilst seeking out the loan of a carabao…There were wistful moments, a tear or two, and, of course a real sense of loss, but there also evident was humor, fortitude and a sensitivity to one another, all wrapped up in immense courage to face the future and reassert the hope for safe homes, secure livelihoods and better things to come that makes us all human….
It was clear from interviews with residents that right now they are intent on resuming their coconut production in the long term, although currently a number of them have planted vegetables such as okra, sitaw(string beans), squash, eggplant and tomatoes and mung beans.
Discussions with a senior official of the Department of Agriculture revealed that the only coconut seedlings that can be made freely available will be native varieties, meaning that it could be as long as ten years before harvests reach their full potential. It is clear that local farmers will be unable to depend on coconut for their livelihoods for some considerable time.
It is in this light that BM is proposing to conduct an evaluation of local value chains, with a view to determining what suitable intercrops might assist in raising both local food security and cash incomes. At this point discussions with farmers indicate that basic food crops are foremost in their minds as intercrops, but that they are open to cash generating crops in the longer terms such as Cacao. Other suggestions have also included mung beans and peanuts, while bananas and pineapple are also possibilities.
Perhaps the most urgent task right now, with regard to agricultural production, is disposal of the vast amounts of coconut trunks littered across the land. Aside from being necessary to make way for fresh planting of coconuts, this is also necessary to prevent the spread of beetle infestation. We sincerely hope that the Department of Agriculture’s plans for this clean up can get moving soon, and that there are no further delays with payments for cash for work programs, with or without election bans!
Alongside the rehabilitation and redesign of agricultural practices, which will need to consider the suitability of coconut in an area previously considered immune from typhoons, is the need to reinvigorate and rehabilitate the local fishing industry. This will mean examining the ownership of bancas and tracking the financial flows within the local small-scale fishing industry in order to establish whether more favourable, but also sustainable, financing arrangements can be determined that will allow fisherfolk to purchase/build new bancas and market their catch.
Another element of livelihoods in the area is the collection of shells, both for food and also for the sale of the shells to buyers engaged in handicraft production. The community recognizes that rather than selling the shells for others to produce handicrafts it may make more economic sense for them to start making handicrafts themselves. However, in what is a positive indication of their recognition of the need to sustain their environmental resource base, they are concerned that local handicraft production might tempt some individuals or groups to over-exploit the natural production of shells, thereby risking an important element of their local food security.
Also, with regard to the natural resource base, the barangay has decided with mangrove planting, coastal protection and eco-tourism project for which it was granted funding just a day before Pablo! The hope is that the project, run by a local coastal fisherfolks association, and managed in conjunction with the Barangay, can provide livelihood supplements to fisherfolk acting and guides through the local mangroves and shell-diving spots.
The eco-tourism project was a part of the Barangay Development Plan, completed by Barangay Ban-ao in December 2012. Although it had a small sectoral sampling set, it is one of the most comprehensive Barangay Development Plans I’ve seen; however, we agreed that there were two weakness to the plan that need addressing in the light of Pablo: a)It failed to make best use of the hazard maps, and of latest projections on climate change and b) planned projects are heavily reliant on funds granted from Congressional pork barrel and the discretionary funds of other politicians and agencies. The former weakness is perhaps explained by the rarity of Pablo-type events in the region (the last being in 1920) and lack of access to the projection on climate change; the latter weakness reflects the dependence on the Barangay IRA and the lack of budgetary allocation to Ban-ao vis-à-vis its fixed operating costs. We agreed that it would be necessary, both in the light of these weaknesses, and in the light of the total destruction of many Barangay facilities along with the sea defenses now required, to review the plan and see how local capacities for facing climate change and future hazard events can be bolstered alongside a determination of the “must-have” priorities directed towards physical and social safety and economic well-being at both household and barangay levels.
So admidst the uncertainties to be faced, what remains clear is the determination and spirit of the people of Ban-ao….courage, fortitude and good humor will take them a long way… we now need to see the continued solidarity within and from without the community, to ensure that productive dialogue persists, that people and institutions come together and remain together, and that local officials work as one team, supporting each other and asking support from each other as they confront the challenges. Those of us coming from outside must work on, also with persistence and fortitude, to ensure that all the people are enabled and empowered to build back equitably, peacefully, sustainably and, above all, safely…that is….to build back and build back better!