Kaloy on BM@18: Balay Mindanaw’s founding Chair, Ibing Sylvia Okinlay-Paraguya, and Vice Chair, the late Rey Magno Teves during our first strategic planning session in 1996.

Five Days Before Balay Mindanaw’s 18th

Today’s space of this reflection series gives way to a piece written by Lina Sagaral-Reyes for our 5th Anniversary. This now appears in our website.

Laying down the Foundation(s) of an NGO as Mindanaoan “Home”

(A short and still incomplete history of the beginnings of Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc.)

On May 8, 1996, Balay Mindanaw Foundation Inc. (BMFI) was incorporated with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and thus began to assume a legal personality.

But the beginnings of BMFI, then and now more popularly known as Balay Mindanaw, began much earlier — in the slow but sharp visioning of a few like-minded people, mostly development workers who believed together not only in the need to nourish Mindanao-based developmental work but also believed that developmental work at that time, in the last half of the 90s and at the end of the millennium, can still be improved in ways more effective and nurturing for beneficiaries and development workers alike.

It began way back in 1994-95, as Charlito “Kaloy” Manlupig, its prime moving force and executive director, was toying with concepts and coining what later became its succinct vision-statement of enduring relevance: “Kaangayan, Kalambuan, Kalinaw… sa Mindanao, sa Pilipinas, sa Kalibutan! (Equality, Development, Peace … in Mindanao, the Philippines, the World!)

Kaloy then was into a three-year hiatus –out of a short, controversy-ridden government administrative stint — after 24 years of continuous service in the field of development work and, despite the unexpected tough luck, suddenly had plenty of time to heal and re-energize, to reflect and dream. It was this moment of crisis-turned-inspiration, which became the kernel of the dream for a “balay that is a house, a home, a family but also more than just an ordinary house, home and family.”

It was this deep sense of the need to re-craft development work in Mindanao, even the courage of turning the ageing paradigms of NGO-based work, that enabled Manlupig and company (a few “golden” friends, he (re)calls them now) over coffee and beer, and many shared meals, to imagine and conjure the collective dream of “an authentic developmental non-government organization that would embody the essence of ‘Home’”.

In articulating and realizing the many-layered meanings of the concept “home,” the pioneers of BMFI would always use two numinous words in the Cebuano language: “banay” and “balay”.

Banay, meaning family. Balay, meaning the structure. BMFI was keenly aware that for Mindanawans, in particular, and Filipinos, in general, family and house are culturally valuable and essential to living fulfilled and progressive lives.

But also, most importantly, the Balay that they were re-visioning is actually more than just the NGO itself, more than just the family of NGO workers or the community of NGOs alone.

Most importantly, the BMFI people from the very beginning, in their daily tasks, had striven to contribute and be active participants in the (re-) building of the entire island so that Mindanao will truly be an authentic home for its inhabitants: the Moros, the Lumads and the settlers.

The BMFI’s first Board of Trustees were: Sylvia “Ibing” Okinlay-Paraguya, chairperson; Rey Magno Teves, vice-chairperson; Victor Gerardo “Gerry” Bulatao, Estrella “Trel” Borja, Teodorico “Teddy” Peña, Luzviminda Doña-Villasanta and Kaloy, members.

The BMFI began to base its operations in an old building along J. R. Borja and Capistrano Sts. in Cagayan de Oro City. Here, the Balay Mindanao Formation House hosted BMFI’s trainings and other activities. It had an original staff of three, including Rogelio Bautista (alias Bugoy), Myraflor “Tata” Otero, and Luzviminda Doña-Villasanta.

Within the year, the staff became nine (9) – “sharing one computer (bought with borrowed money) and a narrow strip of workspace (the hallway between the Formation House’s kitchen and the session room) as well as tasks ranging from janitorial and culinary to administrative, finance and training facilitation and documentation.”

The other pioneering staff who joined within 1996 included: Charmaine Mae “Eks-eks” Dagapioso, who became the first ‘walk-in’ applicant, looking for a job in community organizing (joined in July 1) and Totong Navidad, a trainor (also July 1), Gesibelle “Belle” Garcia (July 15), in search of work focusing in developmental communications (July 15), Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao, a young lawyer, and Melissa Robante and Mabel “Kotoy” Loyola (two of Manlupig’s former colleagues at the Department of Agrarian Reform who were “part-time volunteers but full-time supporters”).

Notwithstanding, the fledgling organization thrived with too little resources but with much commitment, camaraderie and hopes.

For the first year, the fledgling organization received support funds from Christian Aid and Ford Foundation, amounting to a little over P3-million. Most of these funds were used to spearhead nine (9) training events involving more than a thousand participants.

In its first Annual Report in 1998, published on the second anniversary of its establishment, Chairperson Ibing stressed in her message “ the challenge to Balay Mindanaw is to remain true to its name… a home for every Mindanawan.”

She further explained what she meant: “a home for the farmer raring to own a piece of land through agrarian reform program, for a barangay official who feels necessary the formulation of a barangay development plan where people have maximized their participation, for a development worker weary after a day’s walk in hinterland barangays, for a government official who finds meaning working in partnership with the people, for working mothers who need to know how work can be combined with mothering.”

In the same report, Kaloy, for his part, wrote with gratefulness about “the peoples and communities in Mindanao, particularly those which became BMFI’s grassroots partners in Barangays Patrocinio, Kalawitan and Hinaplanan in Claveria, Misamis Oriental; Barangays Kalipay and Punong in Gingoog City, the town of Loreto in Surigao del Norte, and the towns of Hagonoy, Kiblawan and Matan-ao in Davao del Sur, among others.

Rather than “ a cold presentation of accomplishments and plans,” the report, according to him, “was a tribute and thanksgiving to those who made things happen meaningfully” and further dedicated the first report of BMFI’s contribution to the work of authentic development to the people in the communities cited above.

Kaloy also took time to acknowledge partner NGOs, government and funding agencies: Kaisahan, Quidan-Kaisahan, MINCON, WARRIORS, Kusog Mindanaw, MPAC, DAR, NEDA, Ford Foundation, Christian Aid-UK and the Philippine Development Assistance Programme (PDAP).

He would also acknowledge and give the brave MAPALAD farmers who were catapulted to national consciousness as they went on a hunger strike in 1997. He noted that the farmers gave a human face to the struggle for genuine agrarian reform implementation. In all humility, Manlupig thanked the farmers for giving space for BMFI workers to help the farmers’ cause.

He would also acknowledge the deaths of two BMFI friends, Roberto Gana and Caloy Ollado, two young lawyers who were on their way to Cagayan de Oro when the plane they rode in crashed.

Three years later, recalling this initial phase of BMFI in the 1999 Annual Report, Kaloy would emphasize: “when we began three years ago, one significant innovation we made was to give the BMFI frontliners the title of sustainable integrated area development organizers or SIADOs (also pronounced as the word, “shadow”).”

He would continue to explain more about the deliberateness of the paradoxical term, SIADO, saying, “this (acronym) was not only meant to give them a clear job description. We also wanted to emphasize the essence of what a development worker should be – a shadow, almost invisible, both an empowering and a liberating presence.”

As a way of marking another milestone and reminding everyone, most probably also himself, of why BMFI was formed, Manlupig then wrote: “Indeed, this has been BMFI’s mission: helping build empowered sustainable communities in Mindanao – quietly, unobtrusively, almost invisibly.”

(To be continued, as the re-building is, as BMFI would say, still a continuing journey of a small group of development workers and their partner-communities, organizations, agencies and sectors. )

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