When poor people take up the cudgels for each other | SunStar

When poor people take up the cudgels for each other

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When poor people take up the cudgels for each other

Monday, March 20, 2017

DAVAO. Upian water system president Ernesto Borromeo (standing) and auditor Mario Lamban. (Stella A. Estremera)

SITIO Upian in Barangay Marilog, Marilog District, Davao City is a predominantly Matigsalug community, although there are Visayan settlers among them.

It's accessible through a rough road that requires a four-wheel drive vehicle and the main public transport is habal-habal or a motorcycle. Just five years ago, horses were still used, but not anymore because having a motorcycle has become a status symbol of sorts.

Based on a 2010 resources accessibility map of a non-government organization, Barangay Marilog has 46 sitios with population ranging from seven to 199 households, where the most prevalent structure aside from houses are chapels of one denomination or another, and with only one health and nutrition post at Marilog Proper along the highway.

In Sitio Upian alone, there are seven chapels of different denominations, one elementary school and day care center, but no health center. Of the 46 sitios, only 20 are along the highway although the area of the sitio along the highway can extend several kilometers uphill and downhill away.

In an article about the Department of Social Welfare and Development's conditional cash transfer Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) on September 4, 2011, SunStar Davao exposed how the program has instead pushed the beneficiaries into a debt trap as the predominantly Matigsalug residents who, before 4Ps did not see much reason to go to the highway for anything, are forced to do so every month tagging along their babies and children to fulfill one of the conditions of the program -- that the mother and the children get a medical check-up every month in order to claim their cash assistance.

That article interviewed several beneficiaries who ended up in debt instead of being helped with their family expenses by the program because of the cost to bring the family to the highway where the health center is.

In that article, "The Debt Trap", it computed that one health check-up for the mother and the children costs around P400 that the family had to borrow. That on top of other debts that families end up with just to tie themselves over for the next month.

Every month, they trekked up the mountain road, then walked back several kilometers, some having to start walking at 3 a.m. along with their babies and toddlers just to be at the barangay hall in Salaysay or in the other barangay called Gumitan, in the few hours the DSWD staff would be there as services would open at around 9 a.m. and the workers would have all packed up and gone by 3 p.m.

Several weeks before the article was published, erstwhile DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman even castigated those who have complaints about the 4Ps to approach their grievance desk at their regional offices. The DSWD regional office in Davao is a P100 bus ride and P8 peso jeepney ride, one way. Not including the ride to the highway, and back. It was like that, the poor have to go to the government if ever they need help or have any complaints.

Government reaches out

It was a different scene that met us last week on a visit to attend a meeting of the water safety team, a community-based group managing the water system in the sitio.

Inside a bamboo and thatch hut is a dough machine roller, a gas oven and a wood oven. The wood oven is no longer used because the workers said it tends to burn their bread.

Fe Baco, a mother of nine who heads the breadmaking inside, said they got a training from the DSWD, a team that came over to their sitio to train those interested.

"Ang DSWD man ang nianhi namo (The DSWD came to us)," she said, a far cry from when the DSWD would order them to be at the far barangay to get what government has allotted for them.

There were 24 who trained in their village, Baco said, but now less than 20 have continued to participate in the village livelihood activity.

"Hurot-hurot man pud, kung naa ma'y mabilin, gamay na lang gyud na mapalit pa pagka ugma (Our bread are always sold out. In the few instances where there are leftovers, these would all be gone by the following day)," she said.

Baco is a Visayan settler who arrived at Sitio Upian from Samal in 1985, when Upian was still a forestland and logging companies abound.

She had only one child then. The land was still very fertile and they were planting Dinorado rice in abundance.

With the forest decimated and extension workers failing to reach out to the residents to teach them agriculture technologies in a denuded landscape, poverty soon took root.

"Most of the 4Ps beneficiaries avail of livelihood training so that they could decide which project they want to engage in. They are offered technical assistance on forming themselves as a regular organization, may be 10 or more in a group," said DSWD Assistant Secretary Mae Fe Templa.

The breadmaking training, she said, is part of the small grant program the DSWD has for the marginalized sectors. This can be availed of 4Ps or non-4Ps beneficiaries for as long as they are able to form a group and present a simple feasibility study for their livelihood project.

"A group can access it if it has undergone formal organization and has sought accreditation from DSWD. Some groups were able to receive 350K, it depends on the nature of their livelihood project," Templa said.

"They just return the principal amount so that others could also use." The small group manning the village bakery see themselves forming into a cooperative, buoyed by the positive response of the community to their products.

Community spirit

Poverty and distance from secondary schools and government centers have made them develop a system of community that takes care of their own with the push from outsiders.

Among such initiatives is the Upian community water system. Since 2012, the village has been managing its own community water system initiated by the Kinaiyahan Foundation Inc. (KFI) with the help of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Davao, Davao City Water District, and the Davao Contractors Development Cooperative.

After five years, the community has finally come up with its policies on the water system and a service fee. It may have taken time to convince residents that they have to pay so as to ensure that the water system is maintained, but the idea is finally picking up now.

"The local water users' association has agreed to pay monthly for the services of the water system. They also maintain the area identified as the main water source. Medyo maliit pa ang grupo at maraming problema pero (It was a slightly small group and there were many problems back then but) it is a good example of how local water resources can be managed and maintained locally and small-scale," said KFI executive director Betty Cabazares.

In their meeting, the water system led by its president Ernesto Borromeo agreed on their newly drafted policies on fees and incentives. For those with direct connections in their home, the fee is P10 per faucet per month. Payment is every 15th of the month. Early payment gets a P1 discount, late payment gets a P1 penalty. An advance payment for one year will reduce the cost to just P108. Failure to pay for three consecutive months will mean disconnection. Reconnection fee is P60.

Those without direct connection to their homes have access to safe water from a communal tap stand which will cost the user P5 a month. When a tap stand faucet needs replacement, the group will have to pay P50 of the cost of replacement while the water supply group will shoulder the other 50 percent.

The water impounding tank is to be cleaned every quarter. Officers are not exempted from the fees although they get an incentive every end of the year equivalent to P500 for the President and the Treasurer and P300 for all other officers. Members get food packs from the DOST every December as incentive.

As of this month, the water system already has 92 members and 31 tap stand users. Indeed, the poor can be pushed up to become self-sustaining for as long as there are people who will take time to show them how, an effort that very few took.

With President Rodrigo Duterte's vision of an inclusive growth, government workers and partners are looking at poverty in a different light, where the poor are not treated as inconveniences but are instead pushed to become better versions of themselves. The private and civil sector had it figured out a long time ago, but government chose to live the high life.

Now, it's all about service, and we have the small water system in Upian as an example of how persistence can finally bring about community development for all.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 20, 2017.

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