The Spirit of Bayanihan

Setting the Scene

According to the World Risk Report of 2018, the Philippines is the third most vulnerable country to disasters. The country lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire where 80% of earthquakes occur. Around 20-25 typhoons ravage the country every year, leading to the loss of lives and millions of damages to infrastructure and livelihood. About 220 known volcanoes dot the country, and at least 22 of them are considered active.

The Philippines is also one of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The drought brought by the El Niño Southern Oscillation has increased in the last few decades. The dry season is also becoming warmer, and conversely, the wet season becoming wetter. Sea level rise threatens the coastal areas of the country. 

Wanton destruction of the environment has also made it worse. Illegal logging and illegal modes of fishing threaten the ecosystem. Armed conflict, demolitions, and so-called development projects displace families and communities, adding to the already dire poverty situation. The poverty situation also inhibits the people’s ability to cope and recover from these hazards unless we develop their capacities and to create disaster resilient communities. (Center for Disaster Preparedness) 

The Meaning of Bayanihan

Bayanihan refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a traditional system of mutual assistance in which the members of a community work together to accomplish a difficult task. In later use also: a spirit of civic unity and cooperation among Filipinos. The value of this principle in Filipino culture is apparent in each of the agencies I have visited and learned from thus far. 

My first visit was to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) National Resource Operations Center (NROC).

DSWD NROC staff providing a tour of the facility.

One of the responsibilities of the NROC is augmenting local field offices’ response to disaster through the delivery of meal kits (and other types of kits) which are provided to disaster impacted families. Each field office (16 total) is required to have a specific number of meal kits ready for deployment (30,000 to be exact), but when calamities or disasters of greater proportion occur the national agency can assist by providing additional supplies.

Sophisticated mechanized production system.

At the NROC headquarters a sophisticated mechanized production system has been implemented to maximize the output capabilities of the facility. Components of six sigma are clearly visible in this ISO 9001:2015 certified organization. What was most impressive though was the amount of volunteers the organization is able to attract and deploy. Last year the agency  managed the deployment of over 22,000 volunteers during disaster relief operations

DSWD provides a number of programs and services to the Philippine nation. Kalahi-CIDSS, otherwise known as the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services, is one of the poverty alleviation programs of the Philippine Government being implemented.

Reviewing the process and learning about the cycles of the program.

It uses the community-driven development (CDD) approach, a globally recognized strategy for achieving service delivery, poverty reduction, and good governance outcomes. Simplified, the goal is to empower poor communities to improve access to basic services and participation in local government activities (such as budgeting, local planning, disaster reduction and management, etc.). The program covers 847 municipalities (lowest 50% of poverty) which is approximately 5-6 million households. The general approach of the program is to work with a local government unit (LGU) and the members of the barangay (smaller community units within the LGU) to implement a project in their area based on their self-identified needs. The project is usually an infrastructure need, although education and social services are sometimes also identified.

The process by which they identify, plan, implement and maintain the project is where the true capacity building occurs. Local citizens from each barangay volunteer to be part of the various teams. There is an 80% participation requirement for households in the area. These volunteers work with staff from the LGU and the DSWD throughout the project cycle. The labor involved in the construction of the project is completed by the community. The outcome of the program is far greater than a project being constructed. Through the facilitated process, impoverished people learn new skills (such as vulnerability identification, procurement, bookkeeping, evaluation, construction, etc.) and become empowered to participate more in their LGU processes, increasing participatory governance.

Nearly 556,000 volunteers have been trained and mobilized, 62% of which are women. Additionally, nearly 437,000 participated in the construction labor required for the projects, 22% of which were women. 

Fortunately, my time in Manila coincided with the Humanitarian Preparedness & Coordination Workshop hosted by the Center for Disaster Preparedness (CDP) and the Asian Preparedness Partnership (APP). This workshop brought together players from various sectors that focus on humanitarian work, disaster preparedness, and response. Barangay medics, municipal employees, national government departments and non-governmental agencies came together with the intention to identify challenges and ultimately improve coordination and information sharing across agencies.

Workshop participants.

The day started with a prayer for humanitarian workers, that they be kept safe and that they never lose their passion for helping others in difficult times. While I was told I would need a translator for the event, as it was to be held in their native language, I quickly realized I wouldn’t need much help. Similar to living in Miami Beach where we speak our own version of Spanish, Splanglish (a combination of English and Spanish), the Filipinos (at least those at this event), did the same. Furthermore, there are many similarities in their language to Spanish. I found myself not needing as much help to understand/participate as I thought I would, and ironically, by the end of the day, most people were speaking English. I was very appreciative of this opportunity and took particular note to the brainstorming and engagement tools used throughout the day. I plan to share many of these approaches with my team back home. Although Miami Beach is not faced with the challenges of earthquakes, tidal waves, and volcanoes, there is certainly much to be learned from a country that can quickly mobilize and respond to disasters with little to no warning. 

Looking Ahead

While the Philippines will continue to face many environmental and man-made challenges, the coordination, preparedness, and response will continue to grow and improve. The amount and sheer magnitude of events and responses required each year speak to the resilience of this country and its people. It is clear that part of this is due to the cultural value of working together to achieve a goal, or, the spirit of bayanihan. In the coming days I will travel to Region V and visit some of the barangays. I am looking forward to learning more and seeing the practical application of this principle, and the outcomes/impacts of many of the agencies I have learned about to date.

To learn more about the agencies mentioned, visit their websites below.  DSWD – Kalahi-CIDSS – –

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