From mid-2003 to sometime in 2006, I was part
of a team that facilitated community meetings in Balangiga, Eastern Samar. Ours
was one of several teams working in poor municipalities selected by the
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for its KALAHI CIDSS
Project. The project applies community participation processes to the planning,
implementation, monitoring and operation and maintenance activities of
development projects. (Today, the project is implemented in thousands of
municipalities nationwide. A bill is also pending in Congress that aims to
As a poverty reduction, community
empowerment and good governance program, KALAHI CIDSS has become strategic due
to its ability to reach the so-called underserved and hard-to-reach barangays.
In Balangiga, we visited Maybunga, the farthest barangay from the Poblacion, as
often as twice a month.
For those who took part in the community meetings,
the process of knowing what communities could do to improve people’s lives
evoked a sense of victory, pride and accomplishment. When they saw that something
more was coming out of the process—for example, a public good such as a
functioning water system—their new-found self-confidence gave them occasion to further
engage the government. For a community that had been used to being on its own,
that transformation seemed radical.
Before meeting KALAHI, they barely knew
what government was all about. Except for a public elementary school teacher
(who combined Grades 1 to 3 pupils into a single class), nobody else from
government interacted with them. It had been seven years since the last time
somebody from the municipal agriculture office visited them, they said. (The
municipal government had no budget for its staff to do field work of that kind.)
The school teacher would normally be around 3 days in a week, and for such a
heroic effort she should have merited a Ramon Magsaysay award.
Hiking and a motorcycle ride brought one
from Maybunga to Poblacion, and back. While families were relatively
self-sufficient in food, they needed salt, kerosene, soap and other “luxuries”
in life. To earn cash and meet those needs, they sold the usual farm crops
(banana, cassava, camote, etc.) at the Poblacion. For every 150 pesos worth of
deliveries, they spent 100 pesos on the motorcycle ride. For the uninitiated,
the more taxing part was actually the hike on a mountainous terrain from
Maybunga to Guinmaayohan, the next downstream barangay, and from where they
took the motorcycle ride to the Poblacion. They could offer me 5,000 pesos to take the
trek with a sack of gabi on my back, and I would refuse it on the spot.
Maybunga used to be a thriving community. Before
being down to 35 in 2003, the barangay consisted of at least 250 families in
the early 1980s. Military abuses during martial law, and the conditions they created
that further fanned the flames of insurgency, led to deadly clashes that prompted
massive displacement in the countryside. At one time the population of interior
municipalities in Samar decreased by some 90 percent.
In 1984, military and rebel forces clashed
in Maybunga, forcing its residents to flee for safety. Many of them found refuge
as internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the municipal building. For years
Maybunga had zero population. A decade later, some of its barangay officials
still had their official residences in Guinmaayohan.
Having lived in Balangiga for a few years,
I learned that some of its IDPs during the Martial Law years eventually resettled
in Tacloban City. Others went to Cebu and Manila. Today, I find it hard not to
think of the IDPs when I see slum areas—and of people living under bridges and
in the streets—in the big cities.
Most of the Yolanda casualties 2013 in
Tacloban lived close to the sea. These locations are often described as high
risk areas, but for the IDPs and their kind there are hardly any other place
where they can afford to improvise and settle in. A recent United Nations study
says that violence, conflict, natural hazards and poverty are the key drivers
of displacement to and within urban areas.
Many of those who survived Yolanda have
actually been IDPs for the second time. First as victims of armed conflict and poverty,
as migrants from Maybunga would show. Second as victim of a climatic disaster
that was as thorough in its devastation as Yolanda.
The pattern of displacement due to poverty
can be seen across generations. The early settlers of Maybunga comprised of landless
farmers who migrated from the Poblacion and nearby urban centers. They used to
own small parcels of land, like many in the countryside, that they inherited
from ancestors. But when emergencies hit them, such as serious sickness in the
family, dear possessions like that become the easiest to part with. Landlessness,
displacement, poverty—that’s how vicious the cycle had been.
More than a century ago, the people of
Balangiga dared to resist American colonizers that led to an uprising where
hundreds—including at least 68 American troopers—perished. This historical
footnote has earned for them government recognition and support; recent reports
show that the road linking those upland barangays to the Poblacion has now been
One of the lessons of Yolanda and other
disasters is that disaster risk reduction needed to be taken as both a
humanitarian and development challenge. One should be part of the other. Aside
from looking at the concentration of economic activities and how it frames
urbanization trends, governments that seek to address urban congestion,
traffic, crime, and urban poverty issues, might do well to take the case of
Balangiga in mind.
Ingming Aberia is a development worker by training and profession. He writes to analyze social issues, promote values of the Catholic faith, dabble essays on a variety of other topics, or to simply argue for an advocacy.