by: Floyd Lalwet
Peace be unto these houses and to those who dwell in them!
It was raining that day in early 2015 when we visited the site of the ECP Housing Project in Sabang Bao in Ormoc City. The work was then in full blast but it was facing a major hurdle as the owner of the land on which was built a pathway that provided access from the main road to the site had barred the entry of the truck delivering construction materials. In the course of the project, this pathway was widened to accommodate the delivery truck but its heavy load soon took its toll on the land. While the concern of the lot owner over the damage to his land was understandable, the prohibition of the delivery truck made the work much more difficult as the materials had to be brought manually from the main road to the site. The offer to buy the site of the pathway was declined and the whole time we were there, we watched as men carried cement, steel and buckets of sand and gravel on their shoulders while women purshed a wooden cart filled with the same materials. They were all drenched by the rains which contributed to their heavy burden. But we welcomed the rains because they hid the tears running down our faces as we cried in silence watching their oppressive toils. We flew to Manila later in the afternoon with a heavy heart and a grave concern that the housing project may not be realized.
The site of the project used to be a ricefield about 300 meters from a main road. When the project commenced, a lot of backfilling works had to be done in order to make the loose and muddy site buildable and at that point where the work relied mainly on labor and material contributions from participating households, it was very difficult to imagine that houses could actually be constructed thereon. It was only through the tenacity and hard work of these housedhold partners that the site soon took the shape of a prospective housing village. Yet, the difficulty of site development was compounded by the subsequent closure to motor vehicles of the access pathway.
Several months after, the participating households were able to convince an adjoining lot owner on the other side to sell a 150 meter-long, 259 square meter-lot that would give them permanent road access. The lot however was quite expensive, costing a total of P129,600, but the family partners requested the ECP to advance the price which they committed to grant-back at a future time. With their previous commitment to grant-back P480,000 cost of the project site as well as 20% of building costs, this road lot was an added burden to them. But it was indeed a solution to the access problem.
The completion and turn-over of the first 30 houses of the project was done on 03 December 2015. (Read: Sabang Bao and the Spirit of Unity: A Gospel Reincarnation Story Part I) Then last 23 June 2016, the remaining 46 houses were inaugurated and turned over to the family partners. This was done in a solemn liturgical service with the Prime Bishop, The Most Rev. Renato M. Abibico, presiding and with diocesan bishops, Brent H.W. Alawas [EDNP], Danilo Bustamante [EDSP], Jonathan Casimina [EDD], Esteban Sabawil [EDNL] and Dixie C. Taclobao [EDCP], con-celebrating and leading the individual house blessing. Three other houses were built on partners’ lots outside the project site. The blessing marked the completion of the housing project in Sabang Bao for 79 family partners and one unit serving as a community center.
A short program followed the service, with Deodora Guino, an officer of the Sabang Bao Workers Association, the organization of the family partners, again expressing gratitude to the ECP and all the donor partners for the project. Mike Smith, the Major Gifts Officer of the Episcopal Relief and Development, was present and served as the face not only of ERD but of all the partners from the world-wide Anglican Communion. The Association gave service awards to the 2 ECP engineers, Paul Sapaen and Lennon Baybay, who were physically with them for two years as they all worked on the project through the blistering heat and heavy downpour of rains. Sapaen and Baybay not only supervised the technical aspect of the project but also led and coordinated the mobilization of the family partners for the community pintakasi [labor counterpart].
To the amazement of the ECP leadership and staff, Guino brought out and handed over an amount of P129,600 in cash as their grant-back to the cost of the road lot. It was the totally un-expected event of the day as the Church never considered this particular grant-back to be made in so short a time and certainly not in less than one (1) year from the time it was granted. But the bishops and staff easily recovered from the surprise as they recognized the same spirit of committed partnership and empowerment that had been demonstrated by the partner families since day one.
It is recalled that super-typhoon Yolanda hit the central part of the country at a time when the ECP has just shed off the grant approach to community development by adopting the R2G policy where communities receiving grant support for development initiatives were enabled to grant-back at some future point so that from receivers, they in time become givers. Even with the massive destruction of the communities in central Philippines that made it seemingly insensitive and inappropriate to talk about the R2G scheme to communities whose livelihoods were almost completely wiped out, the Church decided it can no longer go back to that situation where grant-supported projects [without any obligation to pass-on] resulted in very limited impact and, worse, oftentimes had the opposite effect of actually deepening the helplessness and dependence of economically marginalized communities. The ECP development staff resolved to test the acceptance of the R2G policy in Sabang Bao where most of the households who clamored for the rebuilding of their damaged homes were tenants working on lands whose owners did not allow them to build more permanent and durable structures. With the ECP project’s thrust towards building more resilient communities, it was not desirable to merely replace the erstwhile residential structures or pre-Yolanda houses that had no chance against stronger rains and winds. Hence, the affected households needed to be relocated in premises outside of their landowners’ properties which meant that a relocation site had to be acquired for the purpose. A member of the Barangay Council of Sabang Bao graciously offered a portion of her family’s farmland, consisting of one (1) hectare at a cost of P480,000. This can accommodate housing units for 80 households, with the remaining areas reserved for roads and other community purposes. The plan was for the project to purchase this parcel of land to be awarded to the participating households who shall then pay back its cost over time so that the payments can be used to purchase another lot for another set of households requiring similar relocation. Since this project did not bring in any income to the participating households, there was an expectation that the latter would express strong reservations to the R2G scheme or to be obligated to grant back and pass-on any assistance they may receive. With the almost “left and right” offers of many relief agencies and organizations providing grants for housing or materials, it had seemed almost a “mortal sin” for the ECP to go the other way. But, as aforementioned, this was the only way now for the ECP. It just had to bite the bullet and present the plan to the partners. It did and to the pleasant shock of its leadership, the R2G idea when presented was enthusiastically embraced by the participating households. Furthermore, to the almost complete shock of the staff, these households volunteered to do the pay back for the cost of the land, not within a period of three (3) to five (5) years as the project had earlier envisioned but within a short time from ground-breaking. What the staff had later came to realize was that, as aforestated, many of the participating households were tenants who have never owned a piece of real property in all their lives and this project offered them what they considered to be a golden opportunity to own land for the first time. Hence, there was an excitement over such prospect and a willingness to take on extra jobs and efforts so they could raise the payment the earliest possible time. Even before the project can break ground, the participating households already gave back about 40% of the cost of the land. Its full cost was granted back in September 2015 even before a single unit can be turned over to the first beneficiary. And so, again, it was no longer a surprise when the participating households granted back the cost of the road lot in a very short time. The grant-backs for the project site and road lot summing up to P609,600 now awaits other communities who may have similar needs for a housing project and/or farmland which they can acquire under the same R2G principle.
It was then two days over exactly two years since the housing project broke ground. We look back to those most difficult weeks and months that followed the ground-breaking on 21 June 2014 when oftentimes we had serious doubts whether the project would actually be completed. We look back to the time when we thanked the rains for hiding our tears.
On final inauguration day, it did not rain. Yes, It did not need to hide our tears – for it was tears of joy and hope that we had and freely shed, showed and shared that day!