The Community-Based Development Program [CBDP] (now E-CARE) of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines [ECP] has been in implementation for the past 30 years (:2017). It was formally established in 1987 and, through the solidarity and support of external partners, annual grants to the program have grown to the level of around US $700,000 at its peak in 2010. In an external evaluation of the program conducted in 2007, it was determined that out of 49 water projects implemented in various communities in 20 years, 47 were fully operational for a 96% success rate. This included water systems built in 1985 and 1986 which continued to operate even after more than 20 years.
However, despite transformational activities built into the program that were meant to enhance the self-reliance of partner communities, there has hardly been a breakthrough in terms of significantly obliterating the destructive worldviews of dependency and mendicancy that have continued to plague many of these communities. Instead of building self-reliance, community development projects sometimes had the opposite effect of perpetuating such dependency. One major factor causing this negative course is the system of resource flow in the program which often involved large grants that have, in effect, made the communities assume the role of receivers. The millions or hundreds of thousands of pesos in grants that poured into these communities made the latter more helpless and powerless as they realized that they can never generate these amounts by themselves and therefore it was solely upon the grace of others that they have received the same.
The experience of Santa Maria clearly illustrates this point. This is a barangay of the Municipality of Licab in the Province of Nueva Ecija. Aside from Ilocanos and Tagalogs who are natives of the place, it is also home to migrants from the Cordilleras who used to work in the mines of Acoje and Masinloc in Zambales that have closed and who have used their separation pays to buy small landholdings in the area. Some of the migrants came directly from Mountain Province or Benguet in search of greener pastures. It is also home to the congregation of Annunciation Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines. When the first migrants came to the place, it was largely an un-developed area along an irrigation dike but through their individual and communal efforts, they were able to cultivate farmlands and build a community, including the improvement of common areas or centers, pathways and a foot bridge over a river that separates the community from the rest of the town. Indeed, it was a remarkable story of collective self-reliance.
A few years ago, this community, having heard of the ECP’s CBDP, requested for a water system and post-harvest facilities. Consequently, an integrated development project, consisting of a deep-well water system, solar dryer, warehouse and charging station was established, costing more than a million pesos in grant assistance. When the project was completed and turned over to Santa Maria through the Annunciation Credit Cooperative which was the organizational entity established to manage the project, it was with the understanding that the latter would assume responsibility for its management and maintenance. But a few months after the turn over, the water system broke down and the people came back to the Church requesting that it repairs the same. When a strong typhoon blew the roof of the warehouse another request was made for the Church to rehabilitate it. Soon, solicitation letters were received from the community almost every time a calamity hit the area. What has happened to this community that was previously characterized by a strong sense of self-reliance? Sadly, the project which as supposed to further enhance the development of the community has instead sown the seeds of dependency.
The Santa Maria integrated project was implemented at a time when the ECP was starting with the use of the Asset-Based Community Development [ABCD] approach, which emphasizes assets or resources instead of needs or deficiencies as drivers of development. The erstwhile self-reliance of the community was, in fact, identified as a major asset or strength that facilitated positive consideration of the project proposal. However, even this approach did not and could not fully address the dependency and mendicancy problem. ABCD therefore was in danger of becoming just another by-word or concept meant to justify and smoothen the resource flow from external partners to local communities by providing the rationale for the latter to leverage external resources in a manner that was more acceptable to the funding partners but, in the end, did not actually make a significant dent on dependency. ABCD proved “no match” to the well-entrenched culture of dependency. Hence, the ECP had been in search for the “magic formula” even beyond ABCD that would address this problem.