MAKING BEC PROGRAM AN ALTERNATIVE STRATEGY TO FIGHT AGAINST POVERTY
An original member of the first batch of ten archdiocese and dioceses participating in the Empowering the Marginalized Sector through BEC-based Integral Evangelization Program, the Diocese of Calbayog is moving forward in attaining its goal of increasing the socioeconomic productivity and improving the capacity of its BECs by enhancing productivity.
The diocese is predominantly an agricultural province. Almost 85% of its BECs are farmers and fishersfolk. Gifted with rich land, forest and marine resources, it is imperative for the people of Western Samar province is to manage its rich natural resources in a sustainable manner.
With a mission towards total human development through BECs, the diocese was engaged in various projects and programs to equip its BEC members with values, knowledge and necessary. BECs underwent various training and seminars on Catholic social teachings, program management and development, sustainable development on agriculture and environment, microfinance, health political education and advocacy. These interventions have gradually transformed BECs into vibrant and integrated communities with greater concern for one another and for their province and country.
ADVOCACY TO PROTECT AND PRESERVE ITS RICH NATURAL RESOURCES
The members of the BECs are adopting sustainable agriculture practices. By using SA method, there was a decrease in the use of chemical and synthetic fertilizers. Farmers increased their use of guano and engage in composting of biodegradable materials making them into organic fertilizers. Noticeably, there was an increase in the demands for SA training, particularly the Magsasaka sa Ikauunlad Para sa Agham Agrikultura (MASIPAG) orientation and accompanying seeds. There was also an increase in the number of farm lots converted to organic farming and of farmers tilling in verification farms. About 70 are dedicated to pest-resistant organic rice, enabling mass production.
To protect the coastal areas from illegal fishing and harvesting of marine resources, BECs in coastal areas are involved in coastal resource management. Social Action Center of Calbayog facilitated the Community-Based Coastal Resource Management (CBCRM) training in various coastal barangays and BECs in coordination with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). An orientation on Seaweed Farming gave BEC members additional opportunity to augment their income.
The tragic legacy of Bagacay Mines in Samar drove the BECs to actively participate in the campaign against mining and logging. The environmental consciousness provided by various training and advocacies on mining and logging resulted in the intensified campaigns against these extractive practices. An Island-Wide Caravan was staged calling for the cancellation of Mineral Production Sharing Agreements granted by the national government to foreign mining concessionaires. BEC members actively participated in the caravan as well as in the signature campaign. Various environmental initiatives flourished such as the Samar Island Council for Sustainable Development (SICSD), Samar Island Biodiversity Project (SIBP), Alliance of Samar Environment Advocates (ASEA) and the call for the establishment of Samar Island National Park (SINP). These initiatives deepen and recognize the potent power of the BECs as change agents.
SUSTAINING INCOME THROUGH MICROFINANCE AND INCOME GENERATING PROJECTS
Through BEC program, the Diocese of Calbayog seized opportunities to extend the collective capacities of its BECs to face economic difficulties. BEC members were granted investment capital for engaging in agriculture-based projects such as organic farming, organic rice production, palay trading, ube-vegetable farming, cooperative store, and pig dispersal. The social action center charges a 12-percent loan interest per annum and one percent of net income from the various income-generation projects goes to the BEC. To ensure the sustainability of these projects, borrowers are encouraged to save about 19 percent of the net income that they will plow back as part of the capital build up. Loans repayment is within schedule, capitalization of palay and supplies in the cooperative store are increasing, and income generating projects such as vegetables and ube farming are doing well. Given the opportunity, BECs will harness their collective capacity to defeat poverty.
The Diocese of Calbayog recognized that the BEC program has gained momentum in addressing the needs for integrated and sustained development. Aware of their rights and values, and equipped with knowledge and skills, BEC members realize that development lies not in the hands of other people but in the hearts of Samarenos who are responsible stewards of Creation.
SHOW OF FORCE
“To preserve the Philippines largest contiguous lowland tropical rainforest,” was how Pres. Arroyo declared the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) through Presidential Proclamation 442 on 13 August 2003. Obtaining the official order was not a walk in the park for Samarenos. Painstaking efforts by the social action centers in Samar, led by SAC Calbayog, and well-coordinated actions by the BECs halted the resurgence of mining and logging in the island.
In early 2003, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) approved two separate mining contracts out of the 17 mining applications in Samar Island. The two mining companies plan to extract bauxite-the main ingredient in cement production-within the 53,064 hectares at the core of SINP. Any mineral extraction violates two previous presidential orders by President Corazon Aquino and President Fidel Ramos declaring the area as a forest reserve and imposing temporary log ban. These orders are government’s response to revive the natural balance of Samar Island ravaged by almost half a century of mining and logging operations.
To stop the resurgence in Samar of these extractive industries, Samarenos formed the multisectoral Alliance for Samar Environmental Advocates (ASEA). As part of ASEA, SAC Calbayog’s role focuses on the information-education campaigns primarily targeting the BECs areas. IEC materials were produced and subsequently disseminated directly to the BECs during consultations and assemblies. BEC members, being mostly farmers, readily understood the ill effects caused by mining on their main source of livelihood. The effectiveness of the strategy was translated into 9,515 signatories from BEC members. The signature campaign proposed to stop the reentry of huge mining operations into the island.
Save Samar Island-wide Caravan was a fitting showdown. Samarenos will remember August 8, 2003 when BEC members joined 6,600 students, farmers, fisherfolk, Church people and ordinary citizens in lining up in the streets of Catbalogan town bearing placards and streamers screaming “Yes to SINP, No to Logging and Mining!” Hundreds of supporters from the other provinces and dioceses came, including two Bishops, two governors, two vice governors, three congressmen, and a number of municipal mayors. Five days after the Samarnons’ show of force, Pres. Arroyo signed the proclamation establishing SINP.
The fight continues. On August 15, 2005, the DENR ordered the lifting of logging moratorium in the island, endangering Samar’s remaining forest anew. The BECs will continue to call for ecological balance for their dear island.
Reference: National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace Annual Report 2007, p95-97