BEC-Based Social Action Program: The Diocese of Digos

The city of Digos, the capital of Davao del Sur, is also the seat of the Diocese of Digos. The diocese was created on November 8, 1979 by Pope John Paul II and is suffragan of the Archdiocese of Davao. One of the stages of the pastoral thrusts that have helped shape the Diocese of Digos is the building and strengthening of BECs. It is clear that the diocese envisions for BECs to become true Christian communities who are united , responsible, fully developed and effective instrument of evangelization to other communities. Thus, they are committed to the task of working for total human development.

Because of this vision, the Diocese of Digosthrough the Diocesan Commission on Social Services otherwise known as Diocesan Commission on Social Services otherwise known as Diocesan Social Action Center (DSAC) joined in 2003 the second batch of ten dioceses that implemented Empowerment of Marginalized Sectors through BEC-based Integral Evangelization. Similar to other dioceses, the Diocese of Digos covered fifty (50) BECs in five (5) pilot parishes, namely:

· Mother of Perpetual Help Parish, Guihing, Hagonoy, Davao del Sur Province

· St. Vincent Ferrer Parish, Basiawan, Sta. Maria, Davao del Sur Province

· St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Banate,Sarangani Province

· St. Vincent Ferrer Parish, Bangkal, Matanao, Davao del Sur Province

· Sto. Nino Parish, Magsaysay, Davao del Sur Province

During the initial implementation of the program, 3,202 BEC members were included in the COPAR that identified three major problems: poverty, environmental issues and health. To respond to these problems, sustainable agriculture, livelihood through microcredit, health interventions, and ecology projects became the centerpieces of the program.

Three years after the program started, the collective efforts, patience and dedication are paying off well. With the full support of the Bishop, PSAC coordinators and members, the Parish Pastoral Council and their parish priests joined hands with the DSAC to make the program responsive to the needs of the BECs. The results of the implementation have reached satisfactory level of improving the quality of life of the BECs particularly on economic aspects. There are now 199 BEC farmers who practice sustainable agricultural technology who applied the technology while 76 members have FAITH gardens in their backyards. Fourteen (14) farmers availed of carabaos and plowing tools. As a result, farmers experience low production cost and increase in farm productivity. A total of 131 BEC members who are engaged in goat and hog dispersal also benefit from these farm animals that are useful in producing manure-based organic fertilizer.

Health is given ample importance. A health committee was credited in each of the five pilot parishes. There are now totaling 75 health volunteers. A diocesan pharmacy was established and managed by the Social Action Center. It is licensed by BFAD as medicines distributor to the five parish-based pharmacies that in turn are outlets to 40 BECs covered by the program. Over 2,000 BEC members access low-cost medicines from these pharmacies. Fifteen (15) BECs have herbal garden while some members mass-produce herbal medicines and herbal soaps that are sold at lower prices in their community.

Environmental protection is also an important concern among the BECs. Three BECs in Basiawan Parish that are members of “Bantay Dagat” task force stopped illegal fishing practices in their area. Members of one BEC planted 2,000 mangroves along their coastal area. Waste segregation has been adopted by fifteen (15) BECs. A total of 1,200 signatures against mining were gathered from farmers of BECs in Bangkal Parish.

Microcredit was implemented during the second phase of the program after painstaking processes had been undertaken in the BECs. The diocese and parishes had to make sure that the beneficiaries fully understood the intention of the microcredit. Enjoying a high repayment rate, the microcredit fund already helped 526 BEC members who use the money as startup capital for small businesses.

These results testify as to what the BECs have and what they can become. BECs have the potent force to become agents of their own development and evangelizers for others.

 

“BEC UNITE FOR THEIR OWN DEVELOPMENT”

The parish of St. Francis in Barangay Banate is one of the mission stations of the Diocese of Digos. Banate is the biggest barangay in the town of Malungon, Province of Sarangani. The mission station was chosen as one of the pilot parishes of the program considering the economic conditions of the communities. Various difficulties and issues have confronted the BECs for a long time. Low productivity, below poverty line income and lack of livelihood opportunities are just a few of the poor conditions that the BECs continue to face. Poor delivery of government’s basic services in the communities has aggravated their burden. Local usurers in the locality take advantage of their situation by charging high interest rates on loans.

At the start, 680 members from 10 BECs were registered in the program. After attending a BOSSAW,BEC members understood the Church teachings on social action work and realized the need to unite. Microcedit has been prioritized among the BECs because it directly addresses their main problem-poverty. The BECs underwent series of capability-building activities to prepare them for microcredit and other projects. The BECs of San Jose in San Isidro started the microcredit, managed by the PSAC. BECs located in Lambaot, Laurel, Talus, Malalag Cogon and Cmpo Logging followed later. The microcredit fund was used as starting capital investment of 121 members of BECs for their various livelihood projects such as food and fish vending, retail stores, and other similar ventures. In BECs Lambalot and Talus, the members initiated “Piso-Piso Savings” with the intention of generating their own capital. BEC Lambalot was able to generate group savings in the amount of Php7,000 over a short span of time. All of the microcredit beneficiaries had fully paid their loans. Earnings from the livelihood were used for the family’s expenses and other necessities. Microcredit lessened the burden of the family in coping with their difficulties. Several members slowly paid their debts to loan sharks and stopped obtaining loans from them.

Having proven its catalytic characteristics, microcreditbecame very attractive that neighboring BECs wanted to avail of loans. The positive outcome of the microcredit can also be attributed to the unity of BEC members and leaders, the dedication of PSAC volunteers and the fill support of the parish priest. BEC members are thankful of the efforts of the Church in helping them improve their quality of life.

Reference: National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace Annual Report 2007, p80-81