BEC-Based Social Action Program: The Diocese of Legaspi

CHAMPIONING THE NEEDS OF THE DISPLACED VICTIMS OF CALAMITIES

Bicol Region was not spared from super typhoon Reming when it unleashed its fury on November 30, 2006. Among the badly-hit provinces was Albay where Reming claimed the lives of more than 600 people, sent many others missing, and displaced more than 80,000 families. The impact was aggrevated when the water channels at the walls of Mayon Volcano collapsed and set off killer landslides that buried the communities at the foot of Mayon. In the aftermath, damage to infrastructure and agriculture stood at one billion pesos.

Every year, anywhere from 26 to 32 typhoons hit the country, and majority of these affect the entire province of Albay. The province also suffered from the volcanic eruptionof Mt. Mayon and other calamities that occurred almost simultaneously.

BECS PAVING THE WAY TO A MORE FOCUSED DISASTER-RESPONSE

The Social Action Center of the Diocese of Legaspi (SAC Legaspi) has adopted a proactive approach in mitigating the effects of disasters. It track record in relief and rehabilitation undertakings has been very commendable such that it always takes the lead in implementing a Disaster Response Program in times of calamities.

This role was permanently conferred on the institution after Mt. Mayon erupted for consecutive years. A Task Force comprising various government agencies was created. Having established a systematic disaster management program, SAC Legaspi was appointed to head the Task Force. Since then, the Social Action Center informally assumed the responsibility of coordinating for relief and rehabilitation initiatives in the province. As a validation, local executives rely heavily on the Social Action Center for relief and rehabilitation concerns.

PARTNERING WITH THE BECS AND NASSA FOR SYSTEMATIC INTERVENTIONS

SAC Legaspi served as clearing house in the conduct of relief operation during Typhoon Reming. This chiefly entailed centralization of relief goods, execution of systematic method of distribution, and mobilization of the SAC’s network of workers and volunteers at the diocesan, vicariate and parish levels. The parish priests and religious group in the diocese actively took part in coordinating with the local government units at the city and municipal levels, while students and youth volunteers helped in the most massive relief operation ever undertaken by the diocese.

Even though they themselves were disaster victims, BEC members played crucial roles in the relief program. Those who were temporarily housed in the evacuation centers have taken to supervising the camp, leading the health and sanitation program for the other victims, and acting as advocacy groups eliciting the concerns of other evacuees, particularly children, women, the sick and the elderly.

The BECs were not only tapped during the Typhoon Reming. Since Disaster Management is a regular program of all parishes in the diocese, the BECs are the ones mobilized to respond to disasters in the province. Now that a more comprehensive and sustainable disaster program will be implemented among the four seriously affected municipalities, the BECs, particularly those from the four seriously affected areas (Legazpi, Camalig, Guinobatan and Daraga) will again play an important role. At present, these BECs are considered Internally Displaced People (IDP) grouped into three categories: in-site evacuation centers and transitional sites, high-risk areas, and village returnees. These groups will be mobilized to organize the other victims and help them acquire direct access to social services, to serve as implementers or mobilization group for disaster-related activities, and to take on the role of advocates for the protection of the rights of the victims, especially during disasters.

Through the years, NASSA has been supportive of the Diocese of Legaspi’s disaster relief and rehabilitation initiatives. In 1998, NASSA funded a million-peso worth of housing project for the victims of Typhoon Rosing in Libon, Albay. Also, for two consecutive years of relentless eruption of Mayon Volcano, it untiringly supported the diocese in their relief operations to address the needs of the victims.

But NASSA’s intervention for the typhoon Reming victims was one of its most significant relief works. A initial support, NASSA immediately released 150 bags of rice to the diocese followed by a field visit to assess the actual situation and to identify the needs of the victims. The result of the assessment, a NASSA-Catholic Relief Services joint undertaking, was posted in the websites of NASSA and CRS and paved the way for the deluge of donations both in cash and in kind. Many individuals also volunteered to sort and repack goods.

NASSA delivered to the Diocese of Legaspi 1,350 bags of rice including the 200 bags disposed through the PEACE Prize Foundation. To complement, dried fish, mung beans and a complete set of non-food relief items such as kitchen utensils, personal hygiene items and sleeping materials were released to 3,000 families.

OTHER SERVICES PACKAGES UNDER NASSA’S BEC-BASED PROGRAM

Having a good health is right, it should be everybody’s business, but because of poverty, this has been transformed into a commodity that is only available to those who can afford. Many people especially the poor tend to neglect this need because their prime concern is how to put food on their table. Their last resort would be the healthcare services of our government, which unfortunately are all inefficient and inaccessible to many people especially those living in far-flung areas.

To respond to one of the identified needs of the community, the diocese established the Health Services Program as one of the regular service provision of the Vicarial Social Action Council (VSAC), BEC-based Parish Social Action Centers (PSACs), Siervas de Jesus, Albay Provincial NGO-PO Network for Development, Inc. (ALPRODEV), Simbag sa Pag-Asenso, Inc. and the Local Government Health Units. The Botika sa Parokya has been implemented into two parishes, serving BEC members of St. Roche Parish in Taisan and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Malilipot, Albay.

Before the project finally came off, the Botika sa Parokya has undergone a rigorous process of preparation. But patience and perseverance finally paid off and the PSAC Management Team of each parish is now in place, supervising the day-to-day operations of the parish pharmacy.

Both pharmacies are now operating smoothly with the help of licensed pharmacists. Anopther parish pharmacy will soon to be established in Libon, Albay.

The implementation of Botika sa Parokya facilitated immediate access to healthcare by people in the community especially the poor. Generic medicines and other basic medical paraphernalia are sold at lower prices in the “botika”. BEC members are now confident that in case of sickness, help is readily available at affordable cost.

SPREADING THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

The St. Rose of Lima Parish is known for its 16th century Church and the ruins of the Baluarte watchover, landmarks of Christianity in the municipality of Bacacay.

In 2001, the Diocese of Legazpi identified the St. Rose of Lima Parish as one of the five pilot parishes of the diocese for BEC-Based Integral Evangelization Program. With a population of roughly more than 60,000 representing different faith groups, Rev. Fr. Joy Borja, parish priest and also BEC Coordinator of the Diocese, faithfully implemented the components of the program in his parish, among which are disaster management and relief and rehabilitation.

The more than 600 BEC members of the parish all played significant roles during the onslaught of Typhoon Reming.

Typhoon Reming brought death and severe destruction of communities, properties, livestocks, infrastructures and farmlands in the province of Albay. But the disaster stirred the Albayanons’ inherent kindness, compassion and concern for others. With the way they helped and cared for one another during the dark moments, BEC members lived up to their being Christians for others. Led by their parish priest, simultaneous relief operations were held in order to address the immediate needs of the victims. Their help even went beyond the confines of their parish, extending to neighboring municipalities as well.

Fr. Borja obtained help from generous individuals and organizations to in order to meet the needs of more than 30,000 disaster victims. In addition to the 1,150 bags of rice released to DSAC Legaspi, NASSA released 200 bags of rice to the parish through the PEACE Prize Foundation.

The relief operation, however, would never have been as effective and meaningful without the help of the BEC members, who despite being victims themselves, wholeheartedly empathized and unselfishly shared little blessings with one another. They also facilitated the relief operations in the parish, from the data gathering to the distribution of relief goods.

It was a blessing that each parish in the Diocese of Legaspi has established its own Parish Social Action Team whose members have grown competent through the disaster management seminars that the BEC program provides. BECs in particular are equipped with knowledge and skills on how to efficiently respond to disasters no matter the extent of devastation.

Reference: National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace Annual Report 2007, p58-61