BEC-Based Social Action Program: The Diocese of Marbel

MICROFINANCE PROGRAM

The Prelature of Marbel was elevated to a diocese on December 19, 1982. Experiences of massive human rights violations during the height of the Marcos regime pushed the diocese to strengthen the Social Action Apostolate. Inspired by the vision of a “worshipping, witnessing and serving community of disciples of Jesus Christ,” the social action apostolate is committed to “transform society in accordance with Gospel values and to build and strengthen the BECs as a new way of becoming a Church.”

To facilitate the realization of this mission, the Diocesan Social Action Center of Marbel joined the first batch of ten dioceses that implemented the Empowerment of Marginalized Sectors through BEC based Integral Evangelization Program in 2002. Enrolled in the program were 2,374 BEC members from 50 BECs in these five pilot parishes:

· Sto. Nino Parish, Bula, General Santos City;

· St. Anthony Parish, Koronadal City;

· Sto. Nino Parish, Sto. Nino, South Cotabato Province;

· Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Polomolok, South Cotobato Province;

· Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish, Banga, South Cotabato Province;

The first phase of the program focused on the social infrastructure and capability building of the Parish Social Action committees (PSACs) and BEC members to capacitate them in crafting, executing and managing their own social action projects. After three years of implementation, the diocese has attained notable accomplishments in various areas such as microfinance, sustainable agriculture, advocacy, health and organizational development.

THE DIOCESAN MICROFINANCE PROGRAM

There are few dioceses that could successfully implement microfinance projects in the BECs, and apparently, DSAC Marbel has discovered the correct formula. A total of 278 BEC members in four pilot parishes have accessed low-interest credit support from the program. Microfinance liberated them from the clutches of loan sharks.

The introduction of sustainable agriculture with a series of trainings and seminars for 472 BEC members resulted in the adoption of SA technology by 62 farmers and the establishment of 21 trial farms in 19 BECs and four parishes. The DSAC itself cultivates two diocesan backup and learning farms on sustainable agriculture. Massive education on sustainable use of resources and environmental protection resulted in the active involvement of BECs in advocacies and mobilization activities like the campaign against Bt Corn (GMO) and mining-practices that pose threaten their farms and the environment.

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Three BECs put into practice the waste segregation lectures of the Solid Waste Management Seminars. The health and nutrition seminars attended by 341 members of BECs facilitated the creation of health committees in five PSACs down to the BEC level. Forty (40) BEC members in four parishes regularly produce herbal medicines such as syrup, ointment and granule medicines. Individual and community herbal gardens can be found in ten pilot BECs.

THE LENTEN EVANGELIZATION PROGRAM

Using the integral approach, DSAC Marbel integrates the Alay Kapwa Program as an evangelization tool to sustain the BECs and support the social services of the DSAC. The educational campaign of Alay Kapwa focuses on deeper understanding on participation, unity and love for the poor, the suffering and the oppressed.

“BULA MICROCREDIT, THE BEC WAY”

A total of 1,007 members from 10 BECs were enrolled in the program in Sto. Nino Parish, Bula, General Santos City. The members of the 10 pilot BECs are mostly laborers and micro-entrepreneurs. Lack of alternative sources of income, however, remains to be the major problem. But BEC members in San Pablo and San Pedro are gradually overcoming this difficulty because of their implementation of the microcredit program.

At the start of the program, 65 BEC members remained unresponsive and unsupportive of community activities. But their socioeconomic difficulties compelled the parish to include them in NASSA’s BEC-based Integral Evangelization Program.

After almost a year of social preparation through capability-building on microcredit management, the program started full operation in March 2003. For the first loan release, thirty six (36) beneficiaries accessed funds to finance fish vending, retail stores, food vending, tuna embutido making, dried fish production and the like. The initial loan capital of Php155,000 eventually increased because of 100 percent repayment rate.

To date, five BECs in the parish are involved in the microcredit program. Ninety (90) beneficiaries have accessed a cumulative amount of Php627,759. Interest income from microcredit has already reached Php107,472. The BECs, PSAC, DSAC also receive certain percentage in the microcredit income to defray cost of operation and other services rendered to the BECs.

The successful implementation of microcredit in Bula provides additional knowledge and income to beneficiaries, especially the women who can now provide for daily necessities of their family like the education of their children. A total of 60 beneficiaries were liberated from loan sharks. BEC leaders and members are now equipped with business project management skills.

Another notable development is the attitude of BEC members who now find time to participate in BEC fellowship activities. The program transcended economic concerns by successfully cementing relationships among BEC members.

Reference: National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace Annual Report 2007, p74-76