Philippines: Catholic Church shares post-‘Yolanda’ recovery gains
By Ronald Reyes
A religious leader said the Catholic Church has learned so much from the three-year post-“Yolanda” recovery in central Philippines, in terms of helping improve future humanitarian response.
Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)/Caritas Philippines, said in an interview Friday that they have innovated a lot, drawing from experiences after the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda back in 2013.
“(We) have learned so much from our three-year ‘Yolanda’ response that we were able to improve tremendously in terms of how we do humanitarian response since Typhoon Ruby in 2014,” Gariguez said.
"And today, it is befitting to celebrate the major innovations that we were able to accomplish, together with the Caritas Internationalis Confederation,” he added.
The priest said the three-year recovery and rehabilitation program of NASSA, the humanitarian, development, and advocacy arm of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, officially began in 2014. The program concluded this week.
He said in the past five years, the Catholic Church was able to harness the localization of humanitarian response, including resource mobilization, and strengthening collaborations among faith-based organizations.
The religious organization also developed peace-building and volunteer mobilization in conflict situations, digitized conditional cash transfer programming, and the establishment of the Center for Resiliency, Empowerment and Integral Development, the country’s first social action academy.
Other innovations include community-based livelihood and sustainable agriculture, community-led rehabilitation initiatives through the Pope Francis Village, the institutionalization of convergence between the communities and the government, and the localization of international partnerships.
The Church also showcased its ongoing initiative to digitize the results of the Participatory Disaster Risk Assessment mapping, which they called “Digital PH”. It was named by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund as one of the three best humanitarian innovations in the world in 2017, Gariguez said.
“Before ‘Yolanda’, we were struggling to find ways to implement our programs. Today, we are presenting to you the innovations we have shaped in the last five years, in order to efficiently and effectively serve the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable,” he said.
More than 30,000 families in “Yolanda”-hit areas in the central Philippines benefitted as the Catholic Church ended its PHP3.2 billion rehabilitation and reconstruction program for typhoon victims.
“In 2013, we at Caritas Philippines didn’t even think that we’d be capable of implementing what would be the Church’s most massive, largest-funded and most comprehensive humanitarian response,” Gariguez said, adding that the Church’s response was a “success.”
It focused mainly on shelter, livelihood, water, sanitation and health, community organizing, community-managed disaster risk reduction, ecosystems recovery, and institutional capacity building.
“Based on the record, we’re able to construct more than 30,000 houses for ‘Yolanda’ survivors. This is very significant compared to the accomplishment made by the government. And this is not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of the quality,” Gariguez said.
He added that the Church’s housing program is “more integrated.”
“We provide other services like water, electricity, and livelihood,” Gariguez said, noting that they have already wrapped up their projects.
The priest said that the Church’s post-“Yolanda” response was implemented directly by Caritas Philippines, and bilaterally by Caritas Internationalis member organizations -- Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Caritas Switzerland, Caritas Italiana, Caritas Belgium, Caritas Germany, Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, Caritas Austria, and Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid (Cordaid)
“Caritas Internationalis Confederation was really instrumental in ensuring not only that we have funds, but that we are accompanied by experts in the field of livelihoods, community organizing, institutional capacity building, and especially in the shelter sector. That is why we were able to accomplish so many things,” he added.
“Each of the Caritas organization doing bilateral programs in the dioceses also ensured that we collaborate successfully, thus maximizing all available resources, reaching more than 1.4 million Filipinos,” Gariguez said.
He maintained that being able to build more than 30,000 shelter units “speak of the dedication and commitment of the Catholic Church to better the lives and restore the dignity of the most vulnerable communities and families affected by Typhoon Yolanda.”
“We are very proud of this accomplishment, yet humbled by the experience,” he said.
Jing Rey Henderson, NASSA’s communication and partnership development manager, said the houses were constructed in the provinces of Leyte, Samar, Eastern Samar, Palawan, Cebu, Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz, Antique, and other areas hit by the storm.
“The Church’s response also includes on-site construction and establishment of relocation sites, in partnership with the local churches, government units, other state agencies, and private stakeholders,” Henderson said.
Following the theme, “Haiyan and Beyond: Localization, Partnership Building and Resilience”, the Catholic Church held an activity on Saturday to celebrate the best of humanitarian innovation in the Philippines.
The event was attended by top officials and representatives of Caritas partner organizations and other international humanitarian aid groups.
Development and Peace program officer Jess Agustin talked about how the “critical challenges” during “Yolanda” brought links and creative tension among various aid organizations.
Based on their experience, Agustin reflected on how “Yolanda” resulted in “staggering destruction,” “logistic nightmare,” and at the same time how the storm became a direct link to climate change and demands for climate justice.
Agustin also discussed the vicious cycle of chronic poverty, inequality, powerlessness, disaster, and vulnerability of the “Yolanda” victims.
The lessons brought by the killer typhoon also inspired the Development and Peace to launch its “model” community housing in Tacloban City through the construction of 566 housing that cost PHP300,000 each.
Joli Torella of Urban Poor Associates, a member of the consortium that built the Pope Francis Village, said they are proud of their works at the village, following the participatory-driven approach in its planning and construction.
He also shared how the Development and Peace’s 47-minute documentary titled, “After the Storm: Building the Pope Francis Village”, chronicled the empowered Yolanda survivors in building their new community.
Torella maintained that the community-driven approach is quite a challenge, but important in doing rehabilitation work.
Fr. Alcris Badana, director of Caritas Palo relief and rehabilitation unit, said they have maximized all the help they could do to bring aid.
He has drawn learnings from “Yolanda”, saying that “community-managed disaster risk reduction convergence is very important.”
“Caritas Palo organized convergence sessions to build solidarity across sectors and communities to harness their potential in addressing disasters,” Badana said.
Felix Miguel Sanchez, the country representative of Caritas Española, also highlighted the success story on localization in Caritas' partnership, based on Caritas Española’s experience in bilateral programming in connection with the “Yolanda” response.
He discussed the confederation’s opportunity to renew and improve commitment to partnership in the delivery of aid, saying that solidarity, openness, transparency, honesty, accountability, and professionalism are important.