Power couple: Senior citizens in service
Basey, Samar - Their plan was to spend their twilight years back here in their hometown, so they can enjoy the rural life, after having devoted their productive years in Tacloban City.
But they slowly found themselves becoming actively involved in the community activities of Barangay Basiao, coming to a head in their support of the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process (GPBP) initiative being implemented through the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Kalahi-CIDSS uses the community-driven development (CDD) approach and provides citizens from the poorest municipalities across the Philippines with trainings so they can gain knowledge and skills to access resources and implement projects that will help them address their community’s most pressing needs.
Primo, 69, and Elpha “Eden” Paloma, 67, have no complaints, as they are able to do what they love doing: to be of service to their fellowmen.
Even if they're already senior citizens, Primo and Eden Paloma don't regret serving their fellow citizens in Barangay Basiao in Basey, Samar
They were looking forward to relaxing after their retirement, Primo from his work in the Commission on Elections, and Eden from her job as a stenographer at the city fiscal’s office.
Their three children – an engineer, a doctor, and a nurse – all had established careers of their own, so they were hoping to spend some time together.
“Para kaming mga bagong asawa kasi hindi na nakatira sa amin ang mga anak namin (We are like newlyweds because our children no longer live with us),” Primo said with a twinkle in his eye.
However, circumstances did not go according to plan. Instead of the quiet life they were anticipating, they found themselves being approached by their fellow residents in Barangay Basiao, who complained to them about the poor condition of their village. Given their heart for service, they tried to help out as much as they could.
Eventually, however, they realized that without the cloak of authority, they would not be able to trigger lasting changes in the village. This prompted Eden to run for Kagawad in 2010.
Their children originally went against this decision.
Eden recalled, “Noong una, ayaw talaga nila akong tumakbo. Sinabihan ako ng mga anak kong sakit lang ng ulo iyan (At first, my children did not want me to run. They told me that this will only give me headaches).”
Still, Eden pushed through with running for public office, even though it was Primo, not she, who hailed from Barangay Basiao, as she was originally from the Poblacion.
“Hindi ko pa kilala ang mga tao (I did not know the people),” she said.
Despite this concern, she managed to be elected as one of the barangay officials.
It was in her capacity as a Kagawad that she was approached by the day care center teacher in mid-2013, asking for her help in getting a new day care center, as the building was already too small to accommodate the increasing number of pupils.
Eden explained, “Dati kasi, 21 lang ang estudyante kaya nakaya pa sa lumang day care center, pero ngayon hindi na kaya dahil sa Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (In the past, the day care center was able to accommodate the pupils as there were only 21 of them, but it cannot do so any longer because of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program).”
Pantawid Pamilya is the conditional cash transfer program of the DSWD. One of its conditionalities is sending children to school, which is why the day care center now has more pupils compared to the past.
With over 100 Pantawid Pamilya families in Brgy. Basiao, the day care center, which was a small room below the barangay hall, had no space to accommodate the children.
Adding to the problem was the lack of facilities.
Eden shared, “Ang mga bata, kanya-kanyang bitbit ng upuan. Iyong mga hindi makabili ng upuan, ginagawaan ng magulang mula sa kahoy (The children had to bring their own chairs to the day care center. Parents who could not afford to buy seats had to construct these out of wood).”
She said, “Kami na walang maliit na anak, naawa sa mga bata (We pitied the small children even if we no longer had our own),” she said.
Eden had already drafted a letter of request and prepared the necessary paperwork for the construction of a new day care center for Brgy. Basiao when someone from DSWD came to their village and told them that the facility was actually already programmed for construction through the Kalahi-CIDSS.
Eden remembered feeling mystified by the staff who approached her.
She recalled thinking, “Ang alam ko lang sa Kalahi-CIDSS [ay] irigasyon, hindi eskwelahan (I thought Kalahi-CIDSS was for irrigation, not schools).”
Still, she felt herself becoming optimistic with the news given to her, especially since on that first visit, the staff already took the measurements of the area where the day care center will be constructed. She became even excited with what the Kalahi-CIDSS staff told her next.
She shared, “Sinabihan ako ng taga-Kalahi-CIDSS na ma-swerte daw kami (I was told by the person from Kalahi-CIDSS that we are lucky).”
She was told that all of the requirements needed for the construction of the day care center, including the deed of donation, have already been prepared, so they had no problems with pushing through with this.
The next hurdle was getting the residents of Brgy. Basiao involved in the implementation.
The Kalahi-CIDSS processed which involves citizens to become active participants in the local development processes, in partnership with the local government unit (LGU), appealed to Eden.
She recognized the significance of Kalahi-CIDSS saying, “May transparency. Iyong tao ang pinupuntahan, hindi ang taas ang nagdidikta (There is transparency. The program goes to the citizens, instead of those in power dictating what should be done).”
She added, “Meron namang Barangay Development Council (BDC) na may representatives sa sectors, pero sa Kalahi-CIDSS, ang tao lahat kasama (While the BDC involves representatives per sector, Kalahi-CIDSS involves everyone).”
It turned out Eden was not the only one who liked what Kalahi-CIDSS had to offer. When the Kalahi-CIDSS staff called for the first assembly, Brgy. Basiao had no problem with meeting the minimum 80% barangay participation, partly because Eden visited the homes of the Pantawid Pamilya households to inform them that they will finally be able to get a new day care center for their children.
She said, “Cooperative ang mga magulang basta para sa anak nila (The parents are cooperative if it is for their children).”
She added that this behavior change can be attributed to Pantawid Pamilya. Parents have become more concerned about the welfare of their children.
Eden said that the day care center is now also being used as a venue for the Supplementary Feeding Program (SFP) for children where they are given hot meals during their breaks. SFP is DSWD’s initiative to prevent hunger and malnutrition among day care children.
As of April 14, some 1.6 million children from 41,531 day care centers nationwide have benefitted from the program.
In Eastern Visayas alone, 11, 436 children from 328 day care centers have availed of the SFP.
It was during one of the barangay assemblies that Primo also found himself thrust in a leadership position when he was unexpectedly voted by his fellow residents as the Barangay Sub-Project Management Committee (BSPMC) Chairperson, the de facto head of the Kalahi-CIDSS volunteers for the implementation of the day care center.
Primo recalled, laughing, “Nag-nominate pa ako ng ibang tao para maging lider, hindi ko napansin na ako na pala ang napili nila (I actually nominated someone else to serve as the leader. I did not notice that they already picked me).”
Like his wife, he strongly supported Kalahi-CIDSS’ thrust of involving citizens in the decision-making process.
He said, “Maganda ang Kalahi-CIDSS kasi galing mula sa baba, hindi galing sa officials (What makes Kalahi-CIDSS good is that the decisions come from the people, not from the officials).”
What the couple did not expect was that their decision to support Kalahi-CIDSS had political implications. Kalahi-CIDSS was identified with Eden because she was the one who facilitated its entry in the barangay. As such, her political rival expressed his sentiments opposing this.
Eden said, “Sinabi pa niya na papuputol niya ang kanyang kamay kung papasok ang Kalahi-CIDSS dito sa barangay (He said that he will have his hand cut if Kalahi-CIDSS will be implemented in our community).”
She explained that her rival wanted the funds and the implementation to be done by the officials, which was contrary to what Kalahi-CIDSS and she were fighting for.
This prompted her to run for Barangay Captain.
She explained, “Hindi ko nga gustong tumakbo na Barangay Captain, pero sabi ko sa sarili ko, baka sila na naman ang masusunod. Hindi sila ang magdedesisyon. Ang mga tao talaga (I did not want to run as barangay captain, but I told myself that it may end up with the officials calling the shots again They should not make the decisions. It should be the people).”
The stance of the people on her fight – as well as that of her spouse and of Kalahi-CIDSS – was made apparent when she was elected as barangay captain in 2013.
No political aspirations
Despite being placed in positions of leadership, Eden and Primo insist that they have no political aspirations, saying they just wanted to help their community.
She said, “Matanda na kami, wala na kaming ambisyon (We are old, we no longer have ambitions).”
She continued, “Walang pulitika sa amin. Gusto lang talaga naming tumulong (We are not politically motivated. We just want to help).”
Their fight for transparency and for community involvement perfectly matched Kalahi-CIDSS’ advocacy, which is why they – as well the entire barangay – are supporting it.
Eden explained that it was through Kalahi-CIDSS that the people became aware about their right to be involved in decisions involving local development.
She said, “Todo-suporta ang mga tao kasi nasa isip nila na dapat marinig ang boses nila (The people are giving their full support because it is their voices that will be heard).”
Their support for community-driven development is such that they have started to adapt the processes of the Kalahi-CIDSS even outside its implementation.
For example, Eden immediately called for a barangay meeting when she and the other barangay captains were given the directive to identify which barangay structures need to be prioritized for repair.
Instead of dictating which buildings should be reconstructed first, she instead chose to let the people make the decision.
This was not the case in the past, when the local officials did not seek community consultations and instead called the shots.
When asked why they were adamant in supporting CDD despite their age, Eden had this to say, “Last na namin ito. Gusto namin na ituloy ng susunod na henerasyon ang ipinaglalaban namin (This is our last hurrah. We want the future generations to continue fighting our cause).”
To which Primo added, smiling, “Kung nasa Tacloban kami, puro lang kami tulog doon. Dito sa Basey, marami kaming ginagawa (If we stayed in Tacloban, we would have just slept all day long. We are active here in Basey).” ###