Kalahi-CIDSS: Developing Environmental Advocates

“Just add five more pesos and you could reach heaven in a jiffy.”   This was a common joke about lot of communities in Northern Mindanao, referring to the distance and difficulty in reaching these areas. Some of these could be reached by riding a habal-habal (a powerful motorcycle usually used as a passenger vehicle), a passenger jeepney if the area is fortunate enough to have public utility vehicles going to and from there, a big 4x4 SUV, or a kumong-kumong (six-wheeled trucks commonly used for logging). More often than not, however, a pair of two strong legs is what residents use in order to go to the neighboring barangays or the poblacion.

Barangay Singalat is one of the communities in the outskirts of the municipality of Calamba in Misamis Occidental, which shares mountain ranges with the municipalities of Sapang Dalaga and Concepcion. The nearest neighboring barangay might just be seven kilometers away, but getting to Singalat is far from easy, what with the difficult terrain and the almost-nonexistent access road. To get to and from the community, one will need to travel for two and a half hours, traversing steep slopes and crossing several rivers and creeks. Alternatively, a person can take a vehicle to reach the barangay, although the experience might seem like an endless rollercoaster ride to some. As a result of this, minimal goods and services reach Singalat.

Despite these difficult circumstances, the residents of Barangay Singalat still feel hopeful that their living conditions will improve. One of the things that they believed will help them achieve this is the improvement of the roads leading to their barangay. They felt that if their barangay had better access to the poblacion and the neighboring barangays, they will be able to receive the services they needed.

“Kung matarong lang kining among dalan, sigurado ako nga dali ra moabot ang serbisyo sa atong gobyerno diri sa amo. Karon man gud, tungod kay lisod man abton kining among lugar, mapugos among mga estudyante sa high school nga didto mopuyo sa sentro aron sila maka tungha kay wala man mi skwelahan sa high school diri kay maglisod man ug himo sa skwelahan tungod sa kalayo ug kadaot sa dalan (If only our roads were in better condition, government services would reach our barangay easily. Right now, our high school students are forced to live in the Poblacion to be able to go to their classes because we do not have a high school here. Building one in our barangay is close to impossible because access is difficult)”, Barangay Chairman Severino Bucog said.

The worsening condition of the access road of Brgy. Singalat was said to be due to the prevalence of logging, both legal and illegal, in the area. “Sukad ako bata pa, duna na gayud mga loggers diri sa among lugar, pero nisamot ug kadaghan na sa mga gapamutol ug kahoy karon. Duna man gud mga sapian dinhi sa MisamisOccidental nga nanag-iya ug mga yuta dinhing dapita nga nagtanum ug mga kahoy. Pero kasagaran nga gaputol dinhi illegal kay diri man sila gaputol sa bukid na gyud, unya dili sila ang tag-iya anang mga yuta-a (Since I was a child, logging has already been present in our area, but this has become worse and more rampant as time went by. There are a lot of well-off families in Misamis Occidental who own lands here and have planted trees in these. But mostly, those operating in the area are illegal loggers, because they operate in forests areas/lands that they do not own), Barangay Treasurer Nineta Maglana shared.

The people of Brgy. Singalat were aware of the situation but felt powerless about it, believing that they could not do anything about it. Bucog shared that the logging situation has caused the destruction of the access road going to their barangay, but they felt helpless because although they raised the issue to the Local Government Unit and to other government agencies, it remained unsolved. “Dugay na namo kini gi-reklamo apan aduna pa gihapon mga loggers sa among lugar. Nagkadugay nagsamot na kangil-ad among dalan. Salamat nalang sa atong Ginoo kay na prioritize mi sa Kalahi-CIDSS, maayo na gayud kining among dalan (We complained about the problem to those in authority but logging continued. The longer the operations continue, the worse our roads become. But we are thankful to God that we were prioritized in the Kalahi-CIDSS project, so now, our roads will improve)”, Chairman Bucog said.

Kalahi-CIDSS, or Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services is one of the three poverty alleviation programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It uses the community-driven development (CDD) approach, a strategy that builds up on the capacities of residents so that they themselves will be able to identify and resolve problems that contribute to their community’s poverty situation.

During the conduct of the Local Government Unit (LGU) Assessment for Barangay Singalat, Engr. Roel Jumao-as, the Regional Community Infrastructure Specialist of Kalahi-CIDSS, explained how sustainability is one of the key elements of Kalahi-CIDSS. Before the barangay sub-project is completed, a fool-proof Operations and Maintenance plan must already be prepared to ensure the sustainability of said community project. This ensures that the funded sub-projects will be kept operational and in good condition so that the future generations of the community may be able to benefit from these.

After explaining this to the community, Engr. Jumao-as posted a challenge to the community: they had to ensure that their .84-kilometer farm-to-market road has to be kept in good condition after it was built.

“Dili nato matago ang kamatuoran nga anaay logging sa inyong lugar. Kung magpadayon gihapon kining logging, sigurado gyud ako nga maguba gihapon kining dalan sa mga kumong-kumong. Karon, unsa man ang inyong solusyon niini? Na aba kita’y mabuhat ani nga problema?” Engr. Jumao-as inquired. (We cannot hide the fact that logging is rampant in your area. If the operations will continue, I am sure the road will be destroyed by the kumong-kumong that will pass by the area. Now, I ask you, what will be your solution to this dilemma? Is there something that we could do to solve this problem?)”

Roger Alabado, the Kalahi-CIDSS Regional Community Project Specialist, echoed Engr. Jumao-as’s challenge, reminding the community that the Project upheld certain social and environmental safeguards. He reiterated how important it was for the community to become aware of the different social and environmental issues affecting them.

“Atong hinumduman nga kita adunay obligasyon sa kinaiyahan ug sa katilingban. Dili nato itugot nga ang atong mga proyekto maoy mahimong hinungdan nga maabusar hinuon ang atong kinaiyahan ug matudluan atong katilingban sa butang nga dili maayo. Kun mahuman na kining atong sub-project, basin na hinuon modaghan ang mga loggers nga mosulod dinhi kay aduna na sila’y maagihan paingon sa bukid. Kinahanglan ato kining maatiman nga problema (Let us remember that we have an obligation to protect our nature and uphold social decency. We must never allow our projects to be the tools of abusing our nature and promoting social insensitivity. I fear that if our sub-project is completed, it might encourage more loggers to operate because they will have better access to the area. We have to deal with this matter)”, Mr. Alabado reminded the volunteers.

This was already foreseen by the community. Led by their Community Facilitator Edgar Gudmalin and the rest of the Area Coordinating Team (ACT), the field staff of Kalahi-CIDSS, and its LGU counterpart the Municipal Coordinating Team (MCT), they came up with a plan to solve the problem.

A barangay resolution is on the way banning all logging operations in the area. Gudmalin even encouraged the community to come up with a community signature campaign condemning any logging operations in the area.

The ACT and the MCT also met with Hon. Luisito Vilanueva Jr., Municipal Mayor of Calamba, Misamis Occidental, and brought the matter to the mayor’s attention. The Mayor supported the resolution of the barangay to ensure that the sub-project will serve its purpose well.

“Human kana gidala nga isyu sa akong opisina, amo kanang gipangitaan ug paagi. Gihatagan namo ang mga adunay kayutaan sa lugar nga anaa-ay mga tanom nga kahoy ug panahon nga maputol nila ang ilang mga tanum. Kung masugdan na ang sub-project, ato na gayud ibawal ang logging sa lugar. Mag-assign kita ug mga tao nga maoy mobantay diha aron maprotektahan ang dalan (After the issue was raised, we made sure we found a way to solve the problem. We gave time to those who owned lands in the area to finish harvesting their logs. After that, once the sub-project is started, we will no longer allow all logging operations in the area. We will assign persons to man the area for loggers),” Mayor Villanueva said.

These are all plans. How to put them in action is another matter. But the people of Brgy. Singalat, after years of longing to have better road access to the Poblacion where they will be able to sell their products, promised to take care of this “God-given gift” to their community. With the cooperation of the Local Government Unit of Calamba, this endeavor of sustaining this farm-to-market road, will finally be attained.

The Kalahi-CIDSS Project does not only provide infrastructure projects to the community. Above all else, the Project gives the community and the LGU an opportunity for the community to make their lives better through their own hard work and determination, and an opportunity for the LGU to improve their governance by maximizing on the needs of their constituents with the help of the DSWD.