THE JOURNEY WITH THE HOMELESS PEOPLE
PACSII’S SHORT HISTORICAL NARRATIVE
“If you can’t fly, then run,
if you can’t run, then walk,
if you can’t walk, then crawl,
but by all means keep moving.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The journey with the homeless people in their pursuit of their dream is at the core of the narrative of the Philippine Action for Community-Led Shelter Initiatives Inc. (PACSII). Its founder, the late Fr. Norberto ‘Bebot’ Carcellar, a Vincentian priest of the Congregation of the Mission, saw destitution and suffering with his naked eyes as he immersed himself in the life situations of the poor. He literally and figuratively dealt with the suffocating stench coming from a nearby open pit dumpsite as he lived with the slum-dwellers and scavengers in Payatas, one of the biggest squatter colonies in Metro Manila. He realized that because of the so many frustrations in life, the poor find it difficult to fly high in dreaming for a much better life. With shattered dreams, running or walking along the road of personal growth and community development was indeed a great challenge for many. Having been marginalized, without a sense of security and even self-worth, many had to crawl in order to survive. They cannot stop! Move they must! Martin Luther King, Jr. is right when he said, “… by all means (they have to) keep moving!”
People’s decision to move forward in their journey of life becomes possible when they are recognized in their reality, encouraged to dream dreams, and empowered in their capabilities to build their lives and address their problems. PACSII’s story is really about that journey which we will expound in this brief historical account. First, the narrative began with an originary inspiration and a clear vision that emerged from the realities of poverty and destitution. Second, such foundational experience gave way to a process of institutionalization, where organizational structures and system were put up. Third, what started as a simple initiative eventually expanded beyond new frontiers and local boundaries. Fourth, such expansion gave way to new opportunities for partnership and network in the process of consolidation of shared and collaborated initiatives. Fifth, the immediate process of growth and development also gave way to certain crises and serious challenges. Sixth, just like any crisis, its experience of crossing over during the period of transition allows the emergence of new energy and greater fervor.
BEGINNINGS WITH GREAT VISION AND ORIGINARY INSPIRATIONS… (Foundational Phase)
It was in the year 1987, when the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin entrusted the whole area of Payatas B to the pastoral care of the Vincentian priests and brothers. Before the entry of the Vincentians to the said mission territory, the Jesuits were the ones ministering to the communities in the different parts of what eventually became the new parish in 1988. Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, along with his seminarians of San Jose Seminary, of which he was the rector then, was the one working in the center, called Urban. The 500-hectare property, which was initially being developed to be a high-end subdivision, eventually became a relocation site for slum-dwellers coming from different parts of Quezon City, shortly after the fall of the Marcoses from power because of the EDSA revolution in 1986. Jun Simon, the Quezon City mayor that time allowed them to move there and occupy the whole place, a decision he had to defend in the courts years after he left his mayoral office.
PAYATAS DUMPSITE IN QUEZON CITY
Shortly after they settled in the area, the Vincentians started working in the newly created parish. The first parish priest, Fr. Vic Pacheco, CM, requested for the organization of the Vincentian popular mission to jumpstart the pastoral process for the different urban poor communities. About 10 mission teams inserted themselves for three weeks in the lives of the poor. Such immersion experience made the missionaries understand better the situation of the homeless. Such encounter also led to people’s deeper appreciation of their faith and the consequent demand to be involved in the building of the parish through the organization of the Basic Ecclesial Communities. In 1990, Fr. ‘Bebot’ was assigned in the parish and made all the efforts to see more closely their reality. In response to the needs he appreciated, he expanded the parish’s social welfare programs for the poor. He started the community-based Rehabilitation for Disabled Children, Children Rehabilitation Program for Scavengers, Programs for the Elderly, Community Health Based Program, Payatas Scavengers’ Program, Microfinance Program, and Child Care Program, among others.
In 1998, Fr Bebot introduced a savings program, which received overwhelming support from Payatas residents. Scavengers, transport operators, mothers and school children eagerly put their funds in safekeeping, having no access to bank-like facilities. In time, communities found that the savings they accumulated, backed by their passbooks, were important tools for negotiating land purchase and getting government support. Soon enough, Fr Bebot saw the need to organize the communities around housing concerns.
Henceforth, the landless people in Payatas and in other provinces where the savings program spread, found a way tool to realize their vision to have a secured, affordable, and decent housing. Their need to work together to realize their vision became even more urgent following a tragedy that happened on July 10, 2000 where over 500 shanties got buried due to the avalanche of the mountainous garbage, trapping and killing over 1000 persons. Through the concerted effort founded on the spirit of solidarity among the members, those who survived and lost the little they had and the people they loved, were able to cope with the crisis.
BUILDING STRUCTURES AND SYSTEMS OF THE ORGANIZATION… (Institutional Phase)
Out of the communities throughout Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, saving, securing homes, and learning together, grew the Homeless People’s Federation Incorporated. Community organizations, supported by regional coordinating hubs, came together nationally and registered as a legal entity with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2000 as the Homeless People’s Federation Philippines Inc. (HPFPI).
Organizational structures and systems had to be established in order to ensure that the vision and mission are achieved, services are efficiently delivered, and relationships among the members and officers are enhanced. The people were empowered to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate their own activities and programs. Technical, finance and legal expert supported the communities in their work while also training community leaders to have similar technical knowledge. Seminars para-legal education, simple accounting, para-engineering, and good urban governance, were carried out with the view of applying the skills and knowledge. Community leaders did their own bookkeeping, researched land titles, participated in housing design, processed land development permits and engaged local governments. Enrichment sessions were held alongside community organization. Topics such as organizational development, managing group finances, estate management were provided, among others.
All this time, Fr. Bebot facilitated the organization of communities and launched the social welfare programs through the Vincentian Missionaries Social Development Foundation Inc. (VMSDFI), of the Congregation of the Mission. But with the fast growth of community organizations, specifically in the pursuit of their vision and mission in building decent housing for the poor in depressed areas, VMSDFI, as a Church-based foundation, was considered to best focus on particular forms of commitments while housing concerns had to be supported through another vehicle that was focused entirely on the development and growth of the Federation. Thus in 2002 came the birth of the Philippine Action for Community-Led Shelter Initiatives (PACSII).
PACSII constituted a network of technical and management support to the Homeless People’s Federation. Its Board and Management consisted of the full complement of technical areas that enabled community-led initiatives towards securing land tenure and home for the homeless. These included professionals from the following fields: building and construction, engineers, finance, law, policy research and business management.
Professionals, young scholars and like-minded advocates, mostly coming from other NGOs and POs, volunteered to help in different capacities, as an expression of solidarity with the homeless. Together they saw their own advocacy aligned with that of PACSII. They shared the vision of PACSII which aimed at contributing to the “transformation of urban poor and informal settler communities into secure, safe, resilient, self-determining and inclusive urban communities with sustainable economic and ecological development.” As a non-profit and non-stock non-governmental organization duly registered with the Philippine Security and Exchange Commission on July 4, 2002,” PACSII sees itself an “intermediary support institution to the HPFPI, in community associations and savers, pursuing community-led housing and upgrading processes.”
PACSII grew even more as it responded to the growing needs of the HPFPI. In time, PACSII and its partners decided that it focus its mandate on supporting the capacity, operations and internal governance of the HPFP, consisting of national, regional and community-level organizations, a tall order by itself. While doing so, it transferred technical functions to new and specialized organizations that can service HPFP communities all over the country. The Philippine Alliance was thus formed. Apart from PACSII, the Philippine Alliance consists of the following bodies:
Technical Assistance Movement for People and Environment Inc. (TAMPEI) which was established in 2010 in order to provide support to the federation for its needs of architectural and engineering designs, plans, monitoring and evaluation.
LinkBuild (LB) which was organized as a social enterprise in 2014 in order to “provide development finance and to deliver innovative housing projects for urban poor living in informal settlements and high-risk areas across the Philippines.” (see website of LinkBuild).
The Community Resources for the Advancement of Capable Societies (CoRE-ACS) which was founded in 2014 “as a community development enterprise engaged in developing capacities of communities particularly the informal settlers to access financial services for their homes and livelihoods.” (see website).
The organic growth of PACSII likewise enabled a horizontal or expansionary growth to other regions of the country and beyond.
EXPLORING NEW FRONTIERS BEYOND LOCAL BOUNDARIES… (The Expansion Phase)
What started in Payatas spread like wildfire to the other regions, specifically in parishes where the Vincentians where present like in Muntinlupa, Iloilo and Cebu. Representatives from the urban poor in those parishes were invited to a one-week exposure in Payatas where they helped bookkeeping and learned the operations. When they returned to their parishes or communities, they started their own Savings Mobilization and also other similar programs like the ones for the Elderly, Community-Based Rehabilitation for persons with disability. Those communities affiliated themselves as members of the Homeless People’s Federation.
More groups and communities coming from the different parts of NCR, like Montalban, Valenzuela, and Quezon City (Tandang Sora, Batasan, and Bagong Silangan) as well as those in different regions like Davao, Digos, Kidapawan, Camarines Norte, and Albay, got attracted and joined the federation. The main entry point in many of the later expansions was based mainly on the Savings Mobilization Program. This program was meant to prepare the communities to build their capacities toward mutual support in general, and land acquisition and house construction in particular. Their savings represented the communities’ counterpart stake that allowed them to leverage government support, financial assistance and donor partnerships, through the facilitation of HPFPI and PACSII. Being responsible for federation building and growth, PACSII is invariably tasked by donors to conduit funding support which enables both PACSII and HPFPI to set up and constantly improve accountability frameworks and mechanisms within the HPFPI and between both organizations. The vision is to develop self-sustaining and self-managing communities driven to creating solutions and harnessing mutual support through networked approaches.
With more communities from different regions becoming part of HPFPI, the Federation has now become “a nationwide network of urban poor communities helping each other to attain security of tenure and improved quality of life through self-help and community-driven initiatives. Its purpose is to promote savings program in all the member communities of the Federation to support their own development.” (See website of HPFPI).
Just as the local communities got affiliated with the HPFPI, representatives of the Federation is strengthened through international affiliations through their participation in international encounters, conferences or fora. A good number of local leaders were given this privilege to have exposure to other countries in Asia like India, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, East Timor and Mongolia. Going more global, they were exposed to other continents like Africa, Europe, Central and South America. Leaders participated in World Urban Forum to share their own best practices as well as to learn from other urban poor communities in other regions. Some of our leaders had the pleasure and the privilege to participate in a global encounter of urban poor communities, organized by the Vatican in 2014.
ESTABLISHING PARTNERSHIP AND NETWORKS… (Consolidation Phase)
Since its inception, PACSII along with the HPFPI, has had an increasingly extensive network of partners. Among them are the following: Homeless International (HI) in the United Kingdom, now Reall; The Servicio Latino-Americano, Africano, y Asiatico de Vivienda Popular (SELAVIP) based in Santiago, Chile; International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London; Slum-Dwellers International (SDI) in South Africa; Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), in Bangkok; MISEREOR, Germany; Institute of Environmental Science (ESS), and Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC), among others.
PACSII, with the HPFPI, has pursued both small or big projects that could bring about the development in the communities. Normally, projects have come through the generosity and goodwill of the partner organization who gave grants on the basis of the proposals submitted and approved. Partnership in some cases did not only stay in the level of project support, there had been affiliations which have resulted to deeper level of collaboration. In some cases, HPFPI has become permanent representations in regional and international coalitions.
Having established a worldwide network, especially among those who champion the agenda of the poor and the homeless, PACSII has also earned respect and recognition not only in the local context, but also in the global stage. It’s founder and prime-mover, Fr. Bebot received citations and awards, and was invited to be part of think-tank groups, like the one of the Congregation of the Mission’s team on Systemic Change, organized by Fr. Robert Maloney, CM after his term as Superior General. Fr Bebot’s approach was recognized to be quite unique, different from what many non-government organizations normally do. His desire to make people manage their own programs, projects and funds, which led to their greater empowerment, may have unsettled some NGOs, but also delighted observers and practitioners in the field of social development. For his innovative systemic change approach, he was granted an international award “OPUS PRIZE” on November 8, 2007 for his work with the homeless people. Especially with the monetary grant that came along with the award, Fr. Bebot shared the same to the homeless through extended assistance to their community projects.
OVERCOMING CRISIS AND CROSSING OVER TO NEW REALITIES… (Transition Phase)
When the HPFPI grew, in terms of membership, geographical coverage, fund support and access, and logistical needs, PACSII’s organizational structures and systems had to catch up with the speed of growth of the HPFP’s membership. Especially with the vision of empowering the local communities to run and manage their own operations, including the financial component of the programs, new communities had to be trained and oriented, current communities needed routine monitoring and visitations. Where PACSII maintains a staff in the region to work in tandem with the HPFP regional coordinators, it had not been able to recruit sufficiently when staff turnover took place.
Assistance to new communities hit by disaster had meant that the outreach of HPFPI in some regions or subregions had to relax savings requirements in favour of extending quick support to relocation and rebuilding. Hence, in some sub-regions, disaster and eviction responses also led to a good number of community associations being affiliated first before receiving traditional social preparation and without yet the routine of savings and community formation. It must be noted however that other disaster-hit communities did mobilize savings which gave them confidence to rebuild. As a result, the HPFP and PACSII are going through a process of rebuilding its roots and strengthening their ranks of members.
Meanwhile, the untimely death of Fr. Bebot on May 13, 2014, dealt a blow to the Philippine Alliance. Fr Bebot was a visionary and constantly challenged the HPFPI and the Philippine Alliance to soar new heights, so to speak, be constantly responsive to new and emerging challenges the poor face with their settlement. Throughout the deep sadness shared by all and the organizational crisis faced then, the PACSII Board Members, management team and HPFP leaders persisted. It is completing its institutional audit in compliance with donor and national legal requirements. Each of the Philippine Alliance members had its organizational audit and development process, where it identified areas for improving governance, business processes and human resource capacities.
EMERGING WITH NEW ENERGY AND GREATER FERVOR…(The Renewal Phase)
We recognize the ill-effects of the crisis brought about by the COVID 19 Pandemic, especially in terms of the health and overall well-being of people. But more so the consequent lockdown of our cities and regions have had tremendous impacts on the lives, food security and livelihood of the urban poor and the homeless people.
Yet if there is a positive effect of the crisis to our urban communities, it is to make the members of the federation get mobilized to help address the problem of hunger and frustration of people who were forced by the Government to stay home but with a little provision that the latter can offer.
As indicated in the report on the response of the HPFPI to the COVID Crisis, we have seen the communities coming alive, with each of the family recognizing the importance of being part of the organization. PACSII’s effort to raise funds and mobilize resources for the communities gave new energy to the communities as well as to their recognition of PACSII as an important partner in their way of coping with the situation.
HPFPI is not new to disaster response, yet at this unprecedented scale, the crisis has given reason for all communities to reorganize themselves according to the new normal, addressing situations toward greater resilience during times of disaster. They realize that some level of self-sufficiency is necessary for community and household resiliency. They see that their savings mobilization served them well during the lockdown. After seeing the responsiveness of HPFPI and PACSII, with the support of donors and benefactors, inactive members have come back and some past-due borrowers have recommitted to paying their loans requesting a restructuring of loan payments.. The crisis also gave opportunity for the regions to carry out surveys and update their community profile and membership. The lockdown has made people realize that they have to address food security, issues on women and children, special attention for vulnerable people, like those with disabilities, etc. The mobilization of funds requires of them compliance to send reports in the spirit of transparency and accountability. Questionnaires for survey were also asked of the community to answer, which becomes the basis of the update report on community response to COVID 19.
There are new opportunities opening up to widen the scope of advocacy and network of the Federation and of PACSII. There has been an initial discussion with some representatives from the International Labor Organization to carry out an impact assessment of COVID 19 and lockdown to those involved in informal economy, taking advantage of the community-based network of HPFPI. PACSII and HPFPI are networking with new groups, like INAM (on alternative medicine and community base program) for health concerns. There has also been an initial discussion with Caritas Manila, who is willing to tie up with the Federation and PACSII to explore social enterprise and micro financing. The pursuit of food security has also launched several communities into urban farming.
Several partners have extended valuable support to the HPFPI through PACSII, representing critical assistance to relief for communities in lockdown. Among them are Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI), based in South Africa, Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) and SELAVIP. The Federation, along with PACSII, has also submitted a project proposal to the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, hoping to give attention or start focusing on the concerns of women and girls in the communities. Literature shows studies pointing to the increase in family stress, domestic violence and even sexual abuse of minors during the lockdown or enhanced community quarantine. HPFPI Iloilo’s project proposal was approved and chosen as one of the beneficiaries of the ACHR-SELAVIP’s called as “5 Model Cities Project. The negotiation with Pilipinas Shell Batangas was about to take off the ground shortly before the lockdown happened, involving relocation planning with 50 families who settled for decades on a property leased out to Pilipinas Shell by the Ayala Land Inc.
The trajectory of HPFP and PACSII is towards a new normal required during the pandemic and the need for resilience in case of future waves.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step… so as the saying goes. What seemed to be so difficult at the beginning with all the challenges associated with taking the initial small steps eventually gave way to bigger steps toward the realization of people’s dreams. The journey of PACSII with the homeless people (HPFPI) could be said to be a very exciting one. What we saw as a flicker of hope and inspiration in the midst of destitution could spread like a fire empowering people, especially the poor, to assume responsibility for their lives and their future. The road surely has interesting twists and turns, high moments of success and triumphs, but has also humbling experiences of inadequacies, defeats and failures. When such low moments come, it is important to continue moving along the dynamics of life and existence. Such becomes possible when we take on that journey together, supporting each other in solidarity, and believing that there is a common spirit that hovers over and moves each one to continue to pursue our shared vision.
ROLANDO A. TUAZON, CM