For five days, the largest and most inspiring volunteer event in Philippines history, the Bayani Challenge, witnessed upwards of 70,000 participants daily. The Bayani Challenge is a joint event of Pilipinas Natin and Gawad Kalinga hosted in 37 sites in 33 provinces. It began on March 23 and ended, the other day, March 27.
Pilipinas Natin is a movement initiated by government, specifically by the Presidential Communications Operations Office, or PCOO, inn partnership with Gawad Kalinga. For obvious reasons, government would like to take advantage of the spirit of volunteerism so visible and tangible in the May 2010 elections where volunteers carried the day over traditional political parties. In that campaign and elections, Noynoy Aquino from a minority party, the Liberals, smaller in size and resources than three other political parties, the Lakas-Kampi, Nationalist People’s Coalition, and the Nacionalista Party, won the presidential elections largely through the effort of non-party affiliated volunteers.
Gawad Kalinga is a nation-building movement, using a template that prioritizes building homes and communities grounded and sustained by a unique community development program. The nation-building claim is justified by 1) the massiveness of its mission of taking, and inspiring others to doing the same, 5 million of the poorest Filipino families out of poverty, and 2) the massiveness of the volunteer forces engaged to make the mission become a reality by 2024. Along the way, volunteers by the millions and success story after success story are envisioned to influence government to massively support the initiative and/or adopt it as flagship program for the eradication of poverty. It then becomes a multi-sectoral effort that is truly national, that involves the majority of Filipinos, and effectively builds a stronger nation by transforming a weak impoverished sector to move towards self-reliance.
The partnership between Pilipinas Natin and Gawad is a natural one and is now in its second year. While Gawad Kalinga has always been a private foundation and a non-government organization, it had never been adverse to engaging government. This may be partly explained by its beginnings in Bagong Silang where it was born and experimented with a community development program. Bagong Silang was, and still is, the largest relocation site in the country with over 1 million residents today. As a relocation site, Bagong Silang began and remains a National Housing Authority area. From the beginning, even as an experiment, Gawad Kalinga was already engaging government through the beneficiaries of the NHA.
In the course of its own history from Bagong Silang to where it is today with over 2,000 communities and counting, Gawad Kalinga simply increased engagement with government on many levels, from national to local. Today, Gawad Kalinga engages hundreds of governors and mayors as well as several departments of the national government. The organization and its leadership had always felt secure in its value system and deliberately took on a non-judgmental attitude in its relationship with partners, from its residents, volunteers, and donors. Gawad Kalinga avoids political partisanship but cannot avoid politics in its purest sense because of the sheer numbers of citizens it works with and the various engagement it has with government institutions. Politics, after all, is the dynamics of different sectors in a city or country living and engaging each other – hopefully as harmonious and productive as can be.
Pilipinas Natin, as an initiative for volunteerism with all sectors, is less government than most. Instructions from P-Noy included a non-partisan posture, and rightly so. The spirit of volunteerism becomes narrow when infected with partisanship; it becomes time-bound (only during elections) and competitive instead of collaborative. With Pilipinas Natin, government networking makes private initiatives of Gawad Kalinga more readily understood, accepted and supported by government institutions. At the same time, with Gawad Kalinga, government more easily attracts the citizenry to join it in good citizenship activities.
The Bayani Challenge event is designed to draw volunteers to discover their capacity as individuals to contribute to the common good, usually of their communities, to understand their responsibility as citizens to contribute to peace and progress, and to unlock the hero in themselves so they can help the more needy climb out of poverty. Bayani Challenge 2013 did just that to almost 100,000 volunteers who kept coming back for five days, mostly young, who trooped to 33 provinces from Isabela up north to Basilan down south. In Mindanao, Christians built for poor Muslim families, Muslims built for poor Christian families, and some sites had both Muslims and Christians building together.
I am one who was truly blessed to have witnessed this sustained spirit of bayanihan in four sites and provinces – Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, New Lucena, Iloilo, San Remigio, Antique, and Trece Martires, Cavite. I missed being with some co-volunteers in Lantawan, Basilan, because of time constraint. Basilan is one site I had really wanted to visit after my having been to Liguasan Marsh, Camp Abubakkar, and Sulu. I am totally convinced that beating poverty is possible with the kind of spirit that those who care among our people, especially the next generation, will finally dismantle the poverty imposed by colonial rule.
The Lent of our history is coming to its close. The crucifixion of our people is nearing its end. The new life that is born from the sacrifice of the noble and the brave will then replace poverty with a long lost dignity. The Easter of the once-suffering Filipino is that silver lining we see in the sky. This largely Catholic country may just become Catholic in deed and not just from word. And Pope Francis may just get his wish when he addressed his priests in hearing distance of the faithful, saying “Go to the people, go to the people.”