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At Large

Roads and empowerment

Every year, as the Christmas season approaches, employees in various companies gear up for the annual talent “competition,” when groups or departments vie for prizes and recognition at the end-of-the-year celebration.

This was also true for the employees of the Millennium Challenge Account–Philippines (MCA-P), a government-owned and -controlled corporation created to manage the “compact” between the governments of the Philippines and of the United States through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The MCC is a US foreign assistance agency (created in 2004) that promotes “innovative and independent” programs in developing countries around the world.

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The Christmas competition—held to build camaraderie among MCA-P employees—had been ongoing for two years, but last Christmas the employees themselves thought the budget for choreographers, costumes and props could be better used for other purposes, more specifically for helping the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

After all, the folks at MCA-P felt a special link to the areas hit by Yolanda, especially Samar and Eastern Samar where one of the major components of the MCC Compact, the construction of a road from Paranas to Guiuan, was being implemented.

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The budget for the Christmas program was channeled to buy clothes, blankets, toys and other basic goods to Compact-funded areas in Leyte and Samar, while a portion of the amount was allotted for the Asinan Elementary School in the town of Buenavista in Bohol, which was hit by an earthquake months earlier.

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The amount involved may have been just a drop in the bucket in the overall flood of donations in the wake of Yolanda, and MCA-P was just one of many public and private, local and international groups to respond to the post-Yolanda and post-earthquake emergencies. But the diversion of funds meant for a Christmas party to alleviate the needs of disaster survivors speaks well of the mindset of the management and employees who know that their organization exists primarily to “fight global poverty.”

The MCC was created by the US Congress with strong bipartisan support and since then has been “changing the conversation on how best to deliver smart US foreign assistance by focusing on good policies, country ownership and results.”

In the Philippines, a five-year $434-million compact focuses on three areas: modernizing the Bureau of Internal Revenue, expanding and improving the community-driven project Kalahi-CIDSS supervised by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and rehabilitating a secondary national road in Samar and Eastern Samar. The accountable and responsible entity in charge of the local projects is MCA-P, with Marivic Añonuevo as managing director and CEO.

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Assuming the post of MCC resident country director is John Polk, a civil engineer who has been with MCC since 2006 and served as deputy resident country director here until his predecessor, Matt Bohn, was promoted this year to a regional post.

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While the ongoing road project suffered only minor damage from Yolanda, Añonuevo says the world’s most powerful typhoon on record made the task of completing the Secondary National Roads Development Project even more urgent and significant.

This is because, in the words of the project leaders, a road is not just a road. A road helps greatly in facilitating transport and communication, true, but it also helps schoolchildren make the commute to and from school and home safely and easily; provides employment to locals, including women who take on the pioneering role of “flag women”; and addresses health problems such as respiratory ailments arising from the dust raised when vehicles rush through unfinished and unpaved roads.

Before the road project, the 222-kilometer road network in the Samar provinces had a rather dramatic name: “The Hell Roads of Samar.” The network is now known as the “Millennium Road,” and has become “a symbol of hope and progress.”

In the immediate post-Yolanda period, the network became, in the words of a parish priest in Eastern Samar, “a lifeline for relief operations.” The good roads became a conduit for the transport of construction materials, food and fuel, which were then urgently needed in the devastated areas.

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Under the Kalahi-CIDSS component, selected communities are being empowered, with residents and local officials meeting and deciding what development projects are most urgently needed and what should receive priority funding. These projects range from water systems, housing and power to daycare centers, social services, even environmental protection.

In Malitbog, a barangay in Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro, the village chief Victoria Padullo exclaimed that they now “feel like we got rich” since a water system was established. The barangay received some P3.4 million from the MCC, with the balance of about P1 million provided by the local government, for a water system that services 576 of the 689 households in the barangay.

The benefits go way beyond household convenience. Schoolchildren, for instance, now get to school on time, “fresh and clean.” Health problems related to diarrhea and other water-borne diseases have declined. And families can now spend more on meals since they no longer have to spend so much on buying water from far-flung sources.

“For the hundreds of barangays in the MCC-covered areas whose subprojects have been completed,” observes the MCC, “the physical infrastructure is a big bonus, a realization of their lifelong dreams. But what is more important, according to them, is that they are now more capable to take care of their own future.”

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TAGS: At Large, Christmas, Empowerment, infrastructure, MCA-P, Millennium Challenge Account–Philippines, opinion, Rina Jimemenz David, Roads, Yolanda aid
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