For two consecutive days, The Daily Tribune through the articles of Mr. Efren B. Chavez last Jan. 4 and 5 have depicted BayaniJuan sa Calauan, the resettlement site for former informal settlers along the Pasig River and victims of “Ondoy,” as a failure. In the spirit of fairness, we would like that our organization be given an equal opportunity to tell our side since both articles have neither presented the issue from our perspective.
As an organization which has taken on the challenge of cleaning the Pasig River back in 2009, the biggest hurdle we faced was the task of relocating thousands of informal settlers along the river banks, considered danger zones and where the domestic and human waste was discarded directly to the water.
The best option available was Calauan, Laguna where 800 existing housing units of National Housing Authority (NHA) were rehabilitated and new houses constructed courtesy of donors, to gradually accommodate families as the rehabilitation of the river progressed. Starting with 10 families, the housing units were occupied one after the other, with the ABS-CBN Foundation providing food and personal supplies to the families to help them settle in their new homes. We were helping people, like the river, to have a fresh start. Our goal was to restore dignity among people and nature.
Ondoy caught everyone by surprise, and we were caught off guard when the need for NHA to relocate thousands of families from Marikina, Manila and Pasig to Calauan confronted us. We were only prepared for relocatees from the esteros. But since the resettlement site is owned by the government, BayaniJuan had to open its doors to more than 3,000 new relocatees despite the limited resources available to us.
BayaniJuan is by no means perfect, and everyday we come face to face with a gamut of challenges in maintaining the site. To portray BayaniJuan as not having basic necessities like water, electricity and livelihood opportunities is not only unfair but untruthful.
Electrification is ongoing. The Department of Energy provided P40 million to Meralco for electrification — for service posts, transformers and the like; while the ADB grant has enabled us to retrofit the houses for electrification. Currently 469 houses have been energized, while 570 have ongoing applications. The NHA is working on the electrification of the relocatees from Ondoy. Two community centers have been provided with electricity and another two will get connected in the first quarter of 2013. Like the rest of the community, we would have wanted electrification to proceed more swiftly but unfortunately technical systems and procedures are beyond our control. Hopefully, by the end of 2013, approximately 2,000 houses would have been energized.
Currently there are 192 solar streetlights funded through the President’s Social Fund and which the Asian Development Bank (ADB) grant will enhance with an additional 48 units. As we get connected to the main grid, we have also started putting up electric streetlights which are maintained by the barangay.
With regard to water supply, there are 192 shallow wells and eigth community faucets all around the resettlement site. There are two refilling stations, two rainwater harvesting facilities and one water cooperative. The NHA has also allowed a provider to operate level 3 connections in Site 3. The LGU of Calauan also has plans of putting up a water distribution system with the help of the Department of Health. The ADB grant will complement these efforts as well as the contributions of Manila Water and other private water suppliers. With the pooling of efforts, we hope to achieve at least level 2 water distribution within the next two years.
In terms of livelihood, skills training undertaken by Tesda and entrepreneurial training by various non-government organizations and partner foundations, has been a priority from the start and is part of the transition from urban to rural setting. Currently, BayaniJuan provides some job opportunities within the resettlement site-sewing bags, producing salted eggs, agriculture and food micro-enterprises, jobs in landscaping, construction and maintenance. Livelihood grants and working capital have been provided to residents, and the ADB grant will allow for these enterprises to be scaled up. The Lopez Group has built livelihood and training centers, among other major facilities.
Three new school buildings with 15 classrooms each donated by the City of Pasig to help the Ondoy relocatees, have been completed. The DepEd has already started operations in at least one building, and will be opening the rest in June 2013. A public market, a health clinic, community center, and a material recovery facility are also fully operational — all donated by the private sector.
Eleven Homeowners Associations have been organized for self-governance and provide the channel for the resident’s participation in community building and decision-making. The HOAs police their own neighborhood, complementing the efforts of the Calauan Police and the AFP.
The inclusion of BayaniJuan in the municipal development plans and budgets is one of the key results expected of the three-year grant from the ADB.
Apart from these accomplishments, may we also point out other important issues that were addressed by the project. One has only to visit Estero de San Miguel , Estero Uli Uli, Estero de Paco and all the other esteros that are now transformed as a result of the relocation. Or meet the River Warriors, volunteers who patrol the river pathways because they are thankful that there is little or no flooding in their areas after the esteros near their homes were cleaned. Or get to know students from OML Dayap Elementary School who need not go home to shanties anymore and risk falling into the river when they sleep at night. These are the same students who are winning awards in academic and sports competitions in Laguna. There are many stories of triumph that we are only too willing to share given the opportunity.
BayaniJuan is a work in progress, pooling together the efforts of public and private sector, and the participation of its residents, in the spirit of bayanihan to build a good community where future generations can thrive. We are gratified and strengthened by the support we are able to gather from both public and private entities for the sake of the thousands of families who despite the challenges they face, are given an opportunity that is far more humane and dignified than what they had along the banks of a dead river. Ultimately, it is up to each one to make the most of the opportunities available and help himself to better his condition.
In closing, may we invite you to visit BayaniJuan sa Calauan and thank you for the opportunity to air our side.
The Tribune stands by its story. Personal interviews were made with the barangay chairman and some residents last Dev. 28, 2012, as well as quotes from a research study on the Internet.
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