Mayon Volcano, Albay

Mayon Volcano, Albay

by David Pagulayan; with reports from Marco Macatangay


Home of the most active volcano in the Philippines, Bicol parallels its Mayon in its spry economy. A wide array of livelihood can be found in the Bicol region from production to postproduction, and service to tourism. National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) has shown that different sectors of Bicol’s economy has kept growing and held the region in high economic activity. In 2010, it’s Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP) buoyed up to an amazing 7.9%.

But also like it’s Mayon, Bicol experiences its states of dormancy as its latest GRDP show a meager 2.6% growth rate. NSCB’s study say that it was a “series of unfortunate events” that have affected the region’s economy such as natural calamities, low financial investments and unsupportive monetary spending by the local government. Never the less, Bicol has remained part of the faster growing regions in the Philippines.

The Shadow of Mayon

Like all growth rates, however majestic, it often overlook the quality of living and the level of relative poverty in any region. NSCB’s 2009 statistics on Albay’s poverty alone show a 42% percent incidence on an upper limit confidence interval. In Camarines Sur where tourists and water sport enthusiasts create good economic activity, poverty incidence on an upper limit confidence interval is up to 43.6%.

In a recent interview by the Sustainable Livelihood Program in Barangay Bulusan, Libon, Albay, a group of SEA-K beneficiaries share their experiences prior to the development initiatives implemented in their area. The group of Lilian Salvador, Lourdes Cynthia, Maria, and a few others, explain that prior to their experiences in SEA-K, they were solely dependent on their husbands for sources of income and sustenance. Prior to the intervention of SEA-K, they found monotony of living, taking care of children all day. A common answer that constantly reappears is the idea of not being able to go beyond current lifestyle.

The NSCB’s statistics show that annual per capita poverty threshold for Region V is at Php 17, 146. This means, those living in poverty earn only Php 17, 146 per year. What is more, the standard for monthly income to sustain a family of 6 is Php 8,251.

A Hand of Hope

It is because of this reason that DSWD has reach out to the people of Bicol. It was in May 2011 that the department had implemented its SEA – K program for Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries. As of June 2012, the department has shelled out Php 12,618,000 to 1,610 beneficiaries. The aid given by the department is a capital seed fund to help beneficiaries to be part of the value chain cycle of products as well as start their own businesses.

Going back to the story of the small group of SEA-K beneficiaries, they find their lives a stark contrast to their previous living before May 2011. Though initially, there was a question lingering in their minds whether they would be able to handle and repay such a huge loan of around 5,000, the fruits of their labor show in their smiles.

What is more, a general consensus of the beneficiaries would say that they have either new or improved skill set than before, and are able to manage both time and finances well.

As of June 2012, repayment rate of Region V show a good number of 80% rollback. In General, the region is able to repay and make good use of the capital seed fund first loaned more than a year ago.

Behind the Scenes

DSWD’s Region V field office finds the task rather daunting. Though numbers find themselves in good favor, the field office treads heavy waters to achieve this.

Teresita Caceres, Project Development Officer III of Region V says that the number 1 issue is the absence of livelihood workers in the Local Government Level. “We conduct our [Sustainable Livelihood Program] assuming that the MSWDO will be our partners, but despite the agreements, [we are of short-hand of help].”

Field Operations Training

Field Operations Training

Implications of this, she says, “Yung numbers of beneficiaries are very big compared to the workforce [capacity]. For Sets 1 and 2 there are 53,000 with only 7 PDOs handling them.” She adds, “So what we did before is the household profile which was a mandate order of the CO, we pulled out other PDOs not handling the Sets 1 and 2 [so that we can meet the targets].”

But Caceres also shares that partnerships played a huge role in implementation. “First off, there is technical assistance other than DSWD. There are other agencies that partner with [with us that help].”

She expounds by saying that unlike before when they only looked at loan recovery, there are other agencies that help train and enhance beneficiary capacity. “I see the need of partners especially MFI’s that can assist us in some aspects,” she says.

In the greater scheme of things, life in Bicol will continue despite the statistical fluctuations. Yet progress and development can only happen with the kind of leadership as well as discipline its people are willing to give.