Philippines

  • In the Philippines, Oxfam is working towards a future where citizens, especially women and other vulnerable groups, are free from the injustices of poverty. During emergencies, we respond with life-saving aid while supporting people to recover their livelihoods.

A sea of change in the Philippines: local groups take charge in emergencies

Creating a more just and effective system of humanitarian response means helping local and national organizations step to the forefront.

When armed fighters laid siege to the city of Marawi, the Philippines, in 2017, hundreds of thousands of civilians fled for their lives. Many abandoned everything they owned, and in the clashes that followed, their neighborhoods were reduced to rubble and dust.

It’s been many months since the exodus, but for people displaced by the fighting, the pain is fresh.  When a visitor toured the camps near Marawi, they told stories of their flight and of the precious things they left behind.

“All my memories were left there,” said a young mother who recently delivered a baby in a tent camp. She cried as she talked about leaving home. “My parents were buried there.”

Yet, even as they rushed to safety, some took on a dangerous, life-saving task. “Many Muslims worked hard to protect their Christian friends and neighbors. They gave them places to hide and helped them get through checkpoints so they could escape the city,” said another mother. “For us,” she added, “it’s all the same if people are Muslim or Christian.”

Noraisah Arumpac, who fled Marawi, the Philippines, in 2017 helps her daughter with homework. The plywood that reinforces her family’s tent was provided by Humanitarian Response Consortium. “HRC was a great help. They went from tent to tent to talk to us. They gave us everything we needed.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

Giving a boost to local groups

In a crisis, the urge to help your neighbor and your community is a powerful one, which is one reason local aid agencies can be so effective in emergencies. Not only are they often deeply committed to the communities they serve—their proximity enables them to act fast, and their understanding of the context can facilitate aid delivery in countless ways. But NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in poor countries struggle for resources, and the grants they receive from international sources often consign them to bit parts in emergencies, with little role in shaping the work they’re paid to carry out.

That’s wrong in every way, and Oxfam is trying to address the problem. We are helping lead a worldwide initiative to shift power, skills, and funds from international to strong local and national actors, and the Philippines has been a particular focus.

In 2015, Oxfam began working with Christian Aid and Tearfund on a three-year pilot project known as Financial Enablers, or FEP, to help Filipino organizations (organized into seven consortia) boost their capacity for humanitarian response and preparedness. The goal was more far-reaching than simply to build on skills: it was to strengthen leadership, so participants were encouraged to take charge from the start. Each consortium took on the responsibility of devising its own capacity-strengthening plan, for example, and the FEP followed its lead, issuing grants to make that plan a reality. Less experienced consortia used the money for basic trainings in emergency response, while a more seasoned group known as the Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC) used it to create a quick-response fund, and to stock three warehouses with equipment and supplies.

A legal aid clinic near Marawi. “People who have lost everything have also lost their legal identities… They can’t access benefits they need, and they can be targeted with harassment and even violence.”-- Norman Golong of IDEALS, HRC’s legal aid organization and an Oxfam partner. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

An important milestone

As Oxfam readied its response to the Marawi crisis, the HRC announced it was launching a needs assessment—the critical first step in humanitarian response—and asked if Oxfam would like to support its intervention. In the effort to strengthen local leadership, it was a milestone: rather than Oxfam asking local groups to participate in our response, a highly capable local organization was taking the lead and inviting Oxfam to join in.

“In the space of six months, HRC twice led the way on emergency response,” said Rhoda Avila, Oxfam’s humanitarian manager in the Philippines. “This represents a significant transition, and we are really pleased.”

With help from its quick-response fund, HRC immediately canvassed the displaced families and learned about their most pressing needs. Once the team had solid information, it was able to cast a wider net for resources, and before long they had distributed essentials like plywood for tent flooring, hygiene kits, and kitchen utensils; set up communal kitchens and water and sanitation facilities; and begun handling sewage sludge disposal. HRC includes a legal aid organization, which hosted a radio show during the emergency to educate people about their rights, and offered clinics to help displaced people secure identification papers.

“HRC was a great help,” said Noraisah Arumpac, a mother who now lives in a tent camp. “They went from tent to tent to talk to us. They gave us everything we needed and made our lives easier.”

The consortium was not only able to move fast and create a comprehensive response; thanks to local staffers, its work built on knowledge of the local culture.

“I’m from Mindanao, so I understand some of the traditions and culture of the communities we’re serving, and I share their religion,” said Zahara Ibrahim, a hygiene promoter for HRC in the camps outside Marawi. “I find that people are more interested in talking about hygiene if I introduce it by reading verses from the Koran about cleanliness.”

Ivanhoe Arcilla, emergencies official in the town of Virac, Catanduanes, worked with HRC on the response to a deadly typhoon in 2016. “When HRC came, it was so timely. They showed up right after the typhoon. They called me and the next day they were here, and they immediately began an assessment and distributions.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

“The vision of the FEP is of strong, confident local organizations that work together to carry out effective disaster preparedness and response,” said project manager Jane Bañez-Ockelford, reflecting on the project before it drew to a close at the end of March.

Clearly, the vision has taken hold, and we’re hopeful that the knowledge and networks the FEP helped generate will continue to deepen and grow.

“The traditional way of implementing disaster response in the past has been that people from the outside controlled decisions and controlled the resources. Local communities affected by disasters were involved only marginally in decision-making,” said Milton Amayun, who works with the FEP-supported CHIC consortium (Capacity-building for Humanitarian Initiatives in Capiz). “What the FEP has done is shift decision-making to the local organizations they supported and the leadership of the communities. The results so far have been timely, culturally appropriate responses at very little cost.”

“When it comes to humanitarian response,” he added with a smile, “local leaders can do the job.”

By Elizabeth Stevens

Mothers of Marawi hopeful after months of fear

Last year, residents of Marawi in the Philippines faced two major disasters: In May, they were uprooted by a violent siege and seven months later, they faced a deadly typhoon. Oxfam is supporting a consortium of local organizations who are helping families stay healthy and safe in the wake of these crises, rebuild their lives and prepare for future disasters. 
 
Nashima Potawan, 47, and her four children were forced to move to Madalum during the Marawi Siege, and months later faced the devastating effects of Typhoon Vinta.
 
Mothers caught in conflict keeping their families safe.
It is difficult for a mother to see her children in any kind of pain. The mothers of Marawi City, Philippines however, have witnessed their children endure crisis, only to be hit by another while still reeling and away from home. 
 
When single mother Nashima Potawan, 47, heard gunshots and bombings during the siege last spring, she immediately hurried each of her four children to different parts of their house. 
 
"I brought one of my children to the bathroom. Then, I held the youngest. I brought the other one to the living room and the other in the bedroom. So if ever a bomb would come, there will be survivors. Not all of us would die,” Nashima said. 
In another part of the city, Bailo Bazar comforted her three children who were shaking in fear. She was struggling to stop the youngest from crying. 
 
“My youngest child was crying, and my uncle said, ‘Stop him from crying. We must pretend that we are not at home so we should not be making noises.” 
 
While the women were struggling to take care of everything and everyone, members of the Maute Group were asking men and boys to come out of their homes and join the fighting.
 
After a grueling day of waiting and hiding, both Nashima’s and Bailo’s families evacuated to Madalum, a nearby municipality, where many families stayed for months to stay safe.
 
Natural disaster strikes 
As they approached their seventh month away from home, Typhoon Vinta struck just days before Christmas, leaving many casualties and millions worth of damage. Madalum, the newfound home of many families, including Nashima’s and Bailo’s, was one of the hardest hit, with landslides and flashfloods wiping out everything in its path.
 
“I saw rocks and high levels of floodwater which were taller than an average person. My son said, “Mother, I am afraid.’ And I said, ‘We should endure this, because the flood will soon subside. Let’s wait until we can get out of here,” Nashima recalled. 
Then they saw just how quickly the water was rising, and she decided to bring her children to the gymnasium, which was later designated as an evacuation center for the typhoon survivors. 
 
“If I did not decide to go to the evacuation center, the floodwater would have risen immensely. It would have killed us,” Nashima said. 
 
Bailo’s family, on the other hand, was trapped on the roof of their house as the waters rose rapidly - She honestly thought that this time, they would not survive. Fortunately, the water did not reach their roof, and a few hours later, rescuers came and brought them to a safe place. 
 
Climate change and poverty add to risks, but local leaders are there to respond.
 
The Humanitarian Response Committee is working with Oxfam and the local government to support disaster-affected communities, and to help create and accurate database which will help future aid distributions. 
 
Even before the disasters struck, Nashima and Bailo belonged to already vulnerable communities, living in one of the poorest provinces in the country. In fact, according to the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, seven out of ten families in province are poor and that number has been consistently rising. Without the resources to rebuild, Nashima and Bailo’s families were still living in the evacuation center one month after the storm, and eight months after the siege.
 
Along with this growing poverty, climate change is putting island nations like the Philippines at increasing risk of flooding and weather-related crises. This means that there is more need than ever for local and national organizations who can step up and provide vital leadership to respond and prepare for future disasters. 
 
The Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC) is a group of Filipino organizations that Oxfam helped found in 2010 to provide rapid, high-quality and dignified relief to disaster-affected communities. This past year, they supported families forced from their homes by conflict and natural disaster with access to safe water, latrines, shelter materials, communal kitchens, hygiene kits, and more. They also provided legal assistance to help people obtain IDs, which are crucial for safe travel and for accessing government benefits. Oxfam supported the HRC’s distribution of hygiene and kitchen essentials for more than 1,500 families, and emergency financial assistance to about 700 families.
 
At times of disaster, HRC quickly assesses and responds to what communities need most in close coordination with government responders. They are helping local governments compile a complete and accurate database of the affected communities, so they can distribute further assistance for the typhoon survivors. This collaboration between organizations like Oxfam, these local organizations and government is key to provide the best possible resources and response for mothers like Nashima and Bailo, so they can rebuild their lives and feel better prepared to face future disasters as they arise. 
 

The Philippines - The power of local people to save lives

On the ground in the Philippines

Those left homeless by the devastating super typhoon Haiyan are being empowered to choose the best type of assistance for their families. 

Filipino communities are working with Oxfam to carry out vital repair work to their homes. Oxfam is helping the communities to feed their families and purchase essential items, enabling the individuals to focus on rebuilding their lives.

Oxfam humanitarian manager Colm Byrne (pictured below right) is on the ground in Brgy Baigad on the island of Bantayan where he can see first-hand how this approach is transforming communities.

Colm said: “What is different about this form of response is it gives people a choice to determine what sort of assistance they need because every family, every individual, has different needs and priorities. If we treat everyone as a homogenous group then everybody would get the same form of assistance. But the assistance Oxfam is providing recognises everyone’s needs are different – just the same as families in Ireland."

Photos: Sorcha Nic Mhathúna, Oxfam Ireland

Above right:

  1. Oxfam Ireland Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne with hygiene kits, water tanks and water bladders, just some of the ways Oxfam is supporting hard-hit families on Bantayan Island.
  2. Jonalyn Batayola (25) with her two daughters and niece. She will use the voucher she received to buy nails and wood to rebuild her house.
  3. Clearing the debris in Brgy Baigan on Bantayan island.

Above left:

  1. Young children play amidst the debris in the village of Brgy Baigad.
  2. School children at Mojon Elementary School on Bantayan Island.
  3. Family members stand outside their damaged home on the island of Bantayan.
  4. Community members in Brgy Baigad clear debris.

Latest figures show 5,680 people were killed when Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda – swept through the Philippines on November 8. More than 11 million people were affected with around four million of these losing their homes.