The University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV), through its non-government arm, the UPV Foundation, Inc., responded to the disaster wrought by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. The locus of humanitarian action were the four barangays of the Gigantes Islands in the Municipality of Carles, a second-class municipality and the northernmost town of Iloilo Province. Gigantes is the farthest cluster of inhabited islands and one of the poorest in the municipality and in the province.
Gigantes has two main islands (Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur) and twelve islets. It is composed of four barangays: Asluman, Gabi, Granada and Lantangan. The combined population in 2015 stood at 13,114 individuals (6,839 males and 6275 females) across 2,666 households and 2,718 families. Prior to Typhoon Yolanda, these communities endured numerous challenges that were largely unaddressed because service provision and community development efforts were deemed risky or costly by virtue of the island’s distance and detached location. Poverty, poor access and control over resources, cultural bias, isolation from services and high exposure to natural and anthropogenic hazards combine to create a humanitarian exigency unique to small islands that demand response and attention.
The humanitarian action in Gigantes intersected with the mandate and vision of UPV to become a leader in fisheries education, research and development. Besides, its Tacloban City Campus was also ravaged by the Typhoon, making it axiomatic for the university administration to respond to the crisis to recover, protect and rehabilitate in-house assets and resources, and that of its immediate community.
UPV undertook rapid relief, early recovery and rehabilitation programs for Gigantes Islands with various partners. The Philippines-Australia Community Assistance Program (PACAP) financed the repair of the communication tower to maintain the links of the four barangays with the mainland LGU. The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) trained and equipped the Barangay Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Committees (BDRRMC). The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), through its Strategic Response Plan (SRP), supported the child-centered DRRM capacity building for schools that integrated DRRM into School Improvement Plans (SIP).
Christian Aid (CA), an international humanitarian organization, channeled comprehensive support from rapid relief and early recovery up to rehabilitation of the four communities. Rapid relief provided food and non-food assistance to affected households while shelter and livelihood repair modality helped survivors mend their homes and fishing boats to restart fishing activities. CA’s past engagements with small island communities in other areas of the Philippines inspired UPV’s small island resilience work in Gigantes, a work encapsulated in the project entitled RISE (Bangon) Gigantes Project: Rehabilitation for Island Sustainability and Empowerment or RISE. CA generously set aside sixteen million pesos for the two-year project which closed in 2016.
RISE restored normalcy and affirmed the dignity of the affected population to regain assets and functions. It linked small island realities with broader development contexts and agendas and utilized this as a platform to pursue a rehabilitation program grounded on the principles of participation and inclusivity, integral to efforts of promoting sustainable development and people’s empowerment.
The project had six major components: (a) participatory risk assessment; (2) capacity building; (3) resource management; (4) addressing isolation; (5) community education; and, (6) mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and resilience into local development plans and programs. Community organizing was used as a core strategy with community-based DRRM as entry point.
Participatory risk assessment tools (disaster timeline, Venn diagram, seasonal calendar, asset and issue pentagon, power and hazard mapping) were combined with technical and scientific tools (GIS, Barangay Management Information System or BMIS) to enhance understanding of local conditions including hazards, vulnerabilities, capacities and assets. The top three hazards identified were storm surge, typhoon and drought. Issues and concerns that informed the design of subsequent activities were unearthed, guaranteeing relevance and grounding.
Capacity building strengthened participatory local governance structures including Barangay Development Councils (BDC), BDRRMCs, and local protection councils for children. It democratized access to power, decision-making and budget, and ensured that resource allocations for DRRM, women, children, PWD and the elderly are appropriately targeted and utilized. The Island Sustainable Development Alliance (ISDA) for Gigantes was created to serve as an overarching structure that converges representation and voice of the four barangays. ISDA unified the four barangays, synchronized efforts for island-wide development and expanded leverage in discussions and negotiations for resource management, tourism development, and disaster and climate resilience.
With ISDA at the helm, issues and concerns that were heretofore unaddressed gained the attention of the mainland local government from the province down to the municipal level. It sought the support of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for natural resource protection and conservation. Mangrove and beach forest rehabilitation was initiated and management plans to protect the island’s natural heritage assets, both terrestrial and marine, were crafted.
Given its off-grid location, technology solutions to isolation were set up to locally generate weather forecast and warning information. This proved vital in monitoring local meteorological anomalies that were not readily forecasted by the weather bureau. PAG-ASA set up the Automated Weather Station (AWS) in Gigantes, organized the School Hydro-Meteorological Information Network (SHINe) and trained students on weather forecasting. Information is disseminated across the four barangays using transceiver radios through the duplex communication system set up by the regional office of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
Local knowledge about risk reduction and community adaptation was disseminated and expanded through advocacy campaigns involving local schools and community partners. Students served as bearers of conservation, disaster preparedness and climate resilience messages in school or community activities including religious celebrations. ISDA initiated environmental fairs and actively supported the celebration of scallops and hammer shell festivals to underscore the importance of conserving and protecting critical and endemic natural capital of the island.
Within UPV, conferences, panel discussions and policy dialogues on inclusive and community-based DRR were carried out to broaden the constituency of support for small island communities. Calls for the use of maritime and archipelagic lens in planning were issued to mitigate the prevailing land-based practice and bias in planning. The small islands agenda reached national conversations surrounding the review of the national legislation on DRRM.
The imperatives of disaster preparedness and climate resilience were considered in community planning and programming. The organizational structure of BDRRMCs and the preparedness and contingency plans of the four barangays were used as template by the mainland LGU in organizing local DRRM groups and in DRRM planning in other barangays in Carles. Annual Investment Programs (AIP) were suffused with principles of disaster risk reduction, climate resilience and inclusion. Clear guidance on the disposition of DRRM funds was provided and budget officers were coached in tagging their climate change and gender-related programs. Annual budgetary allocations for schools, children, PWD and the elderly were likewise clearly identified. And as manifestation of local commitment to sustain inter-barangay cooperation and convergence, the four barangays in Gigantes agreed to co-fund the operations of ISDA annually. Before RISE closed, ISDA earned accreditation from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and was recognized, through an Executive Order, as a development partner of the municipal and barangay LGUs.