Improving Aid and Service Delivery in the Philippines Through Participatory DRR


NASSA/Caritas Philippines is the humanitarian, development and advocacy arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Likewise, it is a member of Caritas Internationalis, the worldwide confederation of Catholic charities based at the Vatican.

In 2013, the national Caritas implemented the biggest-funded, most comprehensive and far-reaching humanitarian response in the history of the Catholic Church. The total response amounted to over 1.8 billion pesos, benefiting more than 1.2 million Filipinos across 166 communities, 51 municipalities, 9 provinces, and 4 regions.

It is from this experience that we were able to build up the expertise on community-managed disaster risk reduction (CMDRR). From the very beginning of the response – assessment, program development, intervention design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and sustainability mechanism discussions – the communities have been present, engaged and were taking the lead in decision-making. It was during the Haiyan response that we were able to prove that comprehensive assessment is possible even at the height of a disaster.

But we do not want to settle with doing assessments and program development at a time when stress levels are high and the communities need food and shelter, enumerating their needs, vulnerabilities, risks, hazards and capacities.

Thus, after Typhoon Haima (Lawin) in 2016, with funding from UKAid through the CDAC (Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities) Network and World Vision, NASSA/Caritas Philippines implemented an eight-month project aimed at capitalising on communities’ preparedness to link improvement of humanitarian response to more sustainable development programs. The project: “Strengthening Community Engagement in Northern Luzon in the Philippines” was implemented in 10 Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in 4 municipalities and 2 cities in the province of Isabela from January to August 2017. It was under the Disaster and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP).

In a province so used to receiving DRR management and preparedness awards, it was unfortunate to note that these awards do not really reflect on-ground situations as what happened in Haima. As such, the project was designed to enhance community resilience by institutionalising the following:

  1. Creation and training of Community Disaster Task Groups (information and communication, early warning systems and protocols, emergency relief and rescue, and community volunteers)
  2. Institutionalisation of Community-managed Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (CMEAL) Teams
  3. Conducting, validating, sharing and updating of Participatory Disaster Risk Assessment (PDRA) and pre-crisis mapping (aid preferences) results

As an over-arching framework, CMDRR was introduced to the communities through the community organising the approach and principles. And since NASSA/Caritas Philippines is a Catholic organisation, value formation was utmost in the process. This strategy proved not only to ensure attendance and participation during community meetings and gatherings, but more importantly, solidified trust-building and community empowerment efforts.

Overall, the project was able to:

  1. 100% achieve the original targets of the project
  2. Strengthen the organisational structure and capacities of the Diocesan Social Action Center (DSAC) of Ilagan
  3. Open better opportunities of collaboration, partnership and coordination between the communities, the government and the church, which is something new in the province
  4. Regularise the presence of the church in the communities which improved relationship with other faith-based organisations
  5. Allow the communities to dialogue and enter into agreements with their local government leaders (barangays and municipalities/cities), to ultimately claim what is rightfully theirs – better, timely and quality delivery of aid and services.


From the very beginning, the communities were made to understand that the process shall and will always start from them – so it was important to note that all initiatives were to emanate from the rights-holders – the communities themselves. During inceptions and orientations both at the diocesan and community levels, they were made to realise that the project will never succeed if they will not first act on their responsibility – to capacitate themselves to be able to claim what is rightfully theirs. Thus, during organising activities (values formation, kumustahan, bible sharing (Catholic and other sects), communities were able to highlight their dreams and hope for the future. Meaning, they were involved in the project not just because they were promised better economic conditions. They were involved in the project voluntarily, recognising that the project is like no other they have experienced. The formal introduction of activities mentioned in the project proposal was implemented. However, the communities were the ones who decided how it should be done, with NASSA/Caritas Philippines and the DSAC only having a facilitating role. The conduct of the PDRA and the pre-crisis mapping heightened community participation, involvement and engagement. Since the tools and the processes demand for community members to relate, communicate and negotiate with each other, they were able to formally organise, identify leaders, and collectively decide and assert actions. During these engagements, the community leaders were able to engage local government officials (barangays and municipalities/cities) into mutually addressing disaster preparedness and development concerns that have been plaguing the communities for decades. If during the start of the project it was NASSA/Caritas Philippines and the DSAC who did the coordination with the LGUs, as the implementation progressed, the communities were able to assume such roles which continue to date. They were not only able to convince their officials (duty-bearers) to personally support the efforts, they were able to fully mobilise government resources to further their claim to better governance actions, realistic disaster preparedness and empowering community development.
NASSA/Caritas Philippines’ beneficiary selection criteria across all program implementation are: 1] the poorest of the poor, and 2] least served. As such, the areas selected for the project were a result of the assessments conducted during Typhoon Haima response – the communities so far from the reach of the government and any other aid agency that in most cases, they never had the chance of benefiting from any response. Since the project is mostly on capacity building and institutional strengthening, everyone in the community was invited to participate and enrol in the program. However, after a series of formation sessions, the members of the BEC core team decided to formalise a set of criteria especially in the selection of the task group members: 1] active in all activities and deliberations, 2] willing to contribute (time, talent and any kind of treasure), and 3] willing to be trained. More importantly, the communities explicitly noted that everyone must have a fair chance of being selected regardless of age, religion and gender. In doing so, the members of the Information and Communication Task Groups were decided to be composed mostly of children and youth. The task groups on Early Warning Systems and Protocols, Emergency Relief and Rescue, and Community Volunteers were a combination of women, men, the elderly, professionals, retirees, persons with disabilities, money-makers and those having no stable income. These groups also included those who were illiterate or unschooled. Interestingly, this group, mostly women, have shown the highest sense of empowerment and belonging among the community members. Their acceptance of leadership roles has been the most concrete and tangible.
The communities have the sole control and power over what, how and why they need to implement the project. Though at first NASSA/Caritas Philippines and the DSAC provided for the mechanisms and venues for which they can organise themselves and start the visioning process, both organisations are slowly phasing out from actual implementation to being observers and mentors. This means that whatever changes the communities deem necessary to achieve their targets, they decide how to proceed themselves. This is the role of the CMEAL teams. Not only that they need to monitor the progress of the project, they also need to ensure that everything is in consideration of the general welfare of the communities. During one of the community drills, the leaders decided that it would be best, despite best effort to coordinate the activity with the barangay officials, to let the BLGU take the lead. Expectedly, the drill was a flop, which was made worse because of some misinterpretations that the event was only for Catholics. During evaluation, one of the women leaders, who call herself an uneducated housewife – stood in front of the barangay assembly and addressed the barangay officials saying “We elected you to represent our best interests. Because of your inaction, we failed in our first community emergency drill. Whoever said when typhoons come, it will only fall on Catholics? We all fell victim when Haima came. Do we want another blow before we do our job?” During their group meeting, she was still shaking unable to believe what she just did. Needless to say, the second community drill was a huge success! In the activities conducted in the barangays, the community leaders trained in the task groups became the mobilisers, the lead actors complementing the efforts of the barangays and the LGUs. They have become the public officials’ main confidantes. In the eight months that they have been in constant communication with the barangays and the LGUs; they were able to fully comply with the requirements of the project: 1. 10 PDRA maps and pre-crisis mapping results 2. 10 contingency plans now in the process of adoption by the barangays and the municipal/city LGUs 3. 211 trained task groups members 4. 55 CMEAL team members 5. 1,181 trained community members As their roles in the barangays mature, so are their ways of thinking. In one of the sessions with the DSAC, they started talking about sustainability.


NASSA/Caritas Philippines, since Haiyan, has been a staunch advocate of ensuring that short term humanitarian responses are linked and integrated into long-term development programs. The DEPP project as mentioned earlier was only implemented for eight months focusing mainly on capacity-building and institutional strengthening. How can this link happen? One of the flagships of NASSA/Caritas Philippines is the self-help group (SHeG) approach to savings mobilisation, and a strategy to community organising. After the rigid trainings and sessions on emergency preparedness and response, and on disaster information collection and management, the communities decided that they now are ready for the next stage of community development. In one of their sessions, they developed what they called the Community Sustainability Plan. Since August, as they start with weekly savings, they also have started sessions on SHeG where they discussed the following: 1. Savings policy 2. Possible livelihood activities 3. Financial literacy 4. Community building 5. Government recognition and accreditation From having no savings at all in the past, and from having no stable source of income, the project was able to form at least 15 SHeGs, 4 already registered with the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE), with more than 100,000 pesos savings on-hand.
As one of the community leaders has stated: “Previously, I only thought that when they is a typhoon, I must only stay at home making sure that my children are safe. During the trainings, we were taught that we can contribute to our barangay’s emergency preparedness. That it is both our responsibility and right to provide assistance. When we were doing the PDRA map, it was only then that I realised I was able to share so much in the process. I realised that I do not need to be a barangay official to help. Even a lowly citizen like me can serve!” One of the parish priests likewise mentioned that “This is how we improve the dignity of the poor. We do not just give them fish. We teach them how to fish.” NASSA/Caritas Philippines’ recent public statement was urging the government to do away with dole-outs. Instead, all duty-bearers must strive to provide the communities with the opportunity to enhance their innate capacities, and to focus on providing long-term solutions to prevailing problems. According to an LGU official in Isabela, “The project was able to mobilize the communities to do their own mapping, to develop their own contingency plans, to decide and plan for their future. The government, our government was not able, or will never be able to mobilise this in such a short period of time. Thus we are here to fully support the communities. We will replicate their project in all the barangays in our municipality.” At present, at least 3 LGUs are now replicating the project, providing full operational and funding assistance, including further training and capacity-building for the community leaders. The Community Disaster Task Groups were also adopted as part of the Barangay Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (BDRRMC), while the trained leaders now constitute the LGU trainers on DRR. They now will also be permanent representatives of the local DRRMCs. Infrastructure development is also happening in several barangays. Multi-purpose halls that will serve as evacuation centers, training areas and meeting venues are now being constructed, while memorandum of agreements are under way to formalise LGU-community partnerships.


Though the project was short-term, how the elements of humanitarian response and development programming were integrated was essential in providing workable opportunities to enable communities to sustain its capacities and resources, through: a. Contextualised capacity building activities b. Over-arching CMDRR, community-organising and formation c. Provision of enabling environment for communities to network, link and work directly with other stakeholders especially the government However, it is also imperative to ensure that partner implementers, especially in this case, the social action centre, are provided with enough institutional capacity-building; if not. they should have undergone appropriate organisational assessment, before being asked to co-implement a project, to warrant more effective and efficient project implementation. As per the project implementation itself, it is recommended that in the future, inception workshops be conducted to present overall project expectations, template, forms, timetables and accountabilities are presented, understood and appreciated by everyone involved in the implementation. The success of DEPP in Isabela was in full because of the engagement, commitment and hard work of the community leaders and volunteers. As they have repeatedly asserted, they all started with zero knowledge, understanding and appreciation of what it is to be disaster-ready, of the significance of working together for a shared purpose, of needing other people and groups to advance their skills, and of just having a sense of community where everyone is a vital contributor to its development and sustainability. Most significantly, the project provided the communities with a sense of empowerment, a reason to hope for a better future, and the motivation to claim what is rightfully theirs – basic social services, proper use of government funds, engagement and participation in government actions, especially during legislation and in government bodies, etc. In a way, the project paved the way for a better order of things in the communities, opened more opportunities never before presented, and ensured a more collaborative working atmosphere between the communities, the government, other stakeholders, and the church, which has been a very enlightening and refreshing experience to everyone involved in the implementation.