Losing World Bank contest a start for migrant-backed dev’t efforts in Bicol

by LUIS CARLO S. LIBERATO
www.ofwjournalism.net

PASIG CITY–LAS Vegas, Nevada-resident Melvin Romano wasn’t worried when he lost in betting that a local governance concept for his hometown in Bicol could best other groups.

“We didn’t lose. We’re just starting,” Romano said after his group Amus Na Kita Oasnon’s (Anko) project wasn’t chosen among the World Bank’s grant awardees in its recently-concluded contest for social development ideas.

Romano was echoing the message sent via mobile phone by townmate Francine Chamorro in New York.

“No one lost; Oas and Oasnon won in this effort. We are just warming up, and there is no going back to the old way of doing things in Oas, and that is progress right there.”

Romano and Chamorro have gone back to their drawing board for a social enterprise to push their hometown of Oas in Albay into one of the progressive municipalities of that southern Philippine province.

Their move to refine their plan of using the Internet to pool resources of Oasnons abroad was emphasized by the poor turn out in a meeting after the WB awards night.

Of 66 townmates they invited to a fast food restaurant for the meeting, only ten, including Romano, showed up.

“I don’t mind where we hold the meeting and how many we are today,” Romano said. “We have a hometown to help.”

Anko, a member of the Manila-based Oragon Po –a play on the name Oas Rainbow Go-alition of NGOs/Pos – is one of more than 500 nongovernment groups and people’s organizations that entered the World Bank “Panibagong Paraan” competition.

Since it was launched in 2006, the bi-annual WB-led contest for community projects for a P1-million peso grant has seen an increasing number of migrant-backed organizations entering proposals for social enterprise.

Migrant groups Unlad Kabayan and Kanlungan Centre Foundation were the only groups that were chosen for funding.

The entry of these groups in contests such as Panibagong Paraan comes after more than three decades of Philippine labor export.

Likewise, these groups’ social enterprise ideas stem from what institutions like the WB call as the development potential of migrant remittances.

Oas

THIS town, 545 kilometers south of Manila, is neither a stranger to misery nor to magnanimity.

This farming municipality, for instance, was hit hard by a typhoon two years ago.

Despite that, the town still posted a nearly P3-million income that year, though becoming the second lowest-performing municipality in Albay province, according to Commission on Audit data.

The town of Oas was not abandoned during that time by relatives of its more than 60,000 residents.

These included those in Los Angeles, California, who sent US$5,000 for typhoon victims, according to the website oasnon.com.

A volunteers’ group called Care4Oas was formed after that. The support that flowed because of the typhoon led to the formation of the Metro Manila-based nonprofit group Anko.

Anko’s project titled “Participatory Governance in the Internet Age: Linking Progress with Responsible and Effective Leadership” was among 99 finalists in the Panibagong Paraan.

Anko’s Ruben Ricasio explained the project sought to use websites to allow local and overseas-based Oasnons to check on the performance of the hometown local government.

It is also aimed at hastening gathering resources for natural calamities.

Typhoons are always part of the equation when it comes to handling development initiatives, says Romano, since typhoons can “easily wipe out our hard work”.

Romano, Ricasio, and overseas Oasnons pooled money for their entry and booth in Panibagong Paraan.

Romano blamed himself for the group’s failure to win a grant.

“You gave us the authority to deliver this project: We offer no excuses: the responsibility for its failure is ours alone,” he told his fellow Anko members.

To note, Oragon is “proudly overbearing” in English.

For Ricasio, it is the Oasnons’ “traditional ways” that hinder his town’s advancement.

“Some values that the Oasnons observe are not appropriate at [sic] this modern age.”

Ricasio didn’t elaborate and just shook his head.

“What was Oas then is what Oas remains to be now,” Romano interjected.

Nearby the town is Ligao City (formerly a municipality), and Romano thinks “Oas is being left behind”.

Revival

OAS, nonetheless, hasn’t left behind its tradition.

For nine days in May, the town appeared it has also left behind its problems.

Current mayor Gregorio Ricarte revived Karangahan, a province-wide nomenclature for the Albay fiesta that expresses wealth brought about by a good harvest.

Ricarte also used the website for helping typhoon victims to solicit for the fiesta, promising an agro-industrial fair; street dancing; cultural shows; basketball, boxing, billiards, and chess tournaments; marathon; marching band competition; and, a beauty pageant.

Such spending rankle Oragon Po’s Aldwin Requejo’s feelings.

While the fiesta is okay, Requejo said the local government should also ensure delivery of basic services.

Requejo claims this is what Oragon Po and the network of groups it build aim for.

The project that lost in the Panibagong Paraan cited that Oragon Po would build a database of Oasnons in and outside the Philippines.

The project expects to entice these Oasnons to give back to their town by putting up a “virtual” or simulated municipality where they can become mayors for a day.

The project also claims it would offer prizes for Best NGO project and most outstanding NGO to entice such development groups to focus on their town.

Romano promised they would continue applying such components despite losing in the World Bank competition.

“We’re bringing in the new wave of social initiatives.”