Finally, the dream is now a reality: the Malaya-Tala School Handover!

It took more than a year from the initial idea of the sisters, Malaya and Tala David, to make and sell “Haiyan Bracelets” (loom bands) in order to raise funds to build classrooms for the children of Maribi, Tanauan, Leyte — who lost theirs to the typhoon — to the actual hand-over of the finished building to the Faculty and Students of Maribi Elementary School last June 2, 2015.

IMG_20150602_123219The happy occasion was participated in by the different organizations and personalities who, in one way or another, were involved in seeing the dream into fruition. There were local and national NGO representatives, officials from the nearby local governments, media practitioners, and even regional and national politicians present in the event. The Project Team, led by Isabella Borgesson and Geline Avila, and Arch. Dean Ramos of Emerging Architects Studio (EASt) were also in attendance. ACF, the financial manager of the Malaya-Tala Funds, was represented by its Executive Director.



Unfortunately, the David sisters themselves were unable to personally attend because school was still ongoing in the US. They, however, sent a video message to the Teachers and Students of Maribi Elementary School conveying their hope that the school be used effectively and be well taken care of because it already belongs to them.





Needless to say, the Teachers and Students of Maribi, the real stars of the event, were already fully committed to doing exactly that. :-)



Free the jailed Students of Myanmar!

More than two months have passed since the violent state-led crackdown against student protesters in Myanmar. Though many of those arrested are finally out on bail, many are still languishing in Jail.

The protests, centered in Letpadan Township in Pegu (Bago) Division, involved more than 200 students and supporters, including monks, who were peacefully protesting the passage of the so-called “National Education Law of 2014,” which the protesters opposed because of four main issues:

  • Lack of consultation with students during its drafting stage
  • Ethnic languages will not be taught at institutes of higher education
  • Universities will not be independent from the Ministry of Education
  • Non-recognition of Student and Teacher Unions

In the crackdown, more than 100 students and supporters were brutally attacked and arrested by the police, who had been blocking their march to Yangon for eight days already.

Police hit a student protester during violence in LetpadanThis photo of Aung Min Khaing, posted by the news agency Irrawaddy.Org, has become the defining image of that event, which until today has not yet been resolved.

One of the youth organizations that played a leading role during the student protests is the Youth for a New Society (YNS), some of whose members were among those arrested and jailed. We are in solidarity with the students of Myanmar in their multi-sectoral call for peace, democracy and social justice.  Using only a mobile phone and free mobile applications, they put together this video, hoping that their government and the entire world will listen.


On the Rohingya refugees still stranded at sea


 (API Photo)

As of this posting hundreds, if not thousands, of Rohingya refugees are still stranded, or remain missing, at the Adaman Sea after different authorities in the region refused to let them enter their territories. The refugees, including many women and children, have been at sea for several weeks, living off meager food and water supplies and with no access to sanitation facilities and medical care.

The Philippine government has recently expressed its willingness to receive hundreds of refugees in view of its commitment to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.  Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, in her meeting with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Bernard Keblet, proposed to send rescue boats as a joint effort with ASEAN neighbors.  ACF strongly supports this proposition and insists that such an effort should be done immediately given that the refugees’ desperation, vulnerability to disease, and death toll continue to escalate every day.

The Rohingya’s history of marginalization intensified during Ne Win’s regime in the 1960s, when they were assailed and disowned by both the Bangladeshi and Burmese governments.  They are subject to multiple layers of disenfranchisement: religious and cultural persecution, denial of citizenship, deprivation of access to markets and employment, forced mass expulsion, forced labor, and other forms of state and non-state-sponsored human rights abuses.  Their desperation forced them into the hands of human smuggling syndicates, gambling their lives in search for better living conditions.  Regrettably, they have found themselves in an even worse state.


ACF believes that while institutional reforms towards protecting the Rohingya refugees all over Asia are being discussed, urgent solutions to life threatening situations like this should be dealt with multi-laterally.  It is high-time that the Philippine Government, along with the governments of fellow ASEAN nations, demonstrates solidarity by undertaking concrete and immediate measures to ensure the safety and dignity of life of our Rohingya brothers and sisters.

Political Parties and Citizen Movements in Asia and Europe (a book launching)


In pursuit of more meaningful relationships between political parties and citizen movements across Asia and Europe, the Hanns Seidel Stiftung Myanmar, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and Asia-Europe Foundation collaborated to publish a book entitled “Political Parties and Citizen Movements in Asia and Europe.”   A wide gamut of experiences are narrated and analysed in this book: from institutionalized political party-CSO relationship in Sweden and Norway, to non-engagement in the case of Spain, to CSOs-turned-political-parties in the Philippines and India.  The book also gave special focus on possible recommendations for political parties who wish to rebuild citizen confidence in a time of growing citizen protests.


The first launch of this publication was held here in Manila last February 27, 2015.  This Philippine book launch was made possible through cooperation with the Active Citizenship Foundation.  Members of civil society, the diplomatic corps, academe, and government agencies were in attendance during the launching, which was held at the Oakwood Premier Joy-Nostalg Center in Ortigas.

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Among the distinguished guests were the German Ambassador, His Excellency Thomas Ossowski;  Berthold Leimbach, resident representative of ACF’s partner, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung; Thierry Schwarz, director of Asia-Europe Foundation; Jules Maaten, resident representative of Friedrich Naumann Foundation; Paul Schaffer, resident representative of Hanns Seidel Stiftung; Daniel Edralin, SSS Commissioner; Gio Tingson, chairperson of the National Youth Commission; and former COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.


Sam Vander Staak, Senior Program Manager of the Political Parties Team of International IDEA discussed the project objectives and findings of the publication.   He argues that generally, there has been a gap between citizen demand and the delivery by their elected representatives from political parties.  This gap, which basically revolves around hampered democratic freedoms, corruption, and failure of socio-economic policies, he says, is the reason for increasing citizen dissatisfaction and distrust towards political parties.  Citizens are now becoming more inclined to articulate their demands through citizen movements rather than through party membership.  Thus the recommendations include engaging with citizens throughout the electoral cycle, diversifying civil society partners, clearly identifying and communicating the level and type of engagement, improving internal party democracy and financial transparency, and improving all venues for communication with the citizens.


Two case studies were also presented in the launch. The first presenter was Kristin Jesnes, a researcher at the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies who studied the nature of cooperation between the social democratic parties and trade union confederations in Norway and Sweden.  This century-old relationship is interesting because their engagement has institutional mechanisms like representation of labor organizations in the party executive committee, coherent practices, regular formal meetings, and joint committees.  This of course, is not without challenge since there has been declining electoral support from labor unions, changing trends in the labor force and decreasing political activism.


The next case presentation narrates the experience of a local party which transitioned from being a consortium of civil society organizations and citizen movements into a political party, which was eventually able to enter government through a newly-introduced electoral law that redressed the limitations of proportional representation.  The continuing challenge, according to the presenter, Sabrina Gacad of Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, is the struggle with its status as a political party and a citizen movement.  Despite this, she expresses, the party has been able to maintain a high level of party democracy with strong bottom-up structures while affiliated non-government organizations remain to enjoy relative autonomy from the party.


Making up the Panel of Reactors were Prof. Josephine Dionisio of the University of the Philippines Diliman; Rafael Alunan III, a former senior government official; and Ramon Casiple, the Executive Director of Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.  By the end of the program, solidarity messages were delivered by representatives from different Philippine political parties: Atty. Marjorie Martin, Deputy Director General of the Liberal Party; Atty. John Castriciones of PDP-Laban; and Risa Hontiveros, Chairperson of Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party.

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The book is also available online to download.

Photo Credits:  Tristan Gomez

Revisiting Yolanda, Revisiting Volunteerism: A Personal Account

By: Larah Vinda Del Mundo

The past week has been one of the most meaningful I had so far. I had the good fortune of joining a bus-load of volunteers who went back to the Yolanda-hit areas to find out how local government units and families are recovering a year after the historic typhoon devastated the area.

The truth is, I am not part of the group of volunteers who responded a year ago because I was somewhere far trying to finish my college education. I went on this trip as part of my current job. Nevertheless, I am more than glad to have come and be surrounded by such passionate and fun-loving bunch of volunteers. I must say that I could not possibly chronicle everything that transpired during our trip, because even with that, I would be doing my new-found friends injustice.


The trip was not an easy one. We had to travel by land and by sea because of meager resources. We slept on the bus 30% of the time and in the remaining ones, we were at the mercy of good-natured comrades we visited along the way. There’s Nay Vergie who literally served as our nanay while in Cabalawan; Ate Ruffa who helped us spread the news of volunteerism and disaster preparedness in Albay; Ate Veron and Ka David who were very patient with receiving an army of volunteers at their humble office quarters in Palo; Mommy Marlene whose home served as an oasis for all thirty-nine of us in Legazpi; and our dearly loved Ka Damian who became everything at once for us while we were in the Leyte and Samar leg. Even our colleagues from Sambisig-WEMS (Wilderness Emergency and Medical Services) went beyond being mere participants and ensured that everybody was safe at all times. 


I experienced a lot of “firsts” during this trip. It was my first time to do volunteer construction work, first time to plant tree seedlings along the coastline, first time to witness how solar panels are installed, first time to witness an actual medical mission (I have been living in caves for years), and even my first time to belt out Titanium by David Guetta, but well, in my case, first time to belt out any song in front of actual human beings during our solidarity night. Not bad indeed, for my first job. 



Along the trip, Ate Paeng, the overall bus commander, gave everybody the important task of knowing the community. I have never heard such stories of compassion and strength before going on this trip. Among the stories is that of Ate Grace, a community health worker from Brgy. Batang, Hernani, Eastern Samar, who lost her home during the typhoon and had no roof to shelter her children for months. When she became fortunate enough to be able to purchase a small portion of land for her home, she decided to put the needs of the community before her own. She donated the land to the barangay so that Akbayanihan Foundation can erect a humble health center that can service not only Brgy. Batang but numerous other barangays in the area. Saludo ako sayo, Ate Grace, at sa lahat ng taong kasing buti at tatag mo!


Just a few hundred meters from Brgy. Batang is one of the most hardly-hit barangays in Western Visayas, Brgy. 3.  But I would not have known this because when we arrived, the people were happily greeting and smiling at us. They were the most cheerful bunch we met and their sense of community was remarkable.  As was said in the novel The Great Gatsby, these people, indeed, had an “extraordinary gift of hope”. In San Jose, Dulag, is another success story of organic farmers who are now innovating farming strategies. It is difficult to imagine that the thriving organic farm we saw started just after Typhoon Yolanda hit with no more than a jar of worms and some seedlings.



During the eve of typhoon Yolanda’s anniversary, we visited a mass grave located amid one of the major roads in Tacloban City. Hundreds of victims were buried in this rather small patch of land. The volunteers and I were given a candle each and were instructed to choose a tombstone to dedicate it to. As I scanned the entire mass grave looking for a stone marker to light a candle for, a friend drew my attention towards this tiny stuffed animal positioned across a tomb marker. When I looked closer, this dilapidated wooden tomb marker was actually devoted not to a single person, but nine. I cannot even begin to imagine the grief of carving nine of your loved ones’ names into a piece of wood. Unlike others whose full names were carved in marble and embellished with intricate curves and lines, this one only had the dead’s first names in them – Glenn, Art and Abigail are some of the names I remember. 

10401417_741105009270058_940812319336037389_nWhat struck me about this particular marker is that it is unadorned but full of heart and tenderness. There was no need for an epitaph, no need for their birthdays, not even a need for others in the community to recognize who these buried people were. The one thing that mattered to the person who carved nine of his or her loved ones’ names in a piece of wood and left a tiny stuffed animal was that he or she remembers them and honors their memories. Perhaps, what was important to this person was that he or she may continue to tell the stories of how they lived, not only of how they died.


It was in that moment when I realized that I may be losing sight of more important things. After weeks of helping arrange the logistics of this trip, observing how there has been a shift in the nature of local industries after Yolanda, looking into how families have gradually regained their ground, and how government efforts have been significant but insufficient, I truly have lost track. I was an outsider looking in. Unconsciously, I might have joined this trip so I can tell myself afterwards that I have done my part and therefore I should feel better. 

During the entire week, various government officials, civil society groups, humanitarian workers and members of the media were looking back at what happened to the Yolanda-hit areas and “checking” how these families have been recovering or not recovering as if they were specimens under a microscope. And I admit that I am guilty of this. In one of the debriefing sessions we did, Ate Paeng told us that if we are in Tacloban to do anything at all, it would be to be really present for all the survivors we would meet. I thought I understood what she meant, only be slapped in the face the day after while staring at that humble wooden tomb marker.

I came to Tacloban looking for an adventure, searching for stories of grief and success that can inspire me, and seeking to tell myself afterwards that I did a good job. Unfortunately, I came to Tacloban for all the wrong reasons. However, I don’t regret having to come because I realized that if ever I would go back, or if the time comes that I will have to volunteer again, I will do so with the attempt to understand and find out not what disasters mean to me, but what calamities like these mean to the victims. I realized that one can only begin to help if one truly empathizes and identifies with the plight of the people one is seeking to help. Most importantly, I have come to recognize that in any effort to extend a helping hand, we should do so not “as outsiders looking in” because, in the end, we are all victims in one way or another.



Larah Del Mundo graduated from the University of the Philippines Baguio and is a new staff member of ACF, Inc. It is her first time to visit Tacloban City and Eastern Samar.

Akbayanihan and Miss Earth Foundations commemorate Yolanda, call for more assistance and protection for affected women

Last November 8, the Akbayanihan Foundation together with twenty-seven Miss Earth 2014 candidates from different parts of the globe called for more protection and assistance to women affected by Typhoon Yolanda, one year after the super-typhoon ravaged parts of Visayas.


The group noted that women are one of the most vulnerable sectors during disasters. The Akbayanihan spokesperson related that when their volunteers went to the areas hit hard by the typhoon, they reported cases of rape and other forms of violence against women. There were also reports of increased sex-trafficking in the affected communities and even in evacuation centers as a form of alternative “livelihood” to provide for the basic necessities for their families.

Equal access to post-Yolanda services    

Even as the government continues with its post-disaster rehabilitation efforts, it must ensure that women have equal access to much needed services and programs. While a lot has already been achieved with regards to relief and recovery efforts despite the massive and unparalleled devastation, still, much more needs to be done, especially in transforming the condition of women in the affected areas.


The government’s continuing endeavor to build better communities must include tearing down pre-existing discrimination and other inequalities suffered by women, many of which were magnified and aggravated by the Yolanda disaster. The concept of ‘building back better’ should embrace the positive transformation of women’s lives.

Women as first-responders, post-disaster rehab leaders 

Princess Manzon of the Miss Earth Foundation lauded the bravery and heroism of the women first-responders who took action to provide immediate relief to many storm-hit areas. “Even as women continue to be one of the most vulnerable sectors during disasters, the significant roles they also play in responding to these calamities as brave and selfless first-responders is simply awe-inspiring,” Manzon said.

Women also provide leadership in the many stages of the reconstruction effort, ensuring that relief and recovery efforts are sensitive to the needs of women and children.

At a time when the women dimension of the rehabilitation work can easily be overlooked in the interest of immediately responding to the overwhelming demands of a post-disaster environment, we praise the women leaders in the government, private sector and NGOs who never got tired of ensuring that gender-based issues and concerns are included in all the stages of the relief and recovery effort. Their stories of hope and selflessness motivate us to contribute meaningfully to changing the stories of our fellow women who suffered greatly under Typhoon Yolanda,” Manzon said.

Climate change

The groups also underscored the need to fight climate change. They said they were adding their voices to the shared responsibility to safeguard the environment so as to prevent future disasters caused by climate change. We must all be part of the cause of asking our respective governments to cut their emissions, push for renewable energy and implement mitigation and adaptation policies to respond to this new environmental reality.


Laws to build “disaster-resilient communities”

Finally, the group called on Congress to pass two legislative initiatives that are critical to rebuilding disaster-resilient communities – the Internally-Displaced Persons (IDP) Bill and the National Land Use Act (NLUA). Both are urgent measures to ensure the “disaster-proofing” of communities in terms of ensuring human rights and dignity, and improving proper usage and management of land and natural resources to mitigate the destruction caused by wild variations in weather patterns.

Lawmakers must take the necessary steps to provide policies that will lay down the groundwork to protect and secure the rights and dignity of individuals displaced during disasters and for a responsible land use planning to help communities better face calamities. The IDP and NLUA bills are important policy measures to rebuild hope in a post-Yolanda environment.

One year after: Yolanda volunteers reunite, call for more volunteerism in Visayas

A group of volunteers who went to areas ravaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda has again banded together to return to the communities they worked with and underscore the need for more volunteerism, one year after the catastrophic storm hit the country. “Akbayanihan Volunteer Bus Mission” CDN_8694 Via the “Akbayanihan Volunteer Bus Mission, an 8-day journey on the road to ground zero”, volunteers will “retrace their steps” back to the communities they served a year ago, and draw attention to the need for more volunteers in Yolanda-hit areas. According to Dr. Dondon Chan, Akbayanihan Volunteers Coordinator, a year has passed since Typhoon Yolanda hit the country, yet more volunteers are needed to help in rebuilding the damaged communities. “It has been one year after Typhoon Yolanda ravaged many parts of the Visayas, yet the call for volunteerism has never been louder. The number of volunteers working as of the moment in the different rehabilitation efforts in the Central Visayas Region is unprecedented. However, the devastation caused by the storm is simply so massive that the number of volunteers needed cannot be overestimated,” Chan said. “Typhoon Yolanda shocked the nation. That time, we immediately volunteered to deliver relief goods and provide medical care, understanding the urgency of the situation. Today, we may have recovered from the initial shock of the catastrophe, but the people living in the Yolanda-affected areas still need our help. And this is precisely why we are going back to those areas, to see what else we may contribute, and where else we may be of service,” Chan added. CDN_8714CDN_8654“Ambassadors of Hope” Local supporters and donors joined Akbayanihan representatives in sending off the Volunteer Bus, lauding the efforts of the volunteers and calling them “Ambassadors of Hope.” The volunteers likewise welcomed the government’s recent unveiling of its Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) for Yolanda-hit areas and hoped that the plan will hasten the rehabilitation efforts in the affected areas and create better, sustainable and more equitable communities. The volunteers, however, pointed to several glaring problems that the government’s rehabilitation efforts still has to resolve:

  • Housing and livelihood backlogs that the government must provide to displaced families.
  • Repair of health facilities and provision of quality health services, where only a third of health facilities have been repaired, with most health services being provided in tents and make-shift health centers still being roofed by tarpaulin sheets.
  • The affected provinces’ current inability to respond to the peoples need during times of disaster, where most evacuation centers remain ill-equipped to accommodate the rush of evacuees during emergencies
  • The alarming number of people suffering from depression and grief who need medical and psychological support
  • Rising teenage pregnancy, according to preliminary reports by the WHO, wherein around 15,000 babies were born every month since the typhoon.

The Akbayanihan Volunteer Bus Mission will organize “mobile forums” in several pit stops to discuss issues such as climate change and disaster preparedness. The volunteers will also be going to Tacloban, Leyte and Hernani and Guian in Eastern Samar. Stay tuned for more updates!

Infrastructure Projects: Daycare Centers and Barangay Health Stations for the “Yolanda Belt”

With the continued support of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), ACF, through the Akbayanihan Foundation, has implemented several infrastructure projects in the “Yolanda Belt.” In particular, these are Daycare Centers and Barangay Health Centers in several municipalities from Eastern Samar all the way to Iloilo.

These Daycare Centers and Barangay Health Units were constructed as per the building standards specified by DSWD and DepEd. Posted below are photos of those buildings ready for inauguration and turn-over to the respective LGU-beneficiaries before the 1st Year Anniversary of Supertyphoon Yolanda this coming Nov. 8, 2014. The remaining infrastructure projects are already at their final stages of construction.



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Flashback: Financial Literacy Training for the Women of Daanbantayan


Together with the Olof Palme International Center, the Active Citizenship Foundation and the Akbayanihan Volunteer Group held a Financial Literacy Seminar for Women last June 17, 2014 in Daanbantayan, Cebu.

Women in disaster areas are faced with multiple burdens. Aside from the task of rehabilitating their lives and their homes, at the same time usually playing the role of a psycho-social therapist for the members of the family, they also take charge of budgeting the family income. With Akbayanihan facilitating some livelihood projects with the fisherfolk families in the area, it is just proper that they are likewise equipped with the skills to effectively handle finances.

Mr. Mark Pardico, a financial literacy advocate and lecturer from the World Financial Marketing Alliance, presented several budgeting schemes to the 50 plus women who attended the seminar. The workshops were filled with exercises that highlighted real-life and local experiences.

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The goal of the entire seminar was to equip the women-beneficiaries with necessary skills towards preparing for emergencies, disasters and untoward incidents that usually place marginalized and indigent families in peril.

Much is still to be done in Daanbantayan, Cebu, especially for its women. But with one skills-training to another, slowly, we are staying true to the promise of being their partners in rehabilitation.

ACF believes that by empowering women, we empower communities.

ACF joins Rappler’s PH+Social Good Summit Manila: #2030Now

About a year ago, the aftermath of Super typhoon Yolanda brought to light a plethora of inadequacies in the country’s disaster risk reduction schemes.  It is also during this juncture wherein potentialities such as using social media platforms as avenues for collaboration before, during, and after natural disasters became more beneficial and therefore appreciated.

Last September, 16, 2014, Rappler, a social media network whose primary thrust is to foster community engagement using digital platforms convened humanitarian workers, community organizers, local government leaders, media practitioners and concerned citizens.  In the conference entitled PH+ Social Good Summit #2030Now, experts from different fields thrashed out the various dimensions of a disaster.  Four representatives from Akbayanihan and Active Citizenship Foundation participated in this event.  The summit’s hashtag (#2030Now) captures the spirit of the entire project.  The idea is that collaborative envisioning for new strategies for disaster risk reduction management as well as for mitigating climate change is the key towards a culture of safety and resilience.

At the center of the conversation during the summit is journalism as a developmental tool.  Crowd-sourcing, for instance, as a bourgeoning trend in investigative journalism, has been instrumental in rescue and relief efforts during the past natural disasters.  Rappler highlighted Project Agos, a media platform that “combines top down government action and bottom up civic engagement to help communities deal with climate change adaption and disaster risk reduction”.  As journalism continues to go to the direction of cooperation with the public, the Executive Director of Global Center for Journalism and Democracy Kelli Arena says, it should help build capacities among its consumers.


Realizing that journalists serve as a vital link between state and civil society, Kris Van Ordsel, New York’s Director of Infrastructure and Local Government Program for Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery talks about the politics of natural disaster recovery.  He discussed the basic elements of planning and executing disaster risk reduction management schemes under the context of government institutions in the United States.  Sec. Lucille Sering, Vice Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission drove the issue home by talking about the Philippine government’s initiatives in mitigating climate change.  She synthesizes by saying that there is indeed a noticeable increase in willingness to augment climate action but commitment in terms of subsidy remains low.  Sec. Sering adds that the country should start showing some leadership globally in these climate change mitigation initiatives.  Asec. Jose Sixto “Dingdong” Dantes adjoins the National Youth Commission’s call to integrate the youth in disaster risk reduction programs and strategies.

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What can be taken home from this summit is that we should all be taking advantage of the increased connectivities and start taking an active role in mitigating our own vulnerabilities.  ACF sees this summit as an important step in creating a culture of safety and resilience because participants were able to have a glimpse at what other sectors have been doing in their fields of involvement.  At the end of the day, what will count is how these kinds of initiatives can jump-start a community of leaders from various sectors who are willing to collaborate in planning and moving for a safer living space for all.