“The bright spot in all these recent calamities is that there are very few costs in human lives. We attribute this to the growing awareness and preparedness of our people as well as our collective prayers. And so, as we go through all these, we need the prayerful support of our partners and our Communion. We are fully aware that several other disasters are happening in other parts of the world and so we are appealing that you include the Philippines in your continuing prayers for all these catastrophes.” So writes Attorney Floyd Lalwet, Provincial Secretary of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP).
In recent months, the Philippines have been battered by three major disasters: earthquakes, Typhoon Phanfone and, most recently, the eruption of Volcano Taal. Millions of people have been affected in different parts of the country: forced to flee, losing their homes and livelihoods, suffering trauma and needing urgent humanitarian assistance. Through all these disasters, the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) have been present, working with other churches to meet immediate needs, providing shelter and relief goods.
But there is much more to their response than providing emergency assistance. As Floyd Lalwet – who is also the director of ECP’s development wing Episcopal CARE Foundation (E-CARE) – reflects above, lessons learned from previous disasters about preparedness have meant fewer lives have been lost than might otherwise have been the case. Past experience has also shaped the nature of the E-CARE’s response: looking to the long-term rehabilitation of communities right from the outset. And E-CARE’s innovative Receivers to Givers (R2G) programme – a sustainable funding mechanism developed and practised over many years – has meant that much needed financial help has been available to affected communities. However, even this model of best practice has been stretched to the limits in the face of multiple catastrophes coming in such quick succession.
What has been happening in the Philippines?
In mid-October, and again in mid-December, earthquakes hit Mindanao, affecting almost half a million people. Then, over Christmas, Typhoon Phanfone (known locally as Ursula) swept through Visayas, affecting over two million people. This was followed by the eruption of Taal volcano on 12th January sending up plumes of ash, steam and debris, and leaving a level 4 alert of hazardous explosive eruption, which is still in place and which has displaced more than 271,000 people. You can read more about these disasters later in this web story and a more intimate insight into the impacts of the volcanic eruption can be found in an accompanying news item here.
How has the Church responded?
Just after the earthquake, ECP’s Episcopal Diocese of Southern Philippines shared on Facebook that youth and church volunteers were working together to put together food packs from donations contributed by the ECP, IFI and United Methodist Church. These were used by the Cotabato Regional Ecumenical Committee in affected areas. The diocese contributed the rice to the 264 food packs they distributed. High school students also facilitated a campaign to collect rice and other goods from individuals. In total they gathered 750 kilos of rice plus clothing, canned goods and water containers.
Since November the ECP and IFI have also been working with the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) to respond to the communities worst-hit by the earthquakes in Mindanao. ECP’s earthquake rehabilitation program will restore farming and other means of livelihood for people affected by the catastrophe, facilitate the relocation of people living in a community that the local government has declared unsafe for habitation and link community partners with local government agencies and other potential partners.
Hopes that the government would provide relocation sites have come to nothing, meaning ECP is now looking to buy plots for home construction. Money from ECP’s ‘Great Banquet’ fund will be used for purchasing the land. This creative and novel fund is described below.
A response based on experience
ECP’s response is based on their experience after Typhoon Haiyan (known locally at Yolanda) which taught them the importance of such longer-term rehabilitation. They found that while there is a need for immediate food and other relief after disasters many private individuals and NGOs step in to provide this, but very few focus on the long term rehabilitation of communities.
ECP also learnt that in the aftermath of disasters people are highly motivated to recover, with energy to be the architects of their own recovery rather than being the passive recipients of hand-outs. The approach ECP has long used in its development work is based on the assets (the resources, skills and experiences – God-given gifts) already present in a community, and this has proven to be an effective means of harnessing that energy. ECP also pioneered “Receivers to Givers” (R2G) – an approach whereby a community that receives money for a development initiative or disaster recovery passes on that amount to another community in due course, thus turning receivers into givers. ECP learnt that even after a disaster of the magnitude of Typhoon Haiyan, people embraced the R2G model as it gave them the possibility not only of recovering but also of improving on their previous circumstances.
Atty Floyd Lalwet says: “While we were finalizing our resources for the earthquake rehabilitation program, Typhoon Ursula hit Central Visayas and damaged many of our partner fishing villages in Aklan. Since the repair and rehabilitation of fish pens, boats and other fishing equipment became urgent in the aftermath of the typhoon, in order to enable the communities to resume their livelihoods we had to divert a total of Php 1.5 million [about $30,000] (originally mobilized for the South Cotabato earthquake response project) to them.”
The 14km evacuation zone in Batangas around Taal volcano is within ECP’s Diocese of Central Philippines. Their churches and schools outside the zone are being used as evacuation centres. Local congregations have been giving relief contributions for communities in Batangas that are affected by the volcanic eruption. Evacuees are helping re-pack donations for the communities.
How has ECP funded their multiple responses?
As described above, E-CARE has a “receivers to givers” policy, meaning there is a rolling source of money for disaster response. Floyd also speaks of how others have contributed to the disaster responses saying, “In responding to the earthquake, typhoon and eruption, we have largely relied on the support of our dioceses, congregations, institutions and some overseas friends and individuals. We are now doing this for the eruption of volcano Taal and we are getting a lot of positive response”. A further source of funding has been the “Great Banquet” fund.
The Great Banquet Fund
The Banquet Fund began as the Lalwet family’s practical response to a gospel reading they heard shortly before a family member’s birthday. “One time, the Gospel reading was the parable of the Great Banquet”, Floyd recalls, “where Jesus Christ taught that when we host a banquet, we must not invite our friends and relatives as they will invite us back and we will be repaid. We should instead invite the poor, marginalized, blind, lame and those who could not pay us back”. The family decided to do what Jesus had taught. They still invited friends to the birthday celebration, “but the bigger part of the budget, Php 5,000 [about $100], was donated to E-CARE for its disaster response program. Thus was born what we now call the ‘Banquet Fund’, where people, hosting a banquet or any celebration, can give for the poor.”
Pulling the strands together
In 2018, E-CARE mobilized almost Php 2 million [about $40,000] from their dioceses, institutions, congregations and partners to respond to Typhoon Ompong. Those in affected communities, who received support, were able to return (grant-back) what they had received in funding assistance by end of 2019. Their grant-backs are now part of the Banquet Fund that has been allocated for the South Cotabato project to purchase housing lots for people from the now un-inhabitable villages and for farmland rehabilitation.
“This is a great model of disaster response,” says Janice Proud, Disaster Response and Resilience Manager at the Anglican Alliance. “This rolling fund for disaster response provides funds that enable affected communities to rebuild their lives, which they then grant back to support further communities affected by disasters. A similar Banquet Fund could be used by other provinces around the Anglican Communion to empower communities affected by disasters to rebuild their lives. It must be so encouraging after a disaster to know that the funding for your emergency comes from people who have rebuilt their lives after a similar disaster just a year or two before.”
The impact of multiple disasters
However, with these successive disasters hitting the Philippines, E-CARE has needed to reach out to international partners for extra support for the Banquet Fund. Atty Floyd Lalwet says, “we had to give Php 1.5 million to Central Visayas in December for the rehabilitation of fishing villages. This is under R2G and we expect these fishing villages to be able to grant back funds sometime towards the end of this year. In the meantime, we have a shortage of funds for the South Cotabato earthquake response.” Episcopal Relief & Development are providing some support, while the Anglican Board of Mission, Australia are supporting IFI’s earthquake response.
What can I do?
- Pray for those affected by these disasters and those working with them at this difficult time
- Donate to Anglican agencies supporting the response to these disasters
To see how to give to the Banquet Fund, maybe after a celebration, click here.
To support Episcopal Relief & Development’s disaster response fund, click here.
Prayer for the long haul…
Compassionate God, it’s easy to pray and act
when images of suffering smart our eyes
and words of injustice ring in our ears.
It’s tougher to be constant
when the cameras are gone,
moved on to the latest celebrity scandal.
God of all time and of this moment, help us
to be present in thought, word and action
to our sisters and brothers in need –
holding their concerns as our own.
Just as you remembered the suffering of Sarah and Abraham
and heard the cry of your people in slavery;
just as Jesus recognised our hunger
and dwells with us in spirit and in word;
so help us to embody your steadfast love,
as we remember your people in the Philippines
We pray in Jesus’ name,
who grieved with Martha and Mary,
and called Lazarus to fullness of life.
More about the disasters
Typhoon Phanfone made landfall on Christmas Eve, moving on to cause devastation on islands further west on Christmas Day. The heavy rains, strong winds and storm surges impacted 3.2 million people. The worst affected areas are those that had also been in the path of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Typhoon Phanfone damaged 262,385 houses. Many were totally destroyed leaving people still in temporary shelters.
Through October 2019, the Province of Cotabato was jolted by three successive major earthquakes (6.3, 6.6 and 6.5 magnitude) as well as countless aftershocks. The municipalities of Tulunan and Makilala were hardest hit. In December, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit the municipalities to the East of Matanao, Davao del Sur and nearby municipalities.
According to a UNOCHA report, 349,200 people were affected by the first series of earthquakes with 23 deaths, and 124,200 by the second series with 11 deaths. More than 73,000 houses have been damaged, almost 30,000 are completely destroyed leaving over 70,000 people still in temporary shelters. Local governments of the Cotabato province have declared two barangays (districts/villages) un-inhabitable. People sheltering in evacuation are deeply traumatised.
ECP report that farmers affected by the earthquakes are trying to salvage whatever crops they can and have gone back to their farms, working to get them productive again by day and travelling back to evacuation centres by night. Some households have built makeshift tents outside their homes where they can be safe especially during the night. However, some villages are unsafe, and the community needs to be resettled elsewhere.
The Anglican Alliance exists to connect, equip and inspire the world wide family of Anglican churches and agencies to work for a world free of poverty and injustice and to safeguard creation. Disaster response and resilience is a central part of our work. Read more here.
Get our news by e-mail
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from the Anglican Alliance.