Linda’s Blog

18th March 2018 – It’s Raining!

At last the rains have begun….maybe. Although this is the time of year when they should come: Easter is the time for planting the primary maize crop for the year. But no-one is sure any more. I remember when I first came out here as a VSO in 1976 the farmers were saying, even then, that the climate was changing. They could no longer be confident the rains would come when they should. El Nino droughts were happening more frequently…every 3 to 4 years instead of 7 years, giving farmers no time to recover from one drought to the next.

The majority of the farmers in Damulog, Bukidnon on the island of Mindanao are very poor living on less than £2/day. Bukidnon is the 4th poorest Province in the Philippines. They borrow from the middle traders to buy the seed and other inputs they need to plant. The loan is usually two to three times the actual cost of the seeds etc but they have no choice and they are obligated to sell their harvest back to the trader they borrowed from… at a lower than market price. Their collateral is their land. If the rains fail…or come at the wrong time and the crop fails…and they can’t pay back the lender they will forfeit the land becoming day labourers and sliding deeper into poverty.

To make matters worse, despite the Philippines being the most typhoon prone country in the world, the island of Mindanao has always been typhoon free.

That is why Del Monte made Bukidnon the site of its pineapple plantation when they moved their production from Hawaii in the 1930s later adding plantations of bananas and papaya…..that is until the last few years when super typhoon Haiyan and Bopha tracked further south than usual, devastating the eastern and northern seaboards of Mindanao causing massive destruction.

In the past few months tropical storm Temba battered Marawi which is still recovering from a 5-month siege by ISIS inspired extremists. Evacuation centres were flooded and landslides washed houses and people away with the loss of over 120 lives. Mindanao can no longer claim to be typhoon free.

Everything changes.

Climate change is affecting the poorest the most. Land is being concentrated in fewer and fewer families as the changing weather creates increased risk of crop failure and uncertainty. With little future on the land the young are moving to the coastal cities where they join the vast numbers squatting along the rivers and coastal margins and as storms and rising seas create increased flooding their lives become increasingly precarious.

In a very small way MuCAARD teams are trying to help.

It has been a busy couple of months visiting MuCAARD member teams and a visit from Rob who came out here with me as a VSO all those years ago. He’s also a trustee of MuCAARD-UK and an agriculturist. Some of you may have seen the photos on the MuCAARD-UK Facebook page of the work of COSEED reforesting the mangroves, protecting the coastline from tsunamis and helping farmers redeem their land through a Land Redemption programme we support. We met 4 of the beneficiaries of this programme and they all told us how this programme has given them hope that they will, once again, benefit from the harvest of their land.

BUT THEN….Romy got a small wound on his lower leg and ignored it until a temperature of 39.7c meant emergency admission to a hospital with cellulitis, for 4 days of intravenous antibiotics. Two weeks later he’s much better, still taking medicines, but slowly building up his energy and getting mobile again. Maybe now he’ll be more careful of his diet as being borderline diabetic means he can’t eat as many bananas as he likes!


I have been helping out the MuCAARD staff responding to the ongoing crisis in Marawi. Romy, when he hasn’t been in hospital, has been spreading the word about the BISAP PuLPuG/GRACE health scheme. One village organised a meeting at which over 850 people came. The programme has now been officially adopted by the local officials and will begin operating in the next few months.

In the meantime my okra plants are flowering, tomatoes are growing and beans have been planted. May the rains continue!

11th February 2018

Well, you could have fooled me! My calendar tells me we’ve only been in the Philippines a month but it seems like a great deal longer.

The Dept of Health (DoH) Provincial Director is very excited about our GRACE/PuLPuG* community-based programme and has been inviting us to explain and promote it to other municipalities. It is seen as the ‘missing link’ in the delivery of health services to everyone.  This new Service Delivery Network (SDN) is, for the first time, including private hospitals and NGOs who are registered with  the Government PhilHealth** free basic health care programme.

As a consequence we have already given one presentation to the elected officials of nearby town who are very keen to implement PuLPuG/GRACE. We have also been invited to present it to health and Government officials in neighbouring Districts.

But, since you are never a prophet in your own land, the Mayor and local officials of Damulog are still trying to make people fearful of joining  local PuLPuG associations in their village/hamlet. However, many refuse to be cowed and we currently have 21 small (max 50 households) groups in  17 villages and the town centre. The mayor continues to be convinced that Romy plans to run in the 2019 local elections and depose him…. I can promise you he won’t!

We held the first annual assembly of the Damulog PuLPuG Federation last Saturday February 11. It was a time to assess the how things have been going.  Inevitably there have been problems partly as a result being an explosion in demand for assistance and an outbreak of dengue fever. The groups realised that they would need to increase their monthly dues and also increase their remittance to the Federation. However, everyone was determined to carry-on and the most exciting reason for many was the cooperation and breaking down of fear and prejudice between the Muslim Maguindanao, Indigenous tribal Manobo and the Christian Settlers. As Mayor, Romy and his team have done a lot of the work building bridges between the different communities. Now PuLPuG is doing this.  The Christian settlers have always been afraid of the local Maguindanaons but the Christians never realised that the Muslims also had a fear of them and the tribal Manobo have always been on the margins.  This breaking down of walls is transforming relationships.

One of the biggest problems currently is the lack of medicines available in the government clinics and hospitals. This is so bad that there are currently no intravenous antibiotics available for free at the government pharmacy.  This means that patients have no option but to buy them privately.  Government doctors are putting in their own money so that medicines are available for emergency operations.  The problem is national government procurement policies and the rules of the COA. With no free medicines the PuLPuG Federation has had to pay out much more than we anticipated for medicines and as a result the fund is severely depleted and risks running out completely. The member groups have agreed to increase their monthly dues but the next few months will be very difficult.

Tomorrow I go down to Cagayan de Oro for a MuCAARD Mindanao meeting.  I’m hoping to meet up with Rob who is visiting for a month.  Rob and I came to the Philippines together in 1976 as VSOs and together with Romy we set up MuCAARD UK. I say I’m hoping, because there is a typhoon coming and the ferry from Camiguin can’t sail while a Storm Warning is in place.  We’ll see.

In the meantime I have indulged myself on Rambutan fruit, okra, long beans, pakchoy, papaya and ampalaya (bitter gourd) all from our garden.  Also Jack fruit and Guanabano/Soursop fruit and lots of different bananas from our farm.  Let me know if you want to come and stay! And just in case Romy had too much free time he’s just made a kitchen top with shelves underneath!  Oh and avocados are just coming into season.

17th January 2018

We’ve been back in Damulog a week and my body has almost readjusted to the 8hr time difference but not quite. Listening to Radio 4 6 o’clock news, on my phone, at 2am is slightly surreal.  The journey was uneventful and we were met in Cagayan by our friends at 4.30am Friday morning almost exactly 24 hours after leaving Manchester.  It then took us a further 12hours to get back to Damulog. Its a 4 – 5 hour drive depending on traffic but we did some food shopping, ate a few meals and spent 3 hours in Malaybalay converting my temporary paper driving licence to one similar to a UK one. This was actually easier than converting my UK paper licence to a plastic one because my on-line application was denied – needing more information as to my identity – my passport number not accepted – they need the real thing –  with a note on the application noting my country of birth as Malta! Brexit is all pervasive.

Its been a busy week.  On Saturday we invited 30 of our friends, colleagues and members of the Board of the Federation of local GRACE groups to lunch and a catching up of what has been happening while we’ve been away –  as well as demands to see photos of Aisha and Alastair’s wedding – which we don’t have yet! We were too busy to take any ourselves but when the officials ones are available  – worry not – I will be boring everyone with them!

On Monday we had a meeting of MuCAARD-BISAP staff and members of the tri-people1 duck-egg raising group. Issues included low egg production and importance of proper feeds including lime to make sure eggshells hard enough and don’t moult too often!  No problem of market for ‘balut’2.

Tuesday Romy was invited to attend a 4-day meeting of the Regional Dept of Health (DoH) Service Delivery Network (SDN) to present the GRACE3 programme (locally known as PuLPuG4) I joined them on the 2nd day to see how GRACE can help improve and increase peoples access to healthcare. One of the problems remains, for us, political interference as the mayor of Damulog warns people not to be associated with us and GRACE as it may affect their continued employment in the local government. It’s very discouraging;  but also encouraging to see people resigning rather than be cowed by him. But their are others who cannot risk losing their only source of income. Life is very precarious and many don’t have the luxury of being able to stand up to a bully.

Romy presentation this afternoon on GRACE/PuLPuG with finance and admin officers (both volunteers because we have no funding)  joining us from Damulog in answering questions on day-to-day management of programme. The Regional Director of the DoH is absolutely convinced of the importance of this as the ‘missing link’ as to why so few of the vary poorest access the government health care system. Other towns are very interested but the need for staff to promote GRACE and assist local communities to set up their local self-help group is essential.

Overnight in the best hotel in the city of Valencia, Bukidnon. I couldn’t work out how to turn the massive tv off so had to take the card key out so all the electrics went off and I could get some sleep …. Romy already asleep!

1Balut: fertilised duck eggs boiled and sold as a fastfood snack  2 Tri-people: Muslim, Christian and Tribal communities  3 GRACE Grassroot Response Against Catastrophic Expenditure  4 PuLPuG  local dialect for GRACE translates as – Fund to Avoid Impoverishing Expenses.