Our impact, their stories

Building peace through economic development in the southern Philippines

An ILO project in the southern Philippines shows how the spirit of the possible new ILO standard can be put into practice by lifting conflict-hit communities out of poverty through local economic development.

Feature | Davao Oriental, Philippines | 16 June 2017
This feature story from the Philippines was published in the special 2017 issue of the World of Work Magazine

By Minette Rimando, ILO Country Office for the Philippines

DAVAO ORIENTAL, PHILIPPINES – The southern Philippines looks back at a long history of insurgency and conflict. Decades of armed struggle have taken their toll on people’s lives and livelihoods, fuelling poverty in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

Elmer Donaire is a 47 year-old farmer and father of four children. When he was 13, Elmer dropped out of school to work on the farm. His typical day would start at five in the morning to plow rice fields and to fetch water, carrying a load that was often too heavy for a young boy.

“It is not bad to dream of big things. I promised that my children will not suffer the same fate. I will work hard so that they can finish their studies and find a decent job one day,” he said.

Elmer now heads the Tomaong United Lumad Association (TULAD) in Davao Oriental, which produces organic banana ketchup, flavoured banana chips, native coffee, coco vinegar, banana cake, honey and custard candies.

The association is one of the registered business groups in Mindanao that was supported by the Programme for Local Economic Development through Enhanced Governance and Grassroots Empowerment (PLEDGE). This joint project of the ILO and the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) was launched in 2013.

The three-year programme supported confidence and peace-building efforts through local economic development of the conflict-affected provinces in Mindanao. The Mindanao Trust Fund supported the programme through a multi-donor grant facility by the European Union, Sweden, Australia, Canada, United States, New Zealand and the World Bank.

PLEDGE was the first enterprise and economic development project of the BDA, a local development agency created by the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) via the Tripoli Agreement on Peace in 2001. The agency is mandated to lead, manage and determine relief and rehabilitation in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

Putting guns aside

“We are for normalization. We have put aside our guns because this is a programme for the Bangsamoro community. It has changed the way we value things, and we have learnt how to run a project. They taught us everything. It really makes a big difference,” said Abu Saff Onofre, Brigade Commander of the MILF from Davao Oriental.

When Onofre refers to normalization he summarizes what this project is all about: local communities benefit from a quality of life and work, and political participation that contributes to sustainable development and peace.

PLEDGE has provided the tools and strategies to build peace through sustainable livelihoods, enhanced institutional capacities and community ownership.

According to Zuvaira Mangelin, the voice of the people mattered in the programme. This 34-year old mother of four children is now earning a living as an officer of the Strongly United Koronadal Proper Organization (SUKOR).

“PLEDGE brought communities and people’s organizations together. Our needs and ideas were considered from the onset of the project. I felt empowered when I started to earn a living, and I am now more confident. The project also helped to build human ties – whether we were Christians or Muslims – and it strengthened these ties as we got to know each other better and worked together,” said Zuvaira.

SUKOR started its Halal catering business in Southern Mindanao. The profit is shared among the members of the organization.

“The ILO’s Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) training helped us with procurement, bookkeeping and marketing of our products. Women in our community learned how to make business proposals and promote their products,” Zuvaira added.

Gaining confidence

SUKOR used its profits to buy equipment to expand its catering and food packaging business. The organization was able to build its own Community Learning Centre, which serves as its home office, and is also rented for events, meetings and other purposes in the area.

“The simplified business training has contributed to the self-confidence of communities and allows them to pursue a productive life. The SIYB training was brought to rural communities in partnership with the Bangsamoro Development Agency,” explained Hideki Kagohashi, Enterprise Development Specialist of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines.

“Community enterprises have introduced a simplified bookkeeping system to better control costs and project profits. They can now market their products beyond their neighbourhood to include high schools, souvenir shops, and city malls,” Kagohashi added.

So far, PLEDGE has reached more than 4,800 beneficiaries in 11 conflict-affected communities, while some 1,100 people were trained in local enterprise development. Forty-two new businesses provided jobs to more than 1,000 people. However, there is still a need to scale up the programme building on these achievements.

With their potential to end decades of poverty, conflict and inequality, programmes like PLEDGE are at the heart of peacebuilding efforts in Mindanao and elsewhere.