Civil society in the spirit of volunteerism united with one purpose, taking positive action to aid the most vulnerable in society through education, healthcare, disaster relief, and community empowerment to access better opportunities in the midst of economic challenges.
"I think I have to disagree with that number - we are not that high," this was the controversial statement of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. in a press conference after his first Cabinet Meeting when he was informed about the 6.1% inflation rate recorded by the Philippine Statistics Authority in June 2022. Despite the president refusing to accept the numbers produced by his own government agency, inflation has continued to rise. Just in January 2023, the inflation rate increased again to 8.7% which is the highest recorded in the Philippines for 14 years. This has placed the lives of Filipinos, especially those who are minimum wage earners and living from paycheck to paycheck, in an extreme situation where it is hard to sustain themselves and provide for their essential needs.
The former vice president, Atty. Leni Robredo (an economist graduate of the University of the Philippines) persistently emphasized this even during the Duterte administration. She said, "We ask the government to stop dismissing inflation as a sign of a growing economy. Economic growth is meaningless if it does not redound to the uplifting of the lives of the poorest segment of our society." Robredo previously proposed the installation of competent and trustworthy leadership at the National Food Authority to stabilize food (particularly rice) security and reverse the excise tax on fuel and other impositions. In addition, she highlighted, "The Filipino people who suffer the brunt of such rising prices are not served by further politicking. What our people need is a government that truly works for the public interest and does not waste its power and resources on pursuing personal and petty concerns."
With such economic constraints being forced upon the population, it falls to the general population to look after the weakest. Since the head of the state himself is unconcerned by the effects of increased prices, in several parts of the country the population has started to take the problem into their own hands. This has given birth to non-profit organizations such as Angat Buhay that find themselves having to do the job that the government refuses to do.
Angat Buhay means uplifting the quality of living for Filipinos. This initiative started as a flagship program under the Office of the Vice President in 2016 spearheaded by Robredo. Eventually, the program officially became a non-government organization on July 1, 2022, after the pivotal and historic people's campaign that transpired in the Philippines. Angat Buhay spread liwanag sa dilim (light in the dark) - it shed a ray of hope in the midst of the dark valley of those who dreamt of a transparent, honest, and responsible government.
The core of Angat Buhay is focused on establishing programs of education, health and nutrition, disaster relief and rehabilitation, and community engagement and empowerment. Their approach is community-centered which allows them to directly work with the communities in order to design and implement programs to address the specific needs of the communities concerned. Where Filipinos are practicing what they are known to be the best of, bayanihan; the community uniting for the purpose of helping others without expecting something in return.
Angat Buhay is one of the largest volunteer networks in the Philippines catering to the marginalized. Supporters and volunteers of this initiative have normalized the spirit of volunteerism with joy in aiding communities that are in great need. The power of volunteerism that is apparent to the people behind the different programs of Angat Buhay has made a huge difference in the lives of Filipinos.
One of their ongoing programs is to establish school buildings and school dormitories in different corners of the Philippines together with their partners and volunteer workers. This is to aid the lack of classrooms in the Philippines and to provide Filipino learners with a relatively comfortable learning space.
The beneficiaries of the school dormitories are Filipino learners who are hours away from their nearest schools. There are students like Krisamae Cagoco from Zamboanga Del Norte who wake up at 3:00 am for a four-hour journey to school for a 7 am class, not to mention the streams and mountains she crosses every day back and forth. Building such dormitories for students like Cagoco allows them to focus on learning without the hours of tiring travel. As Cagoco said, "Now that we have a dorm, there will be big changes in our studies unlike before when there was still no dorm, we have to walk daily. We are tired. We can no longer study and do our assignments. Now, we will have time to study."
Part of this initiative is also the birth of community learning hubs in different parts of the Philippines. The covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the pre-existing learning gaps of Filipino learners. Consequently, the community learning hubs that are facilitated by volunteer teachers are trying to mend those gaps, particularly in reading and comprehension. One of the community learning hubs is situated inside the "Angat Buhay Village" in Albay. Through the collective effort of community villagers, they were able to construct a learning hub consisting of a library and livelihood training center made out of light materials such as bamboo and anahaw leaves.
In the midst of the pandemic, the Angat Buhay initiated Bayanihan e-Konsulta (Communal Unity Electronic Consultation) to accommodate Filipinos who are in need of medical consultations that are primarily non-covid related. It was re-established during the pandemic because the hospitals in the Philippines have mostly been at full capacity with covid-19 patients. In order to cater to other non-covid cases Angat Buhay aided the health system through Bayanihan e-Konsulta. In a statement, they said that this program was joined by more than 1,000 volunteer doctors, nurses, and non-medical personnel that conducted virtual checkups for over 6,000 patients from July to December 2022. In fact, among the volunteers of this medical assistance program is the daughter of former Vice President Leni Robredo, Dr. Tricia Robredo.
During times of calamities, Angat Buhay partners and volunteers are also one of the first to respond with disaster relief and rescue. In the past severe Tropical Storm Paeng in 2022, Angat Buhay was able to deploy volunteers and relief operations in 16 areas nationwide that were affected. They also delivered new fishing boats to the coastal communities in Quezon province that were affected by Typhoon Karding. The fishing boats were donated by Philippine drag queens, Precious Paula Nicole and Eva Le Queen, who held fundraising activities for Filipinos affected by the typhoon.
The Angat Buhay's bayanihan and volunteerism culture ignited hope in Filipinos that the fight in improving the nation is not yet ended, this is only the beginning. What they have contributed so far has made a clear statement that their passion and dedication to help will reap benefits for poorer Filipinos, and even limited resources cannot hinder them. This is the power of true communal unity, making a positive difference in the lives of their fellows.