Ending poverty

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

BY 2024, poverty will end for five million families in the Philippines.

This is the target of Antonio “Tony” Meloto, founder of the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation Inc. (GK).

Ending poverty will mean giving not just houses to the poor but also jobs and education for their children, he said.


GK was formally established in 2003 to help end poverty by using a holistic approach that involves volunteerism and partnership to take the poor out of a slum environment, provide them with their basic needs and empower them to transform their lives.

“We have so much land, yet we have many informal settlers,” Meloto said Saturday at the “Open Collaboration with East Asia New Champions 2014 Summit” (Ocean 14), a side event of the World Economic Forum (WEF) East Asia Summit meant to bring the conversations and potential problem-solving platform of the summit to the grassroots.

Land donation

But he was confident that “we can address our squatting problem.”

WEF is a Geneva-based non-profit organization committed to improving the state of the world. The East Asia Summit was held in Makati City on May 21-23.

“We built our first (GK) village with land donated by the landowner. In the last 10 years, GK has gotten land for more than one million families nationwide,” he told the gathering of business champions, young global leaders and shapers and their foreign counterparts at Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu.

“Before GK, it was not fashionable to give to the poor. They (landowners) gave to the Church to buy a ticket to heaven,” he said, lamenting that the poor remained informal settlers despite land donations.

To encourage land donation, he said he told landowners that developing the land would make land values go up, their donation would be tax deductible, and they would become heroes to the poor. “What better deal can you get than that?” he said.

Asked where one could still find available land in a country considered by some to be overpopulated, he told Sun.Star Cebu there are “12 million hectares of unproductive land in the country,” some of which is owned by the military.

“The Church has so much land,” he added.

Change in mindset

Meloto said a change in mindset was needed to encourage people to help the poor.

“If you don’t consider the poor as family, then you will leave them behind,” he said.

He said GK’s partners had benefited from their GK involvement in unexpected ways.

GK helped make Selecta “the number one ice cream brand in the country,” he said, by helping to bring industrial peace to the firm.

As employees spent months and years laboring together under the sun to build houses for the poor in a GK village in Cainta town, the good feelings between managers and subordinates returned, enabling them to have more productive brainstorming sessions and to come up with innovative products and ideas.

The Philippines has been gaining international attention for its rapid economic growth under the Aquino administration, but Meloto warned that development won’t be sustainable if a foundation of social justice is not built first.  

Inclusive growth and sustainable development were the main themes of Ocean 14.

Batas Kalikasan Foundation founder Antonio Oposa said countries have been growing their economic output on a policy of “extraction and consumption,” harming the environment—the source of people’s life, land, air and water.

Call to citizens

He called developed countries “over-consuming countries” and urged economies to build their growth on CPR or “conservation, protection and restoration” policies instead.

“When we use natural resources, we should not (just) think of the (effects on the) next decade but the next seven generations,” he said.

“Climate change is a symptom of many dysfunctional things happening not only in our country but in the world,” said Naderev “Yeb” Saño, commissioner of the Climate Change Commission, who urged a change in the way the world now pursues development.

He said that in the Philippines, 90 percent of fish stocks had been depleted as of 1996 and only three percent of primary forest remained as of 2002.

Industrialization, urbanization and deforestation have released large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, warming the earth, changing weather patterns, and threatening food security.

Following the onslaught of more destructive storms, Saño said roads and bridges had to be built “the way they were designed”—meaning free of the corruption that reduces the funds that actually goes to the infrastructure—so they can withstand disaster impacts.

Calling on citizens to take action, he said: “The greatest threat to the planet is the belief that someone else will save it. The greatest threat to the Philippines is the belief that someone else will fix it.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 26, 2014.

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