Who would have thought that there is a haven for butterflies just a few kilometers away from the North Luzon Expressway? The haven is a garden beside an ancestral house in Bulacan. The house is like a small museum with dioramas showing Bulacan’s history and culture. But what really caught my interest were the butterflies.

Vanessa means “butterfly” in Greek. No wonder I feel I have an affinity with these creatures. They start out as green crawling caterpillars who know nothing but eat leaves and sleep. They spend their caterpillar days like bums. Crawling, eating, drinking, crawling again. Life is meaningless.

Soon enough, they come to a point in their lives when they get tired of the meaninglessness of it all. They decide to bury themselves in the pupa of self-pity and take a deep sleep. When you see a pupa hanging on a leaf or twig, you’d think it was some dead skin of a tree, or dust that just gathered beneath a leaf. But no… inside the pupa, one great transformation is happening.

It is only when the once-green caterpillar emerges from its pupa hiding place that we can see the transformation.

The new creature has a slimmer body — the caterpillar fat has shed away. And it has wings of vibrant colors!

As it emerges from the pupa, the wings are still weak… soon the butterfly starts to flap its wings, gaining strength, until they have learned to fly.

It has become a creature of beauty. Perhaps even more beautiful than the flowers. I guess, there are times that we just have to die to our old self before transformation even begins.

And when it does, we emerge like butterflies — beautiful creatures that can soar to new heights.

No wonder I have an affinity with this creature. At times I feel like a caterpillar… and only when I learn to let the old things die, giving place for the new to come… then and only then will I be able to fly.

By the way, thanks to Deo for lending me his Canon EOS 300D with the 50mm lens. 🙂

I want to visit the twin lakes again. The lakes have a certain enchantment that beckons you to keep coming back.


The best time to go up the lakes is early in the morning. You have to go on a trip to Sibulan, an hour’s drive from Dumaguete, and travel mostly on dirt road, though portions of it are already paved by the local government. Upon reaching the end of the road, you will find yourself on top of Mount Talinis, and a few feet from the road is lake Balinsasayao.


The last time I went there was with a group of media people. It was 7 in the morning, and the morning mist still canopied over the mountains. We descended onto the basin of the lake, where we saw a kid fishing on shallow water. As we approached him, we discovered that there were already three tilapias in his basket. I simply had to take his picture. The simplicity I saw in the scene was one of the most beautiful I have ever encountered.


Royal blue bancas line one side of the lake, ready to take its passengers on a memorable and meaningful exploration. The area is largely undeveloped. There is but a small cottage up the slope and the surrounding forests are untouched. It is a real paradise for nature lovers like me.


This was our banca, facing towards the ridge that separated Balinsasayao from its twin, Danao. The great lake was beckoning us to come and start our morning exercise of paddling and mountain-climbing.


I took a picture of my companions while we were on a banca, paddling our way to the other side of the lake. The serenity of the place also set us in a rather reflective mood. We quietly paddled our boat while listening to the symphony of birds and crickets on the woods on top of the mountain slopes and beholding the panoramic view of the mist-covered mountain.


Upon reaching the other side of the lake, we climbed the ridge that led to Danao lake. During my first trip here, the path to Danao was a muddy trek up the mountain then down to the lake’s basin. This time, I noticed that the local government had already placed stepping stones that made the climb easier. Upon reaching the pinnacle, I took this picture of Danao lake from the top of the ridge. I still wanted to go down and complete the quest but my companions were less adventurous today and opted to go back to our banca.

I may not have completed the trek this time around, but my second trip to the lakes may be described as less adventurous yet more meaningful. The place was lovelier the second time around. It is now that I have come to appreciate the stillness of the lakes, and can say I have experienced what King David said in Psalm 23. He leads me beside quiet waters. Posted by Hello

text and photos by Vanessa Velasco

Sunrise in Dumaguete

Sunrise.

I have often watched its magnificence. The most memorable of sunrises I have ever experienced is in Dumaguete City. I would wake up before dawn to await its coming by the seashore, when the world is still dark and quiet, and when the only sounds you hear are the quiet beat of the ocean waves blending with the rhythm of the fishermen’s paddles on its waters.

Soon, the sky grows brighter. A soft golden glow emerges at the other end of the horizon. The melodies of birds start to accompany the rhythm of the waters. Then comes the sunrise.As I behold its beauty, within me grows an expectant spirit of what the day will bring. The vivid color of the town as I walk its street. The music of the forests in the outskirts of the city. The taste of the native delicacies waiting to be discovered. The smiles and laughter I am about to share with the city’s people.

The sun is up. My journey has started.

Revisiting A Past

Dumaguete City seems to be like one large university campus. Walking down its streets, one can notice the tall acacia trees arching above the main roads, forming an umbrella-like canopy. The culture of Silliman and three other universities have spilled over the small city, giving it the academic atmosphere that would have earned its reputation as the Philippines’ University Town.

College students are everywhere – striding on the sidewalks in maong pants, carrying algebra and history books. Others engrossed in a group study in the many cafeterias that are sporadically scattered around the city.

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It reminds me of my college days. The long walks I took along the Diliman campus after the rain, where the scent of freshly cut grass mingles with the dews on leaves of the trees. Reading my textbooks beneath acacia trees while watching a group of students play soccer on the sunken garden. Group studies at the main library in the middle of the campus, followed by heated debates over coffee and crackers. Singing and guitar music with my barkada late at night at the foot of the oblation. Late evening talks with my roommates. Star gazing at night.

These were some of the most memorable years of my life. When all I had to think about were my lessons in school. Reports. Projects. Term Papers. Life was so simple then. And in looking at the students who trudged the Silliman sidewalks, I feel I was transported back into the past I’ve always wanted to revisit.

Collecting Souvenirs

I used to have a hobby of collecting souvenirs. In my room, I have a collection of pine cones from Baguio, a bag of white sand from Boracay, a sea shell from Panglao, a rock from Ilocos Norte. Several of them have already gathered dust – but more than the souvenirs are the memories they evoke as one gazes upon them. Moments cherished during a particular time at a particular place.

But during my trip to Dumaguete City, I did not take any souvenirs with me – but inadvertently did exactly the opposite: I left something precious to me, which may now be considered as a hidden treasure in the waters of Bais Bay. It happened while we were out in the open water, “in the middle of nowhere” as we fondly called the experience – looking for whales and dolphins in the middle of Bais Bay.

The waves were friendly to us adventurers that day, giving but a gentle rock to the pump boat we were on. Some meters away from the boat, we saw around thirty dolphins playfully displaying their water antics. As I tried taking their picture, through my Palm Zire 71, the waves gave the pump boat a very mild sway. It sent my Zire down into the ocean – my precious! There goes my schedule, my Documents-To-Go and my pictures!

I guess my Zire found its place among the sunken treasures of Bais Bay. So I bought myself a new and better digital camera to replace the sunken Zire. And while I still collect stones and shells and sand from my travels, I have learned to preserve moments that cannot be aptly captured by tangible souvenirs. I have learned to capture the beauty of the sunrise. Or the sparkle of the waters at sea. The solitary silhouette of a fisherman at the break of dawn. The smiles of strangers. It was then that I have begun my collection of intangible souvenirs.

The Poetry and Adventure of Nature

The most memorable of my intangible souvenirs during my Dumaguete trip are images of the Twin Lakes. There on top of the mountains of Sibulan, after the long trip on rough roads, we found the lakes. Their waters were emerald green, the surrounding forests, a deep jade. And the sky above, a light sapphire with brushstrokes of flowing white clouds.

still waters of Balinsasayao

Boating across the first lake, Balinsasayao, we beheld every sight and sound that our senses could take. Upon reaching the other side of the lake, we had to climb up a steep hill to see its twin, Danao lake.

That is when the adventure began. The uphill climb was relatively easy – that is, for the ones who do not lack enough exercise. It was the downhill trod that posed as the harder challenge. Most members of our group stopped upon reaching the pinnacle, but the more adventurous ones dared go down the other side of the ridge towards Danao. I was one of the adventurers who reached the second lake.

Thought it did not possess the enchantment and poetry of Balinsasayao, it offered the excitement and adventure that was not found in its larger twin. The feel of its refreshing waters on my feet was a sort of reward for braving the slippery slopes we conquered. Even when we were back in the city, the images of the lakes kept on haunting me.

I knew in my heart that I will again find myself waking up at dawn, seeking both the poetry and adventure that I have experienced with the lakes.

The Real Journey

sunrise in Bohol
And each dawn actually marks the beginning of my real journey.

It is not a journey that most travelers take, with their usual guide maps, travel brochures or “travel-light” bags. It is not just a tour of a place where I become part of a culture I have never experienced, when I feel an affinity with people whom I have seen for the first time, when I share the laughter with strangers, and feel homesick for a town that was never my home.

It is more than falling in love with a place and a culture. More than beholding the fog-covered caps of a dormant volcano, or enjoying the touches of the fine white sands of a tropical paradise. It is more of a journey that I embark on everyday – the search for meaning and significance in the places I visit, the people I see, the emotions I feel and the memories I take with me. More than the physical travel, it is the journey of the heart that determines whether I share my experiences in a cardboard-cut travel guide or in moving palettes of natural wonder and the vibrant joie de vivre found in relationships.

So whether I sail the waters of Bais Bay, or find myself trekking on the mountains of Talinis, or simply cruising through Metro Manila’s traffic, I find myself on a journey. For my journey doesn’t start with a plane ticket or a passport. It starts with every sunrise. Each time I see the first rays of sunlight breaking through the silent darkness that heralds the dawn of a new day – be it in the middle of the sea, or on top of a mountain, or in the middle of the city – I know that there is always poetic beauty waiting to be discovered, and an adventure waiting to happen.

That is when my real journey begins.

by Vanessa Velasco

Photos by Deo David

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The two-century old cello, formerly owned by cellist Vicente “Tiking” Lopez Jr., quietly rests on the right side of the stage during the “Bach to Metallica” concert at the PhilamLife Theatre.

The 200-year-old cello, prominently propped up on two chairs on the stage of PhilamLife Theatre, gave a prelude to what was in store for the audience. Then, as the hall lights began to dim, and the old cello became more resplendent. One by one the cellists came, and took the audience through a sweeping musical journey from the Baroque period of the late 1600s to the high romantics of the 19th century. It is a fitting occasion, ancient and new cellos making music in this concert organized in honor of the late Vicente Lopez Jr., the former owner of the two-century old cello.

At program’s end, music shifted to 21st century heavy metal – except that eighteen cellos were playing in lieu of electric guitars – resulting in a finer and gentler sound. “Bach to Metallica”: that’s a fitting name for the concert, as eighteen Filipino cellists gave the audience a taste of music that spanned several musical eras. When the music ceased, the crowd who were silent all throughout the program burst into a jubilant applause.

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One of the country’s premier cellists, Renato Lucas, opens the program with a prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach.

After the Performance

In one fleeting moment, these artists revel in the admiration of the crowd. But once the applause dies down and the stage lights dim, they return to the reality many classical musicians face: the struggle to make a living. Classical music artists receive very little recognition – and compensation – compared to pop artists. In reality, many classical musicians receive only around 10% of what their pop counterparts actually earn.

Similarly, cultural organizations are experiencing difficulties. Among the country’s orchestras, only the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra has a regular season this year. Other orchestras have virtually stopped staging their own concerts – some even started to accept bookings for non-cultural events such as weddings and debuts just to make both ends meet. Many classical artists have even gone overseas to seek greener pastures: to countries where their music is more appreciated, and they themselves are better compensated.“Classical artists are not faring well in the country because there is not much media exposure for their music,” says Martin Lopez, executive director of Sinagtala, the foundation that staged “Bach to Metallica”. “We only have a few venues where we can promote classical music. There’s DZFE, the only classical radio station in the country. And yet, even DZFE is not spared from financial crisis and in fact has reduced its broadcast hours due to budget constraints. This effectively reduced the exposure for classical music.”

Diminishing Audience

Tiffany Joy Liong, DZFE’s station manager, says that the station’s reduced broadcast hours may have indeed affected the reach of classical music. She explains: “It is through DZFE that many people hone their appreciation for the classics and the reduction of broadcast hours by 40% may have diminished our reach, and may have resulted in losing some listeners.”

But the few listeners who remain are a captive audience. These are the discriminating crowd – those who have an ear for fine music, and who can discern what is good and what is not. That explains the applause of the crowd in the concert hall of the PhilamLife Theatre. The applause was not that of the uninitiated, but the educated taste – classical enthusiasts who know the fine distinction between a good and a so-so performance. And classical pieces are not the monopoly of grown-ups.

Pianist J. Greg Zuniega recounts how the students in his music appreciation programs would respond to classical music. “You only need to educate people what the music is all about,” he says. “Once they have a grasp and an understanding of the music, they keep asking for more.”

One Step At A Time

These artists, committed to uphold the legacy of classical music, will not stop until they have shared such fine and beautiful heritage. Martin, noting that the effort is long and arduous, summed up in one sentence how artists will propagate classical music: “We will get there, one step at a time.”

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Eight cellists from various orchestras in the country perform a work by Brazilian composer Heitor Villalobos.

One artist at a time. Sinagtala supports the classical artists by helping them find bookings abroad. “There are opportunities outside the country where the artists can gain recognition, and at the same time, have higher compensation,” says Martin, “our purpose is for them to perform outside of the country, but they must be back in their native soil; their base should still be here in the Philippines.” This has somehow helped our artists cope with financial difficulties without having to reside abroad.

One barrio at a time. World-class violinist Gilopez Kabayao and his wife, pianist Corazon Pineda-Kabayao, have traveled from barrio to barrio – from small schoolhouses to barangay streets to cockpits – to perform and organize simple classes on music appreciation. They have been conducting these classes for years – free of charge, with travel expenses paid out of their own pocket.

One school at a time. Concert pianist J.Greg Zuniega takes with him other artists from one school to another to hone student appreciation for Filipino music and culture. He calls this “audience development,” where he gives free performances to non-classical music listeners and then educates them about the music’s history, plus its significance to our culture. “They actually like the music – and even requested us to come back and perform for them,” Greg says. “It is just a matter introducing them to ‘something finer’.”

One instrument at a time. Concert flutist Ray Sison, for his part, sources out instruments from abroad and deals with manufacturers directly, then makes them available to orchestras. “Good musicians will still sound good even on student model instruments,” he points out, “But, of course, they will sound much better with better instruments.”

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An ensemble of the Philippines’ best cellists in their rendition of Metallica’s “Fade to Black” composed by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich; and arranged for eighteen cellos by Alvin Castillo.

Corporations Support the Arts

Money-making corporations support classical music through their own foundations, or they include sponsorships for concerts and art exhibits in their yearly budget. Interestingly, the business sector has come up with ways other than cash sponsorships to help propagate the legacy of culture and the arts.

For instance, San Miguel Corporation has established its own orchestra and choral group – the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra and the San Miguel Master Chorale. The initial reaction of the other orchestras and choral groups was one of disapproval when several of their members have left the group to join San Miguel. However, this move is generally seen as a development in the classical scene since San Miguel has given musicians and vocalists a chance to earn a little more.

Some of Manila’s better concert halls are owned by corporations, which they have built in their own head offices. Somehow, their support for the foundations dedicated to classical music takes the form of their allowing concerts staged in their halls free of charge. Thus, through this kind of sponsorship, we get to enjoy fine performances at the PhilAmLife Theatre, at the Equitable PCI Bank’s Francisco Santiago Hall, the Meralco Theatre and RCBC’s Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium.

Company sponsorships may also take the form of supporting individual performers. Wyeth champions promising young musicians through their Gifted Child campaign. Aside from giving these kids publicity through television commercials and events, Wyeth also sponsors concerts that feature their roster of gifted children.

Other corporations – like the Ayala Corporation, Petron, Metrobank, and Toyota, among others – have established their reputation as staunch patrons of the arts. For years, they have partnered with cultural organizations and enabled them to continue propagating classical music.

In a manner of speaking, foundations are the driving force in the development of classical music; the corporations constitute the enabling force that allows these foundations to play their role well. This partnership between businesses and non-profits keeps the classical music scene moving forward, albeit slowly.

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Eleven-year-old Pocholo Ramirez gives his rendition of a sonata by Benedetto Marcello, accompanied by pianist Harold Galang, Dean of the PWU Conservatory of Music.

A Timeless Legacy

After the concert at PhilamLife Theatre, several kids – all scholars of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation – went onto the stage, each with a lei of flowers. All of them were violin students, and two have been identified as potential cellists.

With quick small steps, they walked up to the performers, who then gamely bowed so the kids can place the leis around their neck. The children’s eyes sparkled, before the older cellists who stood towering over them. The thought is inescapable: Someday these kids will be performing on that same stage – and the devotees of classical music shall have come full circle.

As the artists made their exit and the audience started to leave, there on stage, still quietly resting on two chairs was the old cello. And like the old cello, classical music is, too, supported by two sectors – the businesses and the foundations. Take away one of the chairs and the cello will fall. The same thing will happen to classical music if either the businesses or the foundations would cease to play their part in upholding our classical heritage.

And the compelling reason why they should not stop: “Classical music reminds us of our ideals,” says Tiffany, “telling us that there is something better, something more excellent than what a passing era or what society in general dictates.”

Martin articulates what these ideals are: “It is upholding our sense of culture. Classical musicians don’t go around promoting empty songs like otso-otso. We promote something more meaningful: the culture and harmony that can be found in classical music.”

Just a look at the young scholars should be enough motivation to propagate the legacy of classical music. They represent the next generation of those who will help shape the culture of this country. Let it be then a culture that our artists are working hard to preserve – one that is marked by harmony and excellence.

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After the program, the young scholars of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation come up on stage to present leis to the performers.

by Vanessa Velasco

A surge of musical genres has hit the airwaves – radio stations have tried to find their niche to capture a particular audience. In surfing the channels, one will come across the usual beat of drums and reverberation of electric guitars that is commonly used in the various genres – until you hit that station when the music is distinctively different. One of violins and cellos and flutes.

These finer and softer sounds will go by unnoticed to the untrained ear. Only those who have an appreciation for the finer art will keep their dials tuned in to the station. For more than half a century, 98.7 DZFE has been dutifully, without fanfare, playing the classics in the airwaves. Amid the proliferation of the more popular tunes of pop and rock, the station maintained its identity as the only classical music station in the country.

The station has long served an important role in the classical music scene. When people cannot attend concerts or buy CDs, DZFE brings classical music right to their own homes, offices, or cars. One can enjoy the “natural imagery” in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or imagine the countryside charm in Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, while negotiating across Metro Manila’s traffic. The stress of office work becomes bearable when listening to the soothing symphonies of Beethoven or Mozart or Rachmaninoff. People can listen to performances of artists in the concert halls of Europe without leaving the comfort of their homes or the privacy of their cars.

While most of the station’s listeners are top executives, professionals, and the academe, there are, surprisingly enough, also a number of cab drivers, motorshop mechanics, and sari-sari store owners who listen. This defies the perception that classical music is only for the elite. Even the common tao can develop a taste for the fine and the elegant.

One of them wrote to the station, giving a glimpse into the very diverse audience of DZFE: “I grew up in the dumpsites, in the squatters’ area. I began listening to your station when you were on the AM band when I was in sixth grade. Only the music of the masters helped me keep everything in balance. My neighbors were wondering what this music was that I was listening to! I just love your station.”

Reading these responses from the listeners is enough to motivate the people in DZFE to continue their work despite the difficulties. Like all non-profit organizations, the station faces financial challenges that started with funding problems in the later part of the year 2000. Fund generation was at a downhill trend, compelling DZFE to reduce broadcast hours by 40 percent. Tiffany Joy Liong, DZFE station manager, assures listeners, however, that the cut in broadcast hours is temporary. Once the funds come in regularly, the station will resume its afternoon and weekend programs.

The station needs to raise more than P400,000 a month to cover operational expenses. Because of its non-commercial license, DZFE does not solicit advertisements from organizations; they survive only through the donations of radio listeners and other partner organizations who have offered to help the station financially.

The station has also partnered with corporations through sponsorships of fundraising concerts. But while these donations help in pushing forward DZFE’s projects, the station has yet to get regular funding to sustain broadcast operations.

To date, DZFE’s mother network, the Far East Broadcasting Company, still subsidizes a portion of the station’s operational costs, but other funding revenues are being explored with the goal of establishing a donor base that can regularly support the station. “We need to get regular donations, even if it is as little as P100 a month,” Tiffany says. “As long as it is continuing, it would help us continue our broadcasts.”

Many sectors believe the broadcasts should indeed continue, pointing to DZFE’s programming that does not compete for the passing interest of the majority, but remains faithful to what is timeless. DZFE represents the artist’s resistance to what is merely popular, so that it remains faithful to its advocacy to promote what is excellent, and thus elevate its audience’s taste.

Better still, it is the kind of programming that makes people experience what this listener articulated: “In moments like these, when I feel the world is bearing down on me, and when it has become so difficult to live life peacefully, I tune in to your station.

“It is always like a breath of fresh air that has come into my troubled soul. It is not just the tranquil music from our classic composers, but the quiet, almost prayerful quality of your programming that gives me a certain calm. For these precious moments of tranquility in a world of noise, I am grateful.”

by Vanessa Velasco

It all started with a single question: “Why are there poor people in a country with so many resources?” And her search for answers launched a two-decade-long journey for Dr. Ruth Callanta, taking her from the comforts of a middle-class home in Manila, to development studies in universities and higher learning institutions, and finally, to the founding of an organization that supports the micro-businesses of the entrepreneurial poor. Now the founding president of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) and 2005 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Dr. Callanta shares her journey of finding the answer to poverty alleviation.

“I was raised in a middle-class Christian family where everyone lived in harmony,” she started. It was a very ideal family setting where there was an abundance of food on their table, where it was common for people to share possessions and resources with one another, and where generosity went beyond the walls of their home to outsiders who were in need.

So when the young Ruth took an undergraduate degree in Anthropology in the University of the Philippines, she was surprised to discover a world where suffering existed, where poor had nothing to eat, and no homes to stay in. So started her search for a way to help these people out of poverty.

“I thought I could help by volunteering in a charitable organization,” she said. But she soon realized these organizations may only provide short-term relief for poverty – the donations of food and clothes to the poor may be enjoyed for a while, but when the food is consumed and the clothes worn out, they would once more feel the hunger pangs. It seemed like an endless cycle. She knew then that short term solutions are not enough for long-term problems such as poverty.

Soon, she pursued graduate studies and academic work in higher learning institutions. She enrolled in a master’s degree program in Community Development and Social Work in UP and afterwards, while working as research assistant at the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP). Later, she took a Master in Management at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), the same institution where she became part of a team that developed the curriculum for their Master in Development Management program.

Through these two institutions, Ruth learned the languages of both business and social development, allowing her to “unite the concepts of business with the heart of social work.” She then introduced this model to the poor by establishing micro-finance programs among them, and equipped them with the skills in money-making.
“But I soon realized,” she recalls, “even when you if you lend money to the poor without any real transformation in the hearts of these individuals, the money will only be used for their selfish interests.”

The founding of the Center for Community Transformation

Ruth’s teaching job at AIM provided several opportunities for service, one of which was a stint as CEO of the Asian Resource Center. When the Center closed down after a year of operation, she incorporated the Center for Community Transformation in 1992, and absorbed the 13 staff of the Asian Resource Center – paying their salaries initially out of her own pocket.

The first funding for CCT came when San Miguel Corporation (SMC) hired the organization as consultant during a time when SMC was reducing its manpower. CCT provided entrepreneurial training for the retrenched SMC employees, equipping them with the necessary skills needed to generate income for themselves and eventually establish their own businesses.

Soon, they entered into another contract with SMC’s subsidiary, La Tondena, whose factory in Tondo was about to transfer to Pangasinan. CCT was commissioned to do a research study on the effects of the factory’s transfer on the immediate community where it operated. Results showed that the community surrounding the factory was dependent on the workers for their livelihood and income – the sari-sari stores and carinderias of the community members were established to cater to the La Tondena employees.

With the community’s micro-businesses in peril of closing down due to the factory’s transfer, CCT started its own community-based program that equipped the micro-entrepreneurs with tools that will enable them to find other ways of generating income. Seeing that CCT can already sustain its own operations and start its own community-based programs, Ruth enrolled in UNDP’s micro-finance program, which led to the formation of the CCT Credit Cooperative.

The micro-finance programs of CCT soon gave birth to several other ministries that provide a holistic approach to poverty alleviation. A scholarship fund was set up for the education needs of the beneficiaries’ children. A housing program was initiated where men are trained to do carpentry, plumbing and electrical works – with the possibility of landing in contractual jobs for CCT’s corporate partners in its housing projects. Trainings are provided to the poor to enable them to live sustainable lives – continuously earning income for their families through the capital provided by CCT’s micro-finance program. A trading company was established to provide low-cost products to the poor, making available to them quality products at affordable prices. And, CCT provides a way for the poor to have social security and medical benefits by facilitating for them their contributions to Social Security System (SSS) and Philhealth. “As we help increase their income,” Ruth explains, “we also help decrease their expenses, and give them access to social security for their future.”

The Heart of the Problem

Beyond the poverty alleviation programs that she started through CCT, Ruth made sure that these communities who benefit from their programs would experience real transformation. “No real transformation can take place unless the heart is changed,” she says, “and the only person who can change the hearts of men is none other than Christ.”

It is through the values formation programs of CCT that all its members have been faithful in paying their loans and their contributions. Because of this, the organization is highly liquid, enabling it to expand its operations. Each membership meeting starts with a Bible Study, where the values of stewardship, honesty and integrity are taught to the CCT members.

The organization also partners with Christian churches that conduct the Bible studies and assist in CCT’s community programs. Now, CCT sites have become thriving communities of micro-entrepreneurs who are honest and ethical in their deals, and trustworthy in their partnerships – which eventually made them prosperous their small businesses.

What Ruth then started as a small organization with only 13 staff in 1992 grew to an enterprise with around 850 full-time workers, 130 branches and more than a hundred thousand beneficiaries nationwide. The rapid expansion and growth of CCT and the blossoming micro-businesses of its beneficiaries validate Ruth’s claim that “the poor can pay for their own development and non-profit organizations can achieve sustainability without having to rely on grants and foreign funding.”

The Road Ahead

Even after the success of CCT’s work among the entrepreneurial poor, Ruth’s journey did not stop there. She continues to look for ways to expand the organization and reach more urban poor communities. Part of her future plans for the organization includes the construction of the CCT Training Development Institute building where micro-entrepreneurs can be equipped with skills that will enable them to sustain their businesses.

“If those who work in big business corporations can avail of education such as MBA and graduate studies that allow them to be effective managers,” she explains, “the Institute will do the same for the entrepreneurial poor.” The Institute will train the micro-entrepreneurs with livelihood skills that they need in operating – and possibly, expanding – their small businesses.

CCT also partners with big business corporations who can provide low-cost products, training and other business opportunities to the micro-entrepreneurs. “There are a lot of possibilities for the micro-businesses,” Ruth says, “they can be both the market of the big businesses’ low-cost products, or they can also be the suppliers – just like what Cityland is doing, when they contract the people they train in some of their housing projects.”

There also exists a plan to develop the industries that produce Philippine-made products such as weaving, dyeing, and pottery. This program by CCT seeks to develop the indigenous industries in the provinces by promoting products that are distinctively Filipino. The program is a response to the current trend of purchasing affordable imported products from other Asian countries, which has significantly reduced the interest of Filipinos in the country’s native products. In patronizing Philippine-made products, indigenous people can earn additional income from crafts that can actually compete in the market.

A Vision Fulfilled

Both Ruth’s passion and innovation may have won her the title of the 2005 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. But what causes her to continue her pursuit of poverty eradication? “It’s a vision I received while reading Isaiah 65,” she replied. Quoting the verses from that book, she mentioned of “a world where no infant will die of malnutrition; that the old will live up to a hundred years; that people will live in houses they built and eat the fruits of their labor.” She added that all these things are actually indicators of development that are used by several non-profit organizations. She points out: “The concept of development has been there even during Old Testament times.”

Her journey may have been long and challenging, but in stepping out of the comforts of her middle-class home to embark on a search to eradicate poverty, Ruth transformed depressed areas into thriving communities of micro-entrepreneurs – and enabled these people to experience for themselves, that same comfortable life and ideal home that she knew as a child. Now these people have homes with enough food on their tables, a shelter to protect them, and a spirit of sharing among the community members – just like the kind of home where the young girl named Ruth grew up.

And, inheriting the generosity of her parents who shared the food on their table to needy strangers, she shared her life so that people need not ask for food from strangers again.

By Vanessa Velasco

For years, cooperatives have played an important part in the country’s development. It is the sector that finances the small businesses of the masa and gives purchasing power to the poor. It is through these organizations that wealth is created on the lower levels of society – particularly those who cannot afford to loan in banks or invest in stocks or bonds.

A cooperative – more popularly known as the co-op – is an enterprise that gathers people to pool in their resources as capital. The most common of cooperatives is the credit cooperative, which has the basic functions of a bank, except that its services are limited only to its members. Its primary function is micro-finance where members can loan an amount as low as P2,000 and settle it on easy payment terms. Other cooperatives pool in the agricultural products of their members, which are sold to the community or to traders and exporters. Any income earned by the cooperative is given back as dividends to its members.

In a way, a cooperative is like a business enterprise on another level – where the stockholders are the masses; where even the poor and marginalized can be empowered to make business and investment decisions. At present, there are around 64,000 of these organizations all over the country – and their numbers are continually increasing.

A GROWING SECTOR

The growing number of cooperatives has prompted the National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO) to work on professionalizing the sector. NATCCO is one of the biggest networks of cooperatives in the country, with over 1,200 member co-ops. They play the role of intermediary among their members, as well as an enabler for the cooperatives to achieve a level of competency and productivity.

Cris Paez, chief executive officer of NATCCO, relates how he wants to see the cooperatives in the future: “We want to turn them into world-class institutions,” he says, “so that the officers and staff are competent in handling the transactions and the cooperatives have their own business centers to keep them connected with the rest of the world.”

Under his leadership, NATCCO has provided training and consultancy services to the officers and staff of the cooperatives, enabling them to acquire skills to manage their co-ops well. After the training programs, NATCCO goes a step further by providing technical assistance in setting up the systems of the cooperatives.

“We go with them to the communities to help them set up their business centers,” says Paez, “through this, the cooperatives are connected to the world through facilities that gives them access to telephone and the internet.”

STANDARDIZING THE SYSTEMS

As part of NATCCO’s efforts to inter-connect the cooperatives, a more standardized system is being developed to unify the software applications being used by its members.

Wilfredo Dimamay, chairman of the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) Multi-Purpose Cooperative, is helping NATCCO establish its information technology systems. “We are creating inter-cooperative business by unifying their savings and credit applications software so that all co-ops will be inter-connected,” he says, explaining that this move will allow ATM-connectivity among the cooperatives and facilitate more money transfers and inter-cooperative lending.

The new standardized system will also allow efficient retrieval of records, financial ratios analysis and resources management. Eventually, a central cooperative bank will be established to enable members to make transactions through ATM machines in any of NATCCO’s banks.

The technology of the commercial banks is being used to achieve this inter-connectivity. Dimamay says that eventually, the systems of the cooperatives should be like that of the banks. “The only difference is,” he points out, “whatever profits these cooperatives earn are distributed to the masses.”

EQUIPPING THE LEADERS

With the growing number of cooperatives and standardizing of systems comes the need to continually equip the leaders on how to manage their organizations. “Cooperatives are growing and there is a need to train and equip the leaders to handle the expanding organization,” says Romeo Villamin, chief executive officer of the Institute of Cooperative Excellence (ICE), an organization established as a response to NATCCO’s mandate to equip its leaders and officers.

Now, formal education on Cooperative Management has been made available to directors and officers of NATCCO’s member cooperatives. The Ateneo Business School has now offered Cooperative Management as an elective in its MBA program. Other schools all over the country are being invited to follow suit, and include the elective in their business courses.

Soon, the program will be developed into one whole course that can be offered in colleges and universities. Villamin, optimistic about the response of schools to the program, says he hopes to see the course moving beyond a mere elective to a whole college degree. “Like an MBA major in Cooperative Management,” he muses.

By Vanessa Velasco

Photos by Greg Morales

That particular weekday morning started out with a trek along what was obviously a place of commerce. It is not the usual scenery that greets office workers in the larger business districts where stylish glass buildings tower above a wide avenue. It does not have the sophistication of Ayala where sedans and SUVs form part of the business landscape.

Here, at Kalayaan Street behind the Commonwealth market, the road is narrow and covered with mud. The edifices you see are but small structures made of shoddy coco lumber. The only vehicles that can pass through are bicycles, motorcycles and wooden karitons.

Walking along the street, however, one can notice that the place is bustling with several small businesses. Sari-sari stores are sporadically scattered along the main road. Several people are seen having merienda at small tables and benches where the only meals on the menu are ham sandwiches and orange juice. Women shop for ten-peso clothes in the small ukay-ukay shop while kids enjoy a five-minute virtual battle with spaceships just by dropping a peso coin in a rusty amusement machine.

It is a community of micro entrepreneurs. Some have already sought expansion by venturing into several other micro-businesses: a registered midwife has her own sari-sari store and rooms for rent; the owner of the small gaming shop also operates her own FX unit; and the ukay-ukay shop proprietor has already established three store branches.

What is the moving force behind the proliferation of their small businesses? They had one answer: “The Center for Community Transformation has greatly helped raise capital to fund our businesses.”

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Some of the women microentrepreneurs at Kalayaan Avenue.

FINANCING MICRO BUSINESSES

For several years, the Center for Community Transformation (CCT), through its micro-finance programs, has helped support the small businesses and housing needs of poor families. It owns one of the largest credit cooperatives in the country, having 97 branches nationwide and supporting more than hundred thousand families through their livelihood programs. Micro entrepreneurs are able to sustain – and even expand – their businesses, allowing to have modest living conditions and pay for their children’s college education.

“Eradicating poverty cannot be done by the government alone,” says CCT president Ruth Callanta, “We have to do our part so that those living below the poverty line – which comprises 70% of the country’s population – may be given a chance for a better future.”

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In one of CCT’s membership meetings, members pay their dues for their loans or deposit money for their savings accounts.

The future has indeed been brighter for the cooperative members when they joined CCT. Cora, a sari-sari store owner, managed to make all her children graduate from college by simply maintaining a sari-sari store which CCT helped finance. Ofelia was able to build a second floor for her house which she now rents out to people who need a place to stay. Pichie used the small amount she loaned from CCT to establish her third ukay-ukay branch in another barangay, which eventually helped increase her income.

But the micro-finance programs are just part of CCT’s bigger effort in community transformation. Values formation and character building are at the core of their operations, where they require their members to attend Bible studies at the start of their membership meetings before they proceed with the actual business transactions. This is one way that CCT achieves its goal in transforming communities – by instilling in each individual member, a genuine love for God and for their fellowmen.

“Real transformation should start from within the individual,” Callanta explains, “Once they have gained the right attitude and the right heart, their changed lives can ultimately transform communities.”

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Values formation is part of CCT’s membership meetings where attendance of the Bible studies and prayer times are a requirement.
THE ROLE OF BIGGER CORPORATIONS

The role of corporations has been increasingly significant in helping CCT achieve its mission. Aside from helping CCT finance the businesses of more than a hundred thousand micro-entrepreneurs, corporations have also been essential in giving support through technology training and commodity trading.

Cityland Incorporated, aside from financing the housing loans of the members, also lends its expertise in real estate development in CCT’s housing projects. Moreover, the corporation provides computer training to enable the CCT staff and members to gain additional skills that can earn them more opportunities in developing their businesses.

Several companies have been active in providing low-cost products to CCT members. Through its trading company, CCT purchases basic commodities such as soap, detergents, cooking oil and other products at discounted prices from its corporate partners, and then re-sells these products to the community members at very affordable prices. This way, the poor has access to quality products at prices within their budget.

Companies such as DLI Generics provide medicines and vitamins to the communities for as low as one peso per tablet.

Maya Advertising donates used tarpaulin billboards and banners to the micro-entrepreneurs, who then transform these tarps into bags that can be sold at their stores.

Other companies such as United Neon and Stateland Condominium help fund the business and housing loans of the micro-entrepreneurs and the scholarship of their children.
“CCT serves as an intermediary between the corporations and the poor,” says Callanta, “our role is to match what the corporations could offer with the present needs of the poor.”

THE JOURNEY

And what are indeed the pressing needs of the poor? A CCT staff who left a high-paying job in the corporate world to join CCT in its mission sums it up in one sentence: “They don’t need to be given fish, they need to be taught how to fish.”

And that is what organizations like CCT has been doing for years. The scene along Kalayaan Street revealed a different kind of business landscape. It may not be as glamorous as Makati or Ortigas, but its beauty lies not in what is seen – it is felt in the community’s spirit. A restless energy that is trying to catch up with the rest of society; where its constituents are continuously exploring the vast ocean of opportunities before them.

As the day came to a close, what started out for us as a trek on the muddy street behind the Commonwealth Market ended on the high-end district of Makati City. The day’s excursion showed us a sharp contrast between two worlds – from coco lumber houses and karitons on a narrow dirt road to towering glass buildings and the latest automobile models along a wide and paved avenue.

But, perhaps, nestled somewhere in these modern buildings are companies that once started out as micro-businesses. And it is through cooperatives like CCT that the entrepreneurial poor are given access to resources and skills that have brought their more affluent counterparts to the larger business districts.

Who knows, maybe one of these days, because of the efforts of the cooperatives and the support of the bigger business corporations, one of these micro-entrepreneurs will find themselves in the same journey: from a small coco lumber structure on that muddy street, into a bigger and better office space in one of the skyscrapers of Makati and Ortigas.

It is a dream that we can all share with them.