PACE OF PEACE: Empowering women in health care in Bukidnon communities

By Lourdes G. dela Torre, PhD

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net/21 January 2019) Women empowerment has been in the vocabulary of Bukidnon populace as early as 1975.  This was part of the goals of the community organization project that then Prelature of Malaybalay established in Kibawe parish through the late Fr. Godofredo Alingal, S.J.

The concept of community organizing (CO) that was put in place at that time was the issue – based people empowerment.  It also tried to make an experiment whether Saul Alinsky’s theory of conflict – confrontation will work in the rural setting after it succeeded in some industrial settings in Europe.

The CO effort was initiated in a year when the country was still under Martial Law and in Kibawe, Bukidnon which was known to be issues-ridden community where people have been struggling for subsistence on the public land within the forest areas of the province.

This is an attempt to retell the experience of community organizing in the rural areas for the empowerment of the politically abused people whose rights have been curtailed because of the prevailing Martial rule.  Yet, using the issue-based organizing approach,  these people living in the culture of silence started to make their voices heard in a consolidated, empowered and non-violent action.  Such action moved the government and international non-government institutions to heed their voices and acted on the people’s favor.

Voices of the Unheard People – The Women’s Tale

Health issue was very prominent at the time, as it is today.  Health care was poor.  Health centers existed without regular health personnel and supplies. Residents of one of the towns in Bukidnon were threatened by possible eviction from the land they relied on for subsistence. The women found themselves potential leaders to help the men in their struggle to retain their piece of land.  To them, to be driven from the land is tantamount to removing them of their life.

Women organized themselves for a better health service.  The health issues were made as the agenda to agitate among the community organizers to consolidate the women for a common interest.   They shared these experiences as, “when we need to consult about our disease, nobody entertained us.  There were no regular doctors in the Rural Health Units.  There were no medicines that we can avail of.  RHU personnel were not found the health centers.  Whenever they report, they were not friendly to us when approached”.

The women organized themselves because they believed that when they are united, they can show a certain force that can cause the government to act in their favor. They called themselves Kapunungan sa Mga Inahan (or KI).  This was a community-based women’s organization whose members were composed of wives of the farmers who bonded themselves for power.

The Kapunongan sa mga Inahan was organized to empower themselves to demand for an improved health service from the local government.  The health issue was used as a unifying element of empowerment.  The women came from the 11 barangays of Kibawe, Bukidnon.  They find security in their unity – each one defending each other.  They clearly understood the issues they were fighting for.  They believed that their sociocultural and economic condition can improve if they confront bravely the causes of those issues and the means to resolve those issues was active non-violence strategies.

As far as the 1970’s, the Province of Bukidnon was already exposed to the principles of people empowerment that inspired the ordinary people to take active role in solving their own problem through confrontational and peaceful dialogue with the people who caused the problem.

People empowerment at that time was based on the people’s capacity to confront the “perceived cause of their problem” as their enemy.  At that time, government officials, head of government institutions who were indifferent to the people’s abject poverty condition were targets of confrontation.

When the women (the KI members) confronted the officials of the Local Health officials and demanded for a better and accessible health service, they succeeded in getting their commitment.  With the limited resources in the local government units, the organized women were able to get the support of the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) an international organization- to provide them with training on paramedics.  The women were trained to help in the health problems of other members of the community.

Reflections on women’s own empowerment
The members of the KI were the typical housewives who claim that their primary role in society is to bear and rear children, take care of their husband and handle the household chores.  When issues that threatened their very existence and survival within their community, these women took the risk of getting out of the confines of their households and joined with others in asserting their right for a better and improved condition.

One leader expressed that “alone, I am nothing, but with others with common interest, I felt empowered”.  No one can touch all of us at the same time”.

I recall some important lessons from the Bukidnon experience of community organizing (CO) that helped the province have active non-violent people’s organizations at present.

First, the concept of collaborative leadership was practiced in Bukidnon as early as the CO – based undertakings were introduced in 1975. Second, the practice of dialogue among issue – affected community members was already popularized through the Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK) of the Catholic Church. Third, community participation in development was real in Bukidnon and gave rise to the emergence of many non-government organizations that were considered partners of the government in implementing development projects. Fourth, PRAXIS (the process of using a theory or something that you have learned in a practical way) was observed in many organized communities including the GKK. Lastly, people empowerment was real in Bukidnon through church-based programs and projects and was emulated by some government agencies who failed in observing the long process involved in real community organizing strategies.

Community organizing in the rural setting was successful in Bukidnon in terms of empowering the people who were deprived of the necessities for a humane survival.  It was real in liberating them from their silence due to isolation and marginalization.  The seed of hope that empowered the local communities through CO activities in Bukidnon have resulted in the very active and non-violent people’s organization who are keen to the government’s effort for development.

The effort of empowering the people through unified non-violent actions had been used as tools in analyzing, and responding to development issues that emerged in the community. The people have become critical to these development efforts or initiatives.  They always asked, “who benefit from these projects?”

(The author is an educator and researcher whose works have been presented in various national and international conferences. She is presently with the Department of Education District 1 in Maramag, Bukidnon. She has published books on Peace Education and Field Study. She is a consultant on community organizing, social, and peace studies. Pace of Peace is her column for Bukidnon Views, the opinion section of BukidnonNews.Net. She can be reached at