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HEAL: Health, Environment, Alternative Livelihood

For my column this week, allow me to introduce the HEAL program framework of the Tabang Bikol Movement. Improving people’s quality of life is TBM’s ultimate mission. Inequality arises when only a few have access to the country’s wealth and government social services. When there is inequality, there is poverty of the deprived and neglected to access healthy food, clean air and water, and safe shelter. Relief provision is just a temporary panacea.

Improved quality of life is everyone’s most ardent desire for their families, children, friends, and ourselves. Unfortunately, the environment significantly affects our health - both positively and negatively. For example, living in perennially flooded communities, toxic waste around and hazardous chemicals on rivers, unclean drinking water, air pollution, and unsafe shelter and streets make us sick, stressed, and anxious. Moreso, if one is jobless and unable to provide safe food for the children, life can be more unbearable. Worse, when a member gets ill, going to the hospital or seeing a doctor adds to the sickening feeling of hopelessness. There is not even an assurance that the sick will get well because right after spending on doctor’s prescriptions, one goes back to the same old environment that has caused the disease.

Healthy people depend on their access to a healthy environment and vice versa. Quality of life ensures equal access to social protection inclusive and safe environment. Therefore, a comprehensive approach to a healthy set of socio-economic reforms is necessary.

Symbiotic relationship

There is an inseparable bond between health and the environment. The relationship is symbiotic. It is interdependent. The human being depends on the environment for life and survival. Nature around us is the environment - the air we breathe, water to drink, plants we eat, and animals, other organisms we depend on for life. Therefore, the environment should be clean and accessible for all to tap into responsibly, sustainably, and healthily. People live longer with better environmental conditions than those living in dirty communities. If the climate is unhealthy, it causes various diseases. Ecological balance is, therefore, a must for human development.

Bicol is one of the poorest regions in the country. Take note. It is not just poor or poorer than the other. It is in the superlative category with five others – Bangsamoro Administrative Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Eastern Visayas, Cagayan Valley, and Caraga. There are about two million Bicolanos among the six million population who may be living on the border of poverty. Bicol ranked 4th in poverty incidence and 1st in magnitude among 85 provinces (Camarines Sur), and Masbate ranked 9th in incidence. The good news is that in the PSO’s 2021 full-year survey on poverty, the Central Visayas region has already taken over Bicol, with the most significant number of poor among the population. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Development planning is useless if it does not aim to increase people’s access to social services and their share of the natural resources or wealth in the communities. Therefore, it is high time to prioritize programs to reduce or eliminate causes of social inequality and poverty to improve quality of life. Every stakeholder has a role to play.

Poverty and Inequality

Unequal access to social services and resources means many people are excluded in development. They become marginalized and poor in society. The health of the population should be an influential gauge. In many communities, we witness more younger people getting sick and acquiring diseases early in life. Many die young and cannot see a doctor or get hospital care. The Department of Health reports malnutrition among children of school age, especially in the rural and urban poor settlements, to which the Department of Education agrees, showing results in the children’s stunted intellectual growth.

Other environmental hazards persist in high-risk areas like mining, quarrying, and polluted coastal areas. Environmental pollutants cause health problems like respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. The poor who continue to have no access to a good quality of life are most likely to die from these poverty-induced diseases.

HEAL Program should heal the disease of neglect and deprivation

TBM’s HEAL program aims to address the comprehensive requirement for people-centered development. A healthy community is composed of healthy families and individuals. They can only be so if good health and environmental policies and action plans are implemented. It should address the problems of poverty and inequality. Involving the people to participate in decision-making and action planning to access social services and develop the community’s natural resources through sustainable livelihood is a direction towards self-empowerment. The Pandemic provided us with rich lessons in resilience and interconnectivity. We learn that the spread of Covid-19 and other diseases and a polluted and imbalanced environment negatively affects our health. Health is about being free from illness, injury, pain, and exclusion.

Evolution from relief and disaster response to a more meaningful engagement

TBM evolved from a disaster response humanitarian non-profit, non-government organization of volunteers from the academe, the private sector, and the farming communities, which experienced one of the worst and most devastating disasters (Typhoon Nina in 2016), in Bicol in recent years. Through its overall HEAL program, TBM is now a developing mass movement of volunteers who work arduously for socio-economic reforms. It now joins the Commission on Higher Education Central Office in the research-development Social Enterprise Development (SED) project for Disaster Survivors to help build a resilient economy with partners Mariners in Canaman, the Central Bicol State University in Agriculture (CBSUA), and Mariners, Legazpi.


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