by Karmina De Ungria

Published on August 5, 2013, Monday, Manila Bulletin Business Agenda (C1, C3)

The Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc. (PSFI) celebrated its 31th anniversary last August.  Since its implementation, starting with its flagship programme Sanayan sa Kakayahang Industriyal (SKIL), it has spawned countless social development programmes that has generated a staggering six million beneficiaries and counting.  It is not your typical corporate social responsibility initiative that champions only one cause; PSFI has taken on a huge number of causes and enlisted its beneficiaries to take part in it, producing a systematic and sustainable lifestyle that will eventually see it participants operate on its own.

“We see this more as an investment rather than an expense, because all these projects also help the company in return.  If you look at the long-term, all the people that we help become customers of the company and they’ll remember that they have been helped by Shell, especially kung napabuti ang buhay nila,” says Edgar O Chua, Country Chairman of Shell companies in the Philippines.

Programmes range from leadership enhancement and attitude development, technical, vocational and agricultural skills development, training and employment; healthcare and services; sanitation and safety; livelihood and entrepreneurship development; and environmental stewardship.  Below are three of their notable progarammes that have seen communities educated and empowered in Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

Movement Against Malaria

Palawan is undoubtedly known for its stunning and pristine beaches.  Puerto Princesa is especially notable for being home to two of the natural heritage sites in UNESCO’s World Heritage list, namely the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) and the Subterranean River National Park.  In 2003, along with Apayao, Quirino, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, the five provinces make up 67 percent of the malaria morbidity and 92 percent of the mortality rate in the country.

Dying from this disease remained largely an accepted way of life, until the Kilusan Ligtas Malaria (KLM) was established in November 1999.  The KLM community is a community-based malaria control programme that aims to help control and eliminate malaria in Palawan through early detection and treatment, vector control, community organization and awareness, and research, among others.

Together with the provincial government, the PSFI established the technical and institutional structure of the programme.  To further the operations, the PSFI applied for a grant from financial institution and AIDS, tuberculosis advocate, The Global Fund.  In 2006, it received $14.3 million from The Global Fund to continue its operations and replicate it in the five provinces.

A large portion of this went to the training of those who volunteer to become microscopists to provide an easy access for locals to get immediately tested for malaria as soon they exhibited symptoms.  It costs P200,000 to train a volunteer who will undergo nonstop training for one and a half months.  The PSFI provided the training while the LGUs provide the incentives to the volunteers in a sum that averages P1,500.  To date, the programme has 273 microscopists in Palawan covering 344 barangays.

From an average of 50,000 cases with a death toll of 162 in 2003, the efforts of the programme have evidently paid off as KLM Programme Manager Aileen Balderian shares: “The programme has impacted the cases for the last two years.  The death toll decreased.  Before, we had 17 or 25 cases of deaths per year, but in the last two years, we’ve only had less than five deaths.  You can also see it in the communities that they recognise the malaria personnel and the importance of being tested for it.”

The success of the programme prompted The Global Fund to award an additional $31.4 million consolidated malaria grant to PSFI to increase its coverage to 40 provinces, including the original five provinces.

Sustaining conservation gains in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park

“The true value of Tubbataha is not its beauty – that is only a bonus from all the conservation efforts.  Its true value is ecological.  It’s the source of coral and fish larvae sa buong Sulu Sea, kung wala nang maglagay ng eggs sa patay na fishing grounds na ito, our fishing industry will decline even more,” says Angelique Songco, Tubbataha Park resident. The TRNP as an area of 97,030 hectares, encompassing 10,000 hectares of coral reefs and surrounding waters.

In 2007, the PSFI together with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre determined that tourism revenues needed to be doubled to maintain the park’s financial sustainability. To support this, PSFI and World Heritage Centre assisted the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) in its creation of a sustainable business plan.  The park plays a great role in providing adequate supply of marine life and for present and future stock consumption, but plagued by encroachers who plead ignorance when caught.

To address this, in 2011, the PSFI funded TMO with P1.5 million for the project dubbed “Sustaining Conservation Gains in the Tubbataha National Reef Park (TNRP).  The project aimed to fund information, education, and communication (EIC) and capacity-building activities.  This also helped intensify environmental information activities in the nearby communities, increase income, and prepare for future challenges.

This has proven helpful as Songco points out that they are now investing less in apprehension enforcement.  “We found na tumaas ang gastos namin sa EIC pero bumaba ang expenses namin sa enforcement because we were not having people encroaching in the park anymore.  And we hope it was because we educated them on the TNRP’s importance,” she says.

To train people to conserve the park for the next generation, the programme recently launched the Tubbataha Youth Ambassador Programme, which has chosen three college students to be conservation leaders.

Sanayahan sa Kakayahang Agrikultura  

Puerto Princesa is second to Davao in terms of land area.  However, despite all its beauty, it remains largely rural and underdeveloped due to locals who rely more on the bountiful seas as opposed to working the land, which takes time, effort, and money.  PSFI’s SAKA (Sanayan sa Kakayahang Agrikultura) may hopefully change the landscape as it continues in its aims to provide education for agricultural skills development in out-of-school youths. After all, SAKA is an innovative one-year agricultural and entrepreneurial skills training and scholarship programme.  It's an opportunity to learn and increase the family income. This could be the education needed in a province where some areas only receive grade school education.

Maricel, 27 years old, is a SAKA graduate with coveted knowledge of rubber farming. Rubber can provide daily income if harvested well, as opposed to other crops where it's a waiting game for the trees to bear fruit. She was 24 when she was asked by her cousin to take the exams. "Buti naman po nakapasa.  Maraming naituro sa amin ang SAKA, lalo na organic farming," she says.  Aside from education, a dormitory and stipend is provided to students. Scholars are also provided with a start-up fund for income generating projects. Since it started in 2000, and in partnership with the Western Philippines University in Aborlan, Palawan, SAKA has trained and graduated 212 farmer youths and awarded them with Certificates in Agricultural Entrepreneurship.

Moving Forward

As Shell moves towards its hundred years, it continues to help the government in nation-building and empowering communities in the country in a sustainable manner. All of its programmes have a set of KPIs and exit strategies to make sure it can stand on its own, and the LGUs and communities can operate and see the programmes as their own.  The strength of community empowerment seems to be the driving force in the success of PSFI's numerous projects. PSFI Executive Director Edgar Veron shares what they replied when Global Fund asked the key to their success in the programme implementation: "Most of the projects of Shell Foundation are community-based.  So to us, it's important the community understands what we would like to achieve in addressing what their needs are, and we engage the government officials and the community leaders. We want to enable the communities so that when we leave, they have the capabilities to continue what we started."