The Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA) held the second leg of its webinar series entitled “Engaging Volunteers during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Some Good Practices of Local Government Units”, last 08 October 2020. As with the first webinar, the activity served as a venue for sharing experiences, innovations, challenges and good practices of some of the LGUs who adopted volunteerism as a strategy in their COVID-19 response projects and activities.

PNVSCA Executive Director Donald James D. Gawe, opened the webinar by acknowledging both the first- and second-timer participants and thanked them for their continued enthusiasm to harness volunteerism as part of their respective LGUs’ social development strategy. He also highlighted the learnings gathered from the previous webinar, particularly the misconception that volunteerism is only for specific sectors and the role of government in ensuring a conducive environment for volunteering. He pointed out that as reported in the first forum, local legislations and sustainable volunteering programs helped in facilitating the mobilization of volunteers even during the pandemic. Further, Mr. Gawe, noted that the discussion in the first webinar pointed to the need to designate a volunteer focal person in different government offices especially in the LGUs to coordinate all volunteering efforts by all sectors, champion the integration of volunteerism in local development plans, orchestrate the identification and implementation of relevant programs that would improve the volunteering environment at the local level, among others.

Hon. Dakila Carlo E. Cua, President of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), and Governor of Quirino Province in his inspirational message shared a quote from former US President Bill Clinton which says that “Volunteering is an act of heroism on a grand scale. It does more than help people beat the odds; it changes the odds.” He added that the Filipino bayanihan spirit is exemplified every day during these trying times. Gov. Cua also shared another quote from Kahlil Gibran which states, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly, truly give.” He then encouraged everyone to do little sacrifices in order to help fellow Filipinos who are more in need.

Presenters in the webinar include Hon. Jennifer W. Tan, Mayor of Tangub City; Mr. Marvin Guiang, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer (PDRRMO) and Focal Person on Volunteerism of Tarlac Province; Ms. Aliko Jasmine L. Garganera, Chief of Staff of Councilor Joel Garganera and Assistant to the Deputy Chief Implementer of Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) of Cebu City; and Ms. Antonette A. Anaban, Assistant City Planning and Development Coordinator of Baguio City. It was evident in their discussions that all the presenters already have a good volunteer program in place in their respective cities/province.

Tangub City, for instance, has started their volunteering program more than 27 years ago when they founded the Christmas Symbols Festival. This volunteerism spirit, which has been nurtured throughout the years, comes into play in a different way during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Tan shared that it has never been difficult for the city government to call for volunteers whom they consider as partners. Thus, the city government has been able to carry out many successful projects and activities through the help of each Tangubanon.

Similarly, volunteerism is not new in Tarlac Province, as this has been practiced by people for so many years now. This was further strengthened in 2019 when Gov. Susan A. Yap signed a Memorandum Circular which authorizes the PDRRM Officer to enter into and sign a formal agreement with different volunteer groups, thus allowing volunteers to complement various government efforts. In addition, the Provincial Government of Tarlac also provides capacity-building activities to volunteer groups. Tarlac Province is a Gawad Kalasag Hall of Famer, and the provincial government considers the engagement of different volunteers as a major factor for them to be conferred with the award.  

Cebu City, on the other hand, partners with volunteers who are experts in their respective fields, especially in carrying out programs to fight COVID-19. The City Government stressed the importance of providing an avenue where people/volunteers can express themselves, and ensuring that the government listens to them. Volunteers are also provided the necessary training; and allowances or honorarium are released on time.

The City Government of Baguio as a form of support to their volunteers provide them with food allowance, insurance, emergency assistance and other necessary materials, such as vitamins and PPEs among others. The government also worked closely with different groups, both in the government and in the private sector, in carrying out programs to address the challenges brought about by COVID 19. Despite the successful activities implemented, the government identified gaps, such as absence of a centralized registry of volunteers and limited documentation of volunteer works, among others. This may hold true not only to Baguio City but to other LGUs as well. Moving forward, the City Government plans to establish a registry of volunteers, devise a separate volunteer awarding and recognition and mainstream volunteerism in their local development plan.

In all the four LGUs, services rendered by volunteers include packing and distribution of relief goods, assistance during SAP distribution, manning checkpoints and call/lifeline centers, disinfection activities, use of facilities for quarantine, contact tracing and managing community kitchen, among others.

Mr. Norman Joseph Q. Jiao, Executive Director of the Association of Foundations, who served as the forum’s reactor congratulated the LGU-presenters for doing a great work, especially in carrying out their intervention programs in partnership with volunteers. He provided his insights on the presentations following the 5Cs guidepost, as follows: (1) Constituents – LGUs must ensure that the interventions provided benefit the community; (2) Communication – being able to talk about the truth and being transparent, and sharing what is not going well and right; (3) Commitment and sustainability – ensuring the commitment of people to look after themselves while trying to help others, and to ensure to continue what is being done; (4) Compassion – allows for collaboration to happen, trust to be provided, and partnership to blossom; and (5) Conversion – ensuring that lives of people are improved, not only those being helped but also the volunteers themselves. In his reaction, he pointed out the areas where the LGUs demonstrated well the guidepost. The webinar was moderated by Atty. Eric Paul D. Peralta, Director of UP Los Banos Gender Center, who also provided the synthesis. The webinar was made inclusive for persons with hearing and speech impairment through the sign language interpretation done by Ms. Ma. Teresa Buenaventura and Mr. William I. Sidayon, Jr., both from the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS). The online forum, made available via zoom and facebook live, was attended by around 350 participants from almost all regions nationwide. This webinar is part of PNVSCA’s webinar series which aims to create public awareness and recognition of volunteerism towards social and economic development, especially during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The author is currently the Senior Volunteer Service Officer of the Policy, Advocacy and Technical Services Division (PATSD), Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency.

Visit PNVSCA website (www.pnvsca.gov.ph) and PNVSCA Facebook (facebook.com/PNVSCA) for other stories and information on volunteering.