Through the auspices of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace, Filipino cleric Fr. Benigno Beltran, SVD of Veritas Social Empowerment, Inc. related the plight of the urban poor in Tondo, Manila who thrive by scavenging Smokey Mountain, the infamous garbage heap of Metro Manila.
The priest, who has lived with these needy for over thirty years, tirelessly continues his effort “to organize, house, educate and empower the community that embodies living in the margins of society” - the same abject poverty from which rose the Filipino pugilistic superstar Manny Pacquiao.
Fr. Ben’s advocacy reflects the aspirations of a nation of 94 million, majority of whom would momentarily forget their hapless plight in life by pinning hope on extraordinary Filipino talents of worldwide celebrity such as Pacquiao.
Along with their strong faith (folk Catholicism) and love for music, Filipinos are proud of theater stand-out Lea Salonga who originated the lead character Kim in Miss Saigon, grand slam winner of coveted awards including the Olivier and the Tony, and who gave life to Disney’s Princess Jasmine and Mulan. More recently, they stand tall with pint-size international singing sensation Charice, catapulted into fame much like Justin Bieber via youtube, who having caught Ellen’s and Oprah’s attention, has performed with the likes of David Foster, Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli and numerous other entertainment A-listers in record time.
In this sovereign republic in Southeast Asia, an archipelago of 7,104 islands (on high tide), once sat American strategic posts, Subic and Clark, bastions of US military might in the Pacific.
Since it gained independence from its Spanish and American colonizers, the Philippines has produced quality professionals (nurses, doctors, engineers, accountants, medical technicians) who join many institutions overseas- at one time in the early 50s causing a brain drain in the country.
Today, it continues to cater to demands for these professionals as well as for its hardworking nannies, other domestic help and blue collar workers in the Middle East, Europe, America and other parts of Asia, now known as the Filipino diaspora.
In his talk, Fr. Ben shared how he explores these strengths to draw out the best aspirations among his impoverished wards. Extensively using Peter Drucker’s management principles, he has found creative ways to alleviate poverty among his poor.
More than just issuing contraceptives, he believes in educating and empowering women to curb population among these people who look at producing more children as their way of dealing with their poverty (more hands to help with manual labor).
His project has spurred the successful e-trading where women take the lead. Fr. Ben narrates how with cell phones, the women helped create an efficient food distribution system from farm to table, minus storage and warehousing.
Directly appealing to authorities and corporate sources, Fr. Ben has been able to obtain second-hand computers and brand new cell phones from corporate donors for his projects; and acquired a trash converter that churns out fertilizer with which they trade goods with their farmer-suppliers. He has built a hydroponic greenhouse and housing where once was the Smokey Mountain.
On occasions, he goes abroad to appeal to generous donors for his Veritas projects. Notably, Fr. Ben has found a great ally in Lane Anderson, Mesa resident and former council member candidate of Santa Barbara, who has decided to live in the Philippines to assist him. Lane is now helping propagate the idea of rice duck farming.