The Myth of Gawad Kalinga: A Profile of the Sitio Target Disaster

“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” – Albert Camus

I don’t have the talents to be a polemicist. Thus I never imagined that despite all the good Gawad Kalinga has done, I would be one to voice some opposition to it.

Don’t get me wrong. It is a tremendous force for good and a symbol of hope in the Philippines — that makes it doubly hard for me to write negatively about it.

My first encounter with GK was an incredibly positive one. While scouting for a potential outreach venue for our students, we at the social science unit visited a GK site in Visayas Avenue. Nestled deep in the heart of a shanty town, the GK site emerged like an oasis — no, like heaven itself — as we walked through its gates. The transformation is undeniable. The people were kinder, the environment was cleaner and brighter, the youth were more pleasant, and the over-all tone was more hopeful. It wasn’t an urban poor ghetto we were in; it was a GK village and it was right.

But that was two years ago, and like all things, perceptions change. Truths come to light, and eras come to an end. In its campaign to eradicate slums, violence and poverty, Gawad Kalinga is also subject to the same pitfalls the mighty colonizers from the West bringing civilization encountered when they got to the East — universalism, superiority, intolerance and misplaced righteousness. They had good intentions, but so was the paved road towards hell.

Today I met a social worker who has engaged the Aeta community in Sitio Target, Mabalacat, Pampanga for the past seven years. It is named Sitio Target because the mountains there have been used by the Americans for target practice. You can see large craters cutting through the mountains.

I am refraining from mentioning any names to protect these people. I also have several words to say about businessman, graduation speaker, 2006 Magsaysay Award winner and GK founder Antonio Meloto, but I am refraining from that too. He is too popular; he just gave two commencement speeches and chances are you have copies in your inbox. I am well aware of the audience I have and I don’t have the means to fend off a libel suit right now. I have the facts though, just not the will to fight (see, I’m no polemicist). If I release these comments, I cannot claim that I am not defaming him. He’s too famous.

Instead, let’s stick to what we can all see. Shy of two hours away from Manila, Sitio Target is not out of reach, save from the media and their fixation on the hope and promise Gawad Kalinga inspires, thus giving us this onerous view — until now. A visit to the town will make one thing clear, unbelievable though it may be: The GK community in Sitio Target is a disaster.

I. Eye of the Beholder

Observe the following pictures. The first is the GK’s image of poverty, disease and backwardness. It is also everything that the Aeta needs. When the social worker asked them what they needed, they only had one response for seven years, “seven bolos.” Nothing more.

These are actually more modern Aeta homes. While they have traditionally been nomadic people, they have found the need to settle down as their population grew larger. Their homes have spaces between them since they need a yard for their farm animals. A house is not just the building for the Aeta. It includes their immediate vicinity where they have everything they need.

Most roofs are made of dried nipa or kogon grass, materials that will keep the interior of the house cool when it is hot outside, and warm if it is too cold outside. It needs to be replaced regularly and that is easily accomplished with the abundance of grass in the area.

An Aeta community is a communal society; they are the perfect communist society. Once, a male carabao (water buffalo) was donated to the village and the families with female carabaos took turns taking care of the male in the chance that the male would impregnate the female. Then, the offspring of the female would be handed over to those without a carabao.

Also wondered what happens to all those rice and canned goods we often donate? They are all given to the village elder who then determines where the resources go. Their priority is often the sick, then the rest is distributed fairly.

This harmony is possible because there are 150 families with 4 members on average. Despite the outward image of poverty and hardship GK — and the lay person — would see, the community is surprisingly self-sustaining.

Thus, enter Gawad Kalinga. Through the auspices of the Clark Development Foundation (CDC) and ANCOP Canada (Clark Field Pampanga is built on Aeta land, by the way), they bring with them the vision of building 150 houses for 150 families. The following picture is an example of their accomplishment.

However, the houses are ugly, impractical, irrelevant and unnecessary.

When given their new homes, the Aeta’s first question was, “Where do we put the carabao?” With only one meter separating the houses, they have been denied their space. And to make matters worse, everything was compartmentalized: people are now separated from cows, cows now separated from chickens, chickens now separated from everything else.

Also, the aluminum roofs (yero) have disrupted the Aeta’s health. Now, the unfeeling hard steel makes the inside hotter when it’s warm outside, and colder when it’s cool outside. A lot of Aetas have gotten sick because of their new homes.

While there are a handful who have taken it, more left their GK homes behind for a more traditional dwelling. Besides the reasons stated above, there is an Aeta practice of leaving their house after a member of their family passes away. They believe that the soul remains and chooses to reside there, thus they leave looking for another dwelling. This makes perfect sense for the Aetas since they have traditionally been a nomadic society.

Apparently, GK did not understand any of this. For one, they didn’t have an anthropologist among their ranks or at least consulted one before disrupting the Aeta community. Secondly, they didn’t consult the tribe’s elders though they claim that they had — it turns out that they only spoke to one ordinary tribesman. Their reason? If they were willing to talk to us, they must have been the leader. That is sheer naivete of course; any Aeta would talk to you.

The tribe has seen Tony Meloto only once too, and that was when he came with a group of foreigners (most likely their Canadian sponsors), delivered speeches in English which no one in the tribe understood, had pictures (with locales they asked to smile), and left. Next thing the Aetas knew, houses were being built but with no idea why.

They failed to understand the culture of the place and imposed their own brand of reality on top of the Aeta ethos. My most recent students know that term too well as the fundamental grounding of any society. Ethos determines our actions, rituals and social order and any disruption in it will assuredly spur social change that is often violent, but can be managed.

In the case of the Aetas in Sitio Target, GK threatened their traditional way of life. And this, with good intentions in the heart of the volunteers.

II. Brother’s Keeper

It is my opinion and that of the social worker I have conversed with, that Gawad Kalinga has been irresponsible in Sitio Target.

I will always applaud them for their success in the urban areas but I beg to caution them when it comes to working with indigenous people (IPs). By and large, I share her sentiments in putting an immediate halt to the project and I will join her efforts. However, it is not only Gawad Kalinga and their corporate sponsors who have been cultural imperialists in the area.

A Korean spa (see picture below) has already been built in the area, and two Aetas killed each other off due to an embezzlement issue. One Aeta was entrusted with money by the Koreans, took some for himself and was discovered by an elder. The elder ordered the death of the embezzler, and the embezzler hired some NPA to kill the elder. The elder died, the first ever recorded murder in the community.

Foreign presence in the community caused severe political, economic and cultural disruptions. Recall your grade school and high school lessons on the Spanish in the Philippines; history holds tightly to her truths.

In Sitio Target, people died and communities splintered. But are all these historical inevitabilities?

In The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs speaks of clinical economics, the economic science of determining the exact problems of a community and responding with the necessary and precise solutions. There are seven main reasons why the poor remain poor and cultural barriers is one of them. That is so here in Sitio Target.

So to Gawad Kalinga, I recommend that you hire a team of historians, sociologists and anthropologists which you can consult when you work with any community but most importantly IPs. If you can’t hire any, I’m sure you can get in touch with a lot willing to work in a consultative position. Your cause is just after all.

Some hardcore GK people can accuse me of denying the Aetas a ladder out of poverty. They would be wrong though. Building houses in this reckless manner is not helping them climb out of poverty; it is handing them their own coffins. GK can still make a positive difference in Sitio Target by doing one of two things.

First, if they still insist in building houses, then hire an architect that would design houses which are relevant and responsive to the environment. If possible, stay as close as possible to indigenous materials. I am sure these designs will remain under P50,000 (roughly $1000) which is the limit for each home.

Second, focus on the people’s livelihood and education. The Aetas do have aspirations. As a matter of fact, they pooled their resources to send two girls to the university so one could be a grade school teacher and another a midwife. (These decisions were made as a community.) Enhance their capacity to make their own living and let economic development and social change take its course.

I can imagine that eventually the Aetas will have their own concrete homes with all of our modern amenities. But this will take time. Development and change will come to them but it can’t be rushed. The job of well-intentioned groups such as the GK is to make that transition from antiquity to modernity as smooth as possible, and to impose a different way of life is to destroy everything they have taken 7,000 houses to build.


During one forum, an Aeta asked the GK representatives what they expect from them in exchange for the houses.

One GK representative, a pastor, replied, “Pagmamahal sa isa’t isa.” (Love for one another.) They also added that they refrain from drinking and gambling, two vices which don’t exist in the Aeta community. Then the pastor continued to ramble on, talking about how the Aetas should redeem themselves from their nefarious ways and be better brothers and sisters. Not only was it preaching to the choir, but it was insulting.

That pastor’s response to the Aeta is part of their mission as an organization that evolved out of the Couples for Christ. They wish to impart values and help form communities. I just find this ironic that they fail to learn from the very community they wish to transform. And the Aetas definitely have so much to teach us.

Of course, the pastor did not intend to be condescending. I understand where he and the rest of GK is coming from. In the Visayas Avenue I visited, I really felt the love and warmth flowing through the people. Many have been touched — and continue to be touched — by the GK experience. Many more will forever attest to the healing power of a beautiful home, clean surroundings, and the grace of God’s love. I am convinced that GK is capable of a great good.

However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t do their job even better.

I have only spoken about one, seemingly isolated case in Sitio Target and a lot of GK and CFC loyalists consider this enough grounds to gloss over the Aeta situation. After all, a quick Google search of “Gawad Kalinga” will lead you to tons of sites, blogs and news sites praising this initiative set forth by Antonio Meloto. This may as well be the first to buck the trend.

But my conversation with that social worker was too unsettling, thus inspiring me to write this. I am not here to give GK a bad name. I want it to be better. I am neither denying these Aeta their own slice of heaven. I just don’t want GK to leave them with a piece of hell.

Postscript (added December 16, 2007)

This article really took on a life of its own. This found its way to many e-mail boxes, Wikipedia and even the Manila Times. Therein the editor split the article into two parts, one for December 9 and the other for December 10 as part of a larger feature on the GK-CFC split. To the best of my knowledge however, this article did not instigate the split and it was never my intention to do so.

But if it did, then I suppose the God of Gawad Kalinga indeed has His way. Tough.

However, of all the places this article took me, none would be more important than going to Sitio Target itself. A lot of my critics challenged me to walk the talk and indirectly, I did. As part of our school’s annual outreach program, we decided to include an immersion to Sitio Target.

Together with twelve high school students and one co-faculty, we stayed the night at Sitio Target, learned about the Aeta way of life and even joined them en route to their mountain.

Of course, it would be unlike me to not write about it. You can read everything in We All Have Our Eden, a piece I am incredibly proud of.


125 thoughts on “The Myth of Gawad Kalinga: A Profile of the Sitio Target Disaster

  1. Hi sir.. Nico here.. (remember? :P) well anyway.. first time to comment kahit matagal nang nagbabasa.. its nice that you were able to shed some light on this issue.. kasi well.. mabuti na ring alam namin tong mga bagay na toh and i think it teaches a good lesson on being sensitive towards others’ needs.. At saka ayan.. marami rin kasing un nga.. tumutulong pero hindi nila alam kung appreciated or nakakautulong nga ung form of help nila.. so cool.. 😉 way to teach us how to really help.. and not to be careless in helping.. 😀


  2. Nico, of course I remember you. 😉 Yeah, being sensitive to others’ needs is also the lesson here. You can’t help people with what they don’t need anyway. 🙂

  3. I think “being sensitive to other people’s needs” sums the moral of this story up quite nicely. In fact, I think it can be further condensed into “understanding.”

    Anyhow, I have deluded myself that Filipino people nowadays are more critical in analyzing situations like this just until now. Reading this post, I saw the error of my ways, and went back to my previously held belief that most people today are still medieval louts.

    Great informative expose, Sir Martin. This is probably the post I most enjoyed reading in this blog so far.

  4. Just so that I don’t look like an ignorant credit-thief, I was quoting you when I said being “being sensitive to other people’s needs.” This is a disclaimer of sorts.

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  6. hey sir martin. again, a wonderful article. 😀 it’s great you’ve decided to post it, at least makikita ng lahat what more needs to be done to make GK more effective in its mission. haha when i saw the title, i was expecting someting really explosive haha. maybe i just got used to so much sensationalist articles that the news is sometimes filled up with. hehe. but i found the article quite diplomatic and really sticked to the facts. i agree totally with the conclusion. 😀 i hope someone high up in the GK hierarchy discovers this so that they can work on it before it becomes too irreprable. and i think you should continue uncovering more of these problems. i’m sure most people are open-minded enough to accept them and work to solve them rather than brand you as a polemicist. (new word sa akin! :p)

  7. Rob, I actually cut out one whole paragraph because then it would be VERY explosive. As in potential libel case explosive. Wouldn’t want to go there at this point but maybe in the future.

    Nice of you to point out the diplomatic approach I took with the article. It’s something I am trying to integrate more in my writing (I touched up the atheism article to make it sound less condemning). It’s the only approach with something like GK which I want to critique but not discredit.

    I’ll definitely uncover more of these problems. I’m always aware of something I can write about every moment of my life.

    And take care of that new word you learned. It’s a good one. 😉

  8. Interesting piece! I am surprised the GK people hadn’t analyzed this properly beforehand. Any word from them? I’m very curious.

  9. I hear that this is not the only thing that GK’s been supposedly guilty of. In college debating circles (most specifically the National Debating Championships, 2006) a motion – This House would include religious organizations in anti-discrimination laws – was released. It was supposedly about GK’s refusal to give houses to those people who don’t live a fundamentally Christian lifestyle. (So homosexuals and single mothers are reportedly out of the loop when it comes to receiving houses.) I don’t know if the issue still exists, but it was good of you to point this other shortcoming of GK. Just goes to show that even the most “Christian” of organizations doesn’t always have the moral ascendancy that some believe them to have.

    Very informative.

  10. Ia,

    Nothing from GK yet. That would be interesting though. Nonetheless, I do have the information of how they responded to this problem with the Aetas. A forum was held between them, the CDC and the Aeta community. They weren’t well-received by the community, although they walked away from the talk thinking they had a very productive meeting.

  11. Michael,
    then there are two sins here. Denying the non-Christians what is human, or imposing Christianity on non-Christians. Both are rather inhuman. I find issue with groups who proselytize in the guise of charity. They’re not doing anyone any favors.

  12. imposing Christianity on non-Christians. Both are rather inhuman. I find issue with groups who proselytize in the guise of charity.

    I share the same sentiments, Marts. GK should have been more discerning when it comes to dealing with indigenous people. And I immensely enjoyed reading this particular piece!

  13. I was never a fan of GK. Though I did my share of volunteering for them along with my fellow Lasallian volunteers. This case is a classical insensitivity to local culture and an imposition of the Catholicism to an already safe, peaceful and prosperous community.

    GK wants to help, it’s plain and simple. Their problem is they’ve helped the wrong community in this case.

    I wonder why they don’t help the squatters and slum dwellers in manila instead?

  14. oh my… reality bites. some of us i guess are too keen on wanting to help disregarding what needs should be taken into consideration. the problem lies on the idea that most of these charity or economic craze base growth on technological or civilized atmosphere. they do not see the contentment of the people in an area because of the absence of the typical urban lifestyle. poor aethas… they have really deprived them and had disturbed their way of living.

    i agree, you have written this as a critic and not an insult. they really must be aware of this flaws.

    in addition, housing projects are really nice, however, what’s the use of it if you can’t serve food on the table because they have disturbed the livelihood?

    (and here i am about to make a piece about GK as well. haha! luckily though, their project here in legazpi were greatly appreciated and NEEDED which they’ve managed to PROPERLY impose. sabi nga nung isang nagcomment, nagkamali lang talaga sila ng natulungang lugar with this Aetha Sitio thing.)

  15. wow.. i’ve been a supporter of GK (mainly because my parents are couples for Christ and i’m from youth for Christ). in big assemblies, they’ve always told us the communities we’ve been building.. hmmm, maybe yes, the aetas here already have houses but wow.. yes, the houses aren’t practical.

    the piece is great, sir. with much help from people above that my parents know, i can give a thought that this community could be helped.. well, just a thought, not yet sure, though.. 😉

    but still.. it’s.. an eye-opener. well, at least for me. 😀

  16. hi there.. first time to visit your blog and i think i should comment on this.. im one of the supporters and volunteers for Gawad kalinga. Obviously, im part of the CFC ministries as Youth for Christ. To tell you the truth, youve been very open to this issue on this blog and the fact that you did not mention the names of the people is an evident of your concern for them about this crucial topic. thank you for sharing this one to the people but i hope this wouldnt discourage the people to be volunteers of the said organization… your article is fair, its true! as part of GK, i will personally open this issue to my coworkers especially those who could act as soon as possible on this matters. thanks!

  17. informative article, but one example does not make a conclusion. that would be an ecological fallacy. i’m doing anthro diss research on GK. i do know they have a ton of problems and are trying to address these problems. they are open to suggestions. indeed the test will be whether they can adjust to local conditions.

    keep on writing!

  18. hi. i’m from Singles for Christ and also very active in GK. yes, there are many problems happening in GK. i don’t think any true member of the community would deny that. but that wouldn’t stop us from serving with all our hearts. some issues i would like to clear. i hope people do their research before making sweeping accusations 🙂

    “So homosexuals and single mothers are reportedly out of the loop when it comes to receiving houses”
    – not true. CFC has a ministry for homosexuals. a friend of mine is one of the leaders of this group. Single mothers fall under Handmaids of the Lord. basic things you can read on our website. 🙂

    “Denying the non-Christians what is human, or imposing Christianity on non-Christians”
    – some of the most active communities in GK are in mindanao. muslims and christians live together harmoniously in gk villages. and there are a lot of partner non-catholic groups of GK. i don’t think these religions would want to get involved if we are discriminating people.

    sir martin. thanks for the article. i promise to forward it to GK people. i’m sure this hurts a lot especially to those people who’ve given up luxurious lives and successful careers just to serve our country but at the end of it, i’m also sure that this would make them work harder.

  19. they failed there

    for me, i also want those aetas to retain their age old traditions, without incursions of the “sins” of the outside world

    appeared though that they’re trying to solve a problem without really understanding the “givens.”

  20. Good day Sir! 🙂

    I do see the point of your article. This has been reiterated to us by our Development Studies teacher. It is an imposition on what should be, on what is good, without really considering what the Aetas need.

    We should be careful though not to generalize all the GK projects as destructive to the beautiful culture of the Philippines’ different societies. While this clearly is an example of a destructive practice, I think that not all GK projects are bad. Indeed, GK should perform better. 🙂

    Thank you! 🙂

  21. What I don’t understand is why all the buzz about Gawad Kalinga? Isn’t it just another local version of Habitat for Humanity?

  22. Hi, First, I would just like to comment on Thinbastard’s ‘contention’ regarding GK’s unprecedented hype. While Habitat for Humanity has its own weaknesses, (or any organization or institution for that matter) we cannot passively condone something when we know we can improve on it. Perhaps the noteworthy publicity that GK has been getting as well as the huge number of people that are involved in this well-intentioned organization are what sets it apart from other local organizations.

    The very idea that multitudes of people are devoted to GK signals the need to be involved in civic affairs. However, we there is also a need to do away with our messianic complex and to be more cautious of our actions.

  23. Gawad Kalinga acknowledges all its miscalculations and failures. It is part and parcel of a movement who’s intentions are real and genuine.

    We welcome your information which we we find very objective!

    Based on our last information, the site is still present and very much alive. The aeta families are still there. and our programs are still on going.

    With our partnerships with various institutions like UP and Ateneo, we have formed the GK Institute for Total Community Development as part of our effort to improve GK.

    GK will still continue to do what it aims to accomplish: A Nation without slums!

    For every mistake along the way, we will always learn and further innovate.

    Until the Lord will say, “It is finished”.

  24. To thurnbastard,

    yes it is a local version of Habitat. But PROUDLY FILIPINO MADE.

    We understand our problems so well and we want to do something that we Filipinos can do.

    And we have succeeded slowly. And we hope to do it large scale.

    Why all the buzz? It is because some of us Filipinos have realized that something can be done in improving the lives of those who have been neglected for the longest time.

    Media is taking notice too because of the convictions of GK.

    300,000 families are now living in colorful and productive communities in over 2,000 sites all over the country.

    300,000 families given hope by over a million volunteers from all over the world both filipinos and non filipinos and now over a thousand corporate and like – minded institutions seeing a brand new hope.

    Who wouldnt take notice about it?

    If the Government of Singapore have take notice of it, why cant Filipinos?

    If the non – Filipinos who have volunteered to build in the GK communities have been inspired and now commits to do more, why cant Filipinos?

    So it is but normal to hear buzzes about GK.

    If you go to GK Cities, every disaster like fire, people will right away say, “Another GK site coming up!”

    That is what you call, THE BUZZ!

  25. Hi sir martin im a GK full time worker, I want to honor you for this article because it is indeed serve as a construvtive criticism for us in GK and we acknowledges your comments referring to the Sitio Target issue. Moreover i just want to state also that there are other IPs GK villages, like the Burog GK village in Bamban, Tarlac and i want to emphasize that the beneficiary of the said vilage is also Aetas. But in contrast to your statement there are no issue like this on the said GK village. Then it also justified that sitio target issue is an isolated case. In this case we cannot generally label out gk as an insensitive organization to cultural tradition an indigenous group. To people who in the future would use this article to discredit GK, you may do so but please state facts and refrain from sensationalizing issues because that is a form of irresponsible journalism. Sir Martin it a privilage to comment on your blog.

  26. Hi Sir Martin,

    I am a GK volunteer. I have lived outside the philippines for most of my life.. when I am at a GK site, I feel I have finally come home.

    Any work that involves people is likely to be imperfect… it doesn’t matter how many historians or anthropoligists you get on your team.

    I have worked with the poor here in Australia and in the Philippines.. and the root of the issue is still the same, it is about how poverty perpetuates a cycle of hopelessness, and the only way to address it is not by financial means but by restoring human dignity and giving compassion.

    Many of your comments thinking that GK is about proselytising and inhuman needs correction.

    How sad that so many intelligent people must judge what they don’t have 1st hand experience of.

    I wonder how many of them have worked with the poor.

    What have they done to create hope for the hopeless? What have they done for their country?

    I understand your goal in creating dialog and constructive criticism.. for it is surely needed even if only to balance the hype. However, if unbalanced and taken too far, it would become cynicism that will improve nothing.

    A simple challenge to you sir. Go and volunteer for 2 weeks to live in a GK village.. prepare to be open to all experiences and write another article to balance this one out. Game ka na ba?

    Each year youth from all over the world.. of all religious persuasions, nationalities, cultural backgrounds and beliefs go to the Philippines and have a life changing experience… why don’t you join with them?

    Then, write another article. When you do though, try to be objective and try not force your own beliefs on others… The last thing the poor need is more cynicism.

    Thanks for letting me share my view too. I’ve been to many villages… They’re beautiful and full of hope. They’re all imperfect… then again, what or who among us is?


    Let’s stop complaining and be the change that we want in this world.

  27. I agree that my response to this article was a bit personal. I would like to correct any mistake about the intent of GK as proselytism.. and only to promote Christianity or Catholicism.

    You said….

    then there are two sins here. Denying the non-Christians what is human, or imposing Christianity on non-Christians. Both are rather inhuman. I find issue with groups who proselytize in the guise of charity. They’re not doing anyone any favors.”

    Please rescind this statement as it is untrue.

    If this were the case, we wouldn’t have been able to build homes for the muslims in Mindanao. I believe that this work is something bigger than one’s religious beliefs or persuasion.

    Some GK volunteers are Catholic, some are Protestant, some are Muslim and others.. Yes, even Atheists are being involved.

    Cultural sensitivity is vital in building community… and rightly so should be a part of the planning for these villages. And I believe this to be the case in most places.

    I would like to hear updates on what is happening in Sitio Target… I know there are many Aeta villages that have a dissimilar result.

    In the end, we all want what’s best for the people there.. (and I’m not alluding to forcing our own beliefs or agendas, but in cooperation with their real needs) that is what’s in common yeah?

    Rather than point fingers now, the question we can ask is how do we work towards a positive beginning? What can we do to make it happen?

    Where it becomes dangerous is when we start jumping on the bandwagon of criticism…. if I read through the majority comments here (not necessarily the article) that is what I see.

    Thanks for this forum of discussion. I salute your intentions in making things better.


  28. Sir Martin,

    I myself is not involve in GK but having read all the articles about GK and have experienced to visit in one of the GK sites, I am more convince that your column is very unfair. You wrote something that you made everyone believed that you know everything but I am pretty sure you don’t. You mentioned a lot of things that is totally untrue. The sitio Target maybe a failure but I don’t think it is appropriate to describe the group as “irresponsible”. Please don’t make us believe that this group went there and talk only to one ordinary tribesman. Do you know what is the pre-requisite in building a GK community? You met a social worker and I believe this is where you based all your stories.

    Sir Martin you have a very good talent in writing. If your intention in your heart is to help then write everything –the bad and the good side of the story.

    If the intention to criticize is called “constructive criticism” then make sure that your article can do more good than harm otherwise you better not.

    Thank you.

  29. Sir Martin,I recognize your freedom to express yourself regarding this circumstance. There are valid points that GK should look into and improve.However, have you tried writing to the GK leaders about this matter? What is your real motive why you had put this article in the internet when you can air this article of yours directly to GK? Is this really a genuine concern? For example, if I have a concern to my friend about a problem that would put his credibility in jeopardy, I would not speak about it publicly but communicate it personally to him.Have you written something in the past that showcase the good works of GK for me to believe that you have balanced points of view on the works of GK?
    A myth is defined as a supernatural story, half-truth or fictional.Does one fault makes GK a myth? For example, just one mistake you commit in your life makes Sir Martin Perez a myth? I know that you are a better person than just one mistake.GK is not perfect. Right? But to say it is a myth is something too premature.Statistics tell us that there is a pattern in the event if it appears frequently.One event taking place does not mean that there is a pattern. The circumstance you stated in your article is only one event.And the one you said in Cebu is not yet presented in its entirety. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the so called “being irresponsible of GK” is rampant or consistent. Meaning, GK is still giving more “slices of heaven” than “piece of hell” as you used the terms.Yet,there is always room for improvement. And there is a more effective way of raising our concern than quoting Albert Camus and calling GK a myth for this one particular incident only. I respect your style of writing. If your aim is constructive criticism, you should have refrained from using words like “hell, disaster,ugly houses and evil” for these are not morally uplifting or motivating. I hope that you have a good motive for writing your article.If not, please examine your conscience and pray for God’s guidance. God bless you.

  30. I write this with a saddened heart.

    First, I fully agree with “Teacher Pascal”; the ‘myth’ tag is too premature, some of the words you’ve written are too hostile to be couched as “constructive criticism”, and mentioning soundbites such as “I just don’t want GK to leave them with a piece of hell” is uncalled for.

    Second, I do congratulate you. I think your article (not you, there’s a difference) is partially responsible for the unfortunate events that led to the split within GK’s mother organization, CFC. Reports such as these, though rare and isolated, were compiled by the separatist CFC Foundation for Family and Life (FFL) to create the impression that the mainstream CFC Global MIssion Foundation (GMF) is failing in its goals in GK, despite all efforts to the contrary (GK work is always a learning process). This was worsened by the fact that you published your observations on the Internet rather than submitting them first to the relevant GK authorities (maybe you did, but does it matter now?).

    Disillusion is setting in, I assure you. Already the GMF-FFL rift is demoralizing many volunteers (both inside and outside of CFC) who have committed a significant portion of their lives and resources to GK. What’s more, those outside the CFC community who might just be interested in GK will be pissed off by what happened. This can result into the erosion of the nation-building effort that GK espouses.

    Like I said, I think your article is partially responsible. Of course, I don’t expect your article to feel guilty, because it’s an inanimate work. However, you’re not, and that means a lot. I pray that, really, you could help GK in rectifying the problems you’ve mentioned (and not just sending your students, it’s PRESENCE that counts). Hopefully, someday, the problems of GK can be solved, bringing the GMF and FFL factions closer to reconciliation and reunification.

    God bless you.

  31. While the ‘myth tag’ may sound premature, thinking that the article or other reports contributed even partially to the GMF-FFL rift is outrightly unthinkable.

    The existence of a separatist CFC, as described in above comment, is already a solid foundation of brewing politics within the organization rendering the article & other gathered reports nothing but lame excuses for even partially causing the rift.

    Nothing & no one is perfect. And I believe that it is not the time to throw accusations,brickbats or even make an article/reports guilty about current developments. I am positive that GK’s foundations will remain solid. It is now time to fix up our own home before we continue rebuilding others.

    God bless us all!

  32. Don’t you think it’s better for the GK to build schools in rural community than houses? Later on, if these people become educated and self-sustaining, they can build their own houses — according to their style, according to their culture, according to their needs.
    And this might just decongest our cities. If people will have access to education, they will know how to develop their own place. Thus, no need for immigration…

    As the adage go: Do not give a man fish, teach him how to fish.

    It’s sad that many Filipinos has ‘learned'(brainwashed?) to be prejudice and judge other people who do not belong to their group without understanding their culture. Just take for example the Igorot Cañao. Only a few non-Igorots will understand the relevance of it to the Igorot community but many “PETAns” think it’s something that is unjust…according to THEIR morals toward animals.

  33. i am a gk volunteer from Ateneo… what you are saying is true. aetas have a specific and simple lifestyle. like any other tribe in the Philippines, aetas have their own way of life that cannot be taken out of their culture and tradition. GK did not realize that. all i am saying is that something good can only be great if it redeems itself from the worse. it is only a matter of time when GK learns from its mistakes.:)

  34. Well said Sir Martin Perez!!!
    However, I am not surprise at all that the Sitio Target project of GK was a disaster.

    Nothing new with GK overlooking the ethos of the “natives”– such arrogance are the hallmark of those that harbor “zealous” religious fervour–christians,muslims etc.– for Christ or for Allah- no difference.

    They all believe that their way is the only “true” way. And yes indeed it is true– the road to hell is paved with good intention ( which usually are misdirected anyway!)

  35. i think this is a simple case of misunderstanding the needs of the aetas. based on the pictures of their existing village (houses, spaces, self help), i think they are well on their own. if GK wanted to build dwellings for them, the social workers should have designed these according to the existing features of the existing houses.

  36. …and Karl’s thinking is called ampao…nothing in-between. Well in your case, nothing between your ears. Also called mongrel or askal- all bark, no bite!

  37. Karl and Gato, thanks for the interest in this post but I do not tolerate flaming in this blog. Please stick to the topic at hand. Thank you.

  38. First off, I’d like to commend you for writing this article about GK.

    As a Filipino-American who volunteered for Gawad Kalinga for about two months in June/July 2007, I truly saw what GK did for less fortunate in the Philippines.

    What we must not forget is that the people who are working for GK are full-time VOLUNTEERS. I have met many of them. Many of them could have worked abroad or pursue post-graduate degrees. So to say that GK could hire architects to prevent insensitivities is not always an option… These men and women are doing the work of GK because of their love for God, love for their fellow brothers and sisters, and love for their country.

    Yes, some GK sites that were built might not have been sensitive to the cultural needs of the people in a certain area, but it’s not like they did it on purpose. GK works the best they can (with extremely limited resources) to try to research and understand the area of future GK sites. Unfortunately, they are pressured to build these homes quickly, because obviously they’d like to help as many Filipinos as they can. You’ll notice that GK sites all over the Philippines are significantly different from each other.

    I had the privilege of visiting Aeta GK sites in Bamban, Tarlac. It was truly amazing to listen to the whole classroom of kids in the school singing to you. It was there where I truly saw hope, love & joy. Because of GK, these kids will be able to go to school. They will later complete high school (which Aeta kids rarely do), and with God’s grace, some of these kids will be able to graduate with a college degree. Who knows…maybe one day the president of the Philippines will be an Aeta from one of these Gawad Kalinga homes.

    In conclusion, before you judge GK on whether it is effective or not, I encourage you to first thank God that a miracle called Gawad Kalinga actually exists because if it didn’t, think about how many lives would continue to suffer from the vicious wrath of poverty.

  39. thanks sir for your writing and letting me challenge to study more in delivering help especially IP’s area.The sad thing in this article is the impartial judgment on Gk as a whole without thinking the poor as the main victim. Be sure next time you do a lot of service to the needy and thank God that you are instrument of peace not destruction.


  40. “Observe the following pictures. The first is the GK’s image of poverty, disease and backwardness. It is also everything that the Aeta needs. When the social worker asked them what they needed, they only had one response for seven years, “seven bolos.” Nothing more.”

    Wow, I’m genuinely surprised none of them said “a laptop”, “a fridge”, “a university scholarship” etc.

    I have a problem with this sort of thinking. It’s almost like we are idealizing keeping the people uneducated, deliberately choosing to keep them in these living conditions because “it’s their way of life”.

    Should we deny them the options available to the rest of us because “It’s their way of life”?

    No, I think not. They only asked for “seven bolos” because that is what they know. If we choose not to allow them greater knowledge, we are condescending. We refuse their children the opportunity to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses and the like, all because we deem they should remain in “their way of life.”

  41. Michael, I agree that we should not deny them anything. As a matter of fact, I state that in my recommendations — that the houses should be designed to fit their culture and that we assist in their livelihood and education while allowing for economic development and social change to take its course. That part is towards the end of the article. We’re not denying them anything. What we’re avoiding is a forceful imposition of a foreign ethos that will usher in change they are not ready for. Change must be managed as well.

  42. Hi Martin,

    I agree, and it’s how we balance the two isn’t it really? To me, that crucial sentence sounded rather ‘noble savage’, if you’re familiar with that concept:

    “When the social worker asked them what they needed, they only had one response for seven years, “seven bolos.” Nothing more.”

    Interestingly, the Philippine Star has just published a new perspective on the Aeta situation, noting that many are very keen on new opportunities that are opening up for them.

    Maybe they don’t want to live in the old way, given the choice.

    The choice is what we must give them, I guess, if we are not to be cultural imperialists foisting or denying.

    How would we provide houses that fit with a culture which has been mobile because of impermanence, for example?

    And what if the cause of the mobile culture was an inability to manage, for example, hygiene in the environment (e.g. diseases from the accumulation of waste). This happened in Palawan with native populations even killing their carabao to appease the Gods, when the real cause of sickness was an environmental hygiene issue. They would then move on…but when others taught them another way, they no longer felt the need to move on.

    I just think your article came down too far on the negative side, unrealistically so.

    But each to his own.

  43. GK is a work in progress it is not claiming perfection but in the absence of another model let us rejoice that it is gaining some degree of successes for the poor. i think before anybody makes negative comments a little reminder:
    a. what have you done to address poverty? because if you have a working model then lets adopt it…walk your talk
    b. honor and respect what the volunteers are doing…not pretending to know it all but simply following the heart of Jesus loving the poor.
    c. the aetas are our equal they are also God’s children…so this is not about your studies about them but 1st and foremost we need to ask how can we concretely show them love according to God’s standard.
    I hope all who profess to love God, esp ffl start to behave and act according to how Jesus would behave loving one another!

  44. Good post. Another lesson that underscores the problems with arrogance and large, centralized, top-down solutions.

    The Philippines is a large (12th largest), centralized country and we often reach for large, centralized top-down solutions to problems, much to our detriment. Such top-down thinking leads to waste, corruption, and arrogance and ultimately the steamrolling of the local population. More decentralized, more localized, more federalist decision-making would be far more effective.

    You draw parallels between the Philippine experience with the Spanish empire and GK in this case. That is apt. This is an example of Imperial Manila. Rule from those far away – whether physically or culturally — is always disastrous.

  45. Hey Martin,

    Good stuff doing the immersion! 🙂

    Just wanted to add, nope, your article had nothing to do with the CFC split. Cheers!

  46. Hi, I have been surfing for feeds/articles about the KATUTUBO particularly of Pampanga side kasi I shall be embarking on a project for and with them. I am with the Social Service Unit of the Governor’s Office (Among Ed’s) While I know I am of the kind that thinks of anf for the other side and not the imposing one… I learned my lessons in the missions – walang ignoring the facts at situations

  47. Bruce,


    Sorry mate, I tend to disagree. I think you may need perspective and reality check. My advise is for you immerse yourself in the real situation with the poor before rattling off judgements on GK. You may find that as far as the reality, GK is very decentralised in nature. Including the work done by its partners etc.

    Visit GK sites and talk to all the locals, visit visit the aeta villages in tarlac and sitio target, visit GK arkong bato in pasig. Visit GK villages in palawan. Visit GK the many GK villages in Zamboanga. You will see the hard work of a network of volunteers, partners and villagers. Volunteer 1 day or 1 week of your life… and leave your eyes open.
    You will see an imperfect but beautiful work… a work in progress but a work of love and transformation. Then post again.

    Sorry if I seem annoyed… its just that well.. I got annoyed. tao lang po.



  48. my real point is… GK is not about an organisation, it is about people… rich and poor… christian protestant muslim, buddhist or atheist.. who work together with the hope of restoring hope and dignity to the filipino.

    In any case I disagree that it is top-down. I see GK solutions more as bottom-up.. or maybe even more than that (because of its holistic nature). Build up those who have the least, to have the best. Pay it forward. Start with one family, one village at a time… to make the society… the country.. the world a better place.

    I don’t know how more decentralised and bottom up you can get.

    Of course you have to organise and so you have to have standards… and an organisation… Of course the project is big… the problem is so much bigger.

    It is about sharing real hope and doing something about it. Which is better than simply criticising and saying that there is no hope for the Philippines.

    Hope… it is so much more than anyone can write about or come up with theories for… but to have it.. you just have to have it. Otherwise… acquire it. Life will be better for it.

  49. Chino, I’ll just have to respectfully disagree with your notion that it isn’t top down. From the perspective of economics and public policy, a top down solution is about setting a direction from above and implementing below. On the other hand, a bottom up solution entails the forces of demand then supply. Bottom up solutions arise from economic demand and social context.

    In the case of the Aetas at Sitio Target, they did not need GK houses, or at least, houses in the manner designed by GK. A true bottom up approach would have entailed studying what the Aetas needed first before implementing any “solution”. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

    I think this is what Bruce had in mind in his comment.

    Nonetheless, I get what you’re trying to say. The transformation GK inspires can be seen as “bottom up” if we talk about the cosmetic changes they make in communities, that in turn inspire spiritual then social change. Indeed, it is about sowing hope community by community so that we can reap change as a nation. If I have only one caveat to make, it is that change — especially change that is alien and abrupt — must be managed for it to be truly lasting.

  50. When Gk approached fiji, they were also told.. we don’t need houses.. what we need is livelihood training.. and that’s where the focus was put.. but it was a new stumbling block because it was unknown.

    So it is as it should be taken as a case by case basis. I think what happened in Sitio Target is regrettable easpecially if they were not consulted.. but surely this does not reflect the whole work. however I think oinly half the story is told. For something to work.. any project there needs to be eye to eye agreement.. and it seems from a distance that even if sincere help and solutions were offered… it would be recognised or recieved well due to preconceptions built. There are different stories in different aeta villages. I really hope that will change.

    In all new GK areas at first, they are not welcome… not just by the aetas, but most villages are wary because years of neglect and being cheated have taught villagers to distrust the hand that feeds. But then.. something happens.. and this changes. For change to happen.. whatever the solutions are need to address the issues that are prevalent in the specific society or group of society. And this differs from place to place.

    I agree that change needs to be long lasting and managed, which is why GK work only is effective when caretaker teams that work hand in hand with the poor.. themselves become a part of the community.. which they do.

    Gk is meant to be a work that is holistic.. “shelter” or housing is often one tangible but sometime cosmetic sign of change… the true change is the change inside borne of the new life and values people learn from one another.

    “livelihood” – teaching skills for livelihood. Allowing people to be ale to provide for themselves and their families. Grameen bank and microfinancing provided by GK.

    “values formation” – (may be faith based or sectarian means) something that goes deeper in restoring the dignity and hope of those who have had it taken away. It affirms people of their dignity.. and restores faith in real community and social values. Incidents of crime and vice drops.

    “education” – putting in place structures for educating and empowering young and old. Building schools… feeding schoolchildren and supporting teachers in GK communities. Changing the next generation today.

    “Health” – Medical missions and education of basic sanitation and hygiene as well as nutrtition. Providing medical centres and access to doctors.

    These are just some things we take forgranted, that all the poor… aeta or bunot or whoever needs.
    Basic human needs.

    We filipinos sometimes want to see the big things.. the houses, but we miss the change in true community which isn’t as easily quantified.

    It is too easy to focus on the goal of numbers of houses for people who need to quantify success… it isn’t to be found there… but in how it affects the said community and the broader community as a whole.

    I hope that residents Sitio Target will be open minded… even as GK should be open minded in what is needed… and provide what is needed.

    Again.. GK is more than providing homes. It is really about giving care that is needed. This is not well understood by many.

    The biggest threat to GK is its biggest strength… its potential to change the lives of many… of the nation… of the world. I choose to believe it can be done. We can do it. Yes, we can.

  51. We filipinos sometimes want to see the big things.. the houses, but we miss the change in true community which isn’t as easily quantified.

    Well, in the case of Target, it was the uneasily quantified change that caught my attention.

  52. thats right. I think as you mentioned… in the end it didn’t match with the needs of the people.. and that is the danger that exists when we don’t consult and we go and do our own thing. I can see the danger in that happening all too easily which is as I understand as you would say.. is the point.

  53. A friend pointed out something interesting to me the other day.

    If all the Aetas needed for seven years was seven bolos…why are their so many Aeta girls working in the bars of Angeles?

    Are we playing games of “noble savage” with the Aeta, at the expense of their daughters’ lives?

    As long as they have their bolos I guess…and we have our anthropological sophistication.

  54. Michael, don’t belabor the point. You know very well that it isn’t as simple as that. I’ve touched on your point in a supplementary article, Sitio Target and Gawad Kalinga: The Social Context. There I explain the social composition of the Aeta and how tradition and modernity interact in a place such as Sitio Target.

    On the other hand, I find it interesting that you even consider a bar girl a career path and a way out for the Aeta. I tend to see it this way: the British had their opium fields, the Spanish had their haciendas, the Americans had their bars. I am not playing games of anthropological sophistication; I’m just stating the realities of the oppression I’ve seen.

  55. Sir Martin,

    Michael makes a good point. How true is the statement that all they needed were bolos? Whose cultural values are we taking into account when we compare nipa huts with sturdier housing? Are we going to start a discussion on the benefits of western civilization versus the native aeta? Is it better for Aetas to live in subsistence society versus a more capitalistic society? I’m not going there.

    Poverty is getting a lot of attention nowadays with Sir Martin pointing out the bestseller, The End of Poverty. I think that GK has indeed been a positive force for change to lift more people out of poverty. Is GK a perfect org? No, but it can’t be denied that GK is to be commended for the work they have done to improve the lives of Pinoys. I think from an outsider, it looks like GK is functioning better than most charities/social service orgs/church orgs. What other Pinoy org can you name that has had such a positive impact to this number of Pinoys and given them housing, and other improvements in their daily lives.
    Chino makes very good points on the good work. Yes I agree that open communication, transparency and criticism is a good thing to have. But also give GK the proper dues.

    Sir Martin has pointed out that more thought, and interaction was needed to design, collaborate on a better housing plan.
    Yes we see the issues raised by this blog regarding the housing developed was supposedly unacceptable to the Aetas. I think one way to look at it is that GK is like a McDonalds, they serve the same thing worldwide for the most part, burgers, fries and soda. That is, GK has a standard template for building houses that works for the 95% of recipients. So Sir Martin is expecting McDonalds to change the menu for the Aetas sake. (I’m using the analogy for convenience). That may be a valid point, but it will be hard for McDo to cater to every customization, and still provide housing within their budget.

    I dont fully understand the part about the Korean spa. What has GK got to do with a spa? As far as I know, the spa has not connection to GK.
    GK did not tell the Aetas to accept the money, and the resulting deaths were an example of human folly.

    disclaimer. I am not affiliated with GK in any way. I am just a Pinoy outsider, no longer living in Manila.

  56. McDonald’s does not serve the same thing worldwide. Yes, they are an established brand that serves hamburgers and fries and the like. However, in India they have introduced vegetable patties and substituted lamb for beef since cows are sacred in India. They have introduced the rice burger in Japan, and upgraded McDonald’s stores in France to look more like coffee shops and bistros. In the Philippines, McDonald’s introduced spaghetti, fried chicken and rice meals in order to appeal to the broader market.

    Yes, I am expecting McDonald’s to change the menu for the Aeta’s sake because it is not difficult, it is done all the time, and must be done. Gawad Kalinga, like McDonald’s, must adapt to local traditions, customs and mores in order to be relevant. Otherwise, you’re just feeding cows to Indians and they’ll have none of it.

    The Korean spa example was added to develop the theme of cultural imperialism. The GK and the Korean spa are both examples of outside influence disrupting the Aeta community.

  57. “On the other hand, I find it interesting that you even consider a bar girl a career path and a way out for the Aeta. I tend to see it this way: the British had their opium fields, the Spanish had their haciendas, the Americans had their bars.”

    Hey pare,

    I don’t consider being a bar girl a career path. The point was intended entirely in all its sadness, that being that if all they need is what they have, why are so many of their daughters caught up in the exploitative tragedy that is prostitution? My pinay friend assures me that Aeta girls are in Angeles in large numbers.

    Regardless of the origin of prostitution, it has certainly permeated the local culture far more than just servicing foreigners, from the lowest levels in small-town videoke partlours right up to the congressmen haunting Pegasus.

    Apart from that aside, I think perhaps the headline of your article distracts unfortunately from the content. I don’t know if this was your headline, or created by the paper’s headline writer in order to sell through scandalizing, but here’s the problem as I see it.

    Gawad Kalinga has over 1,200 communities, and has achieved astonishing success, despite the odds. This, from a bunch of amateurs who have never claimed to be otherwise. Both previous director Tony Meloto and current director Luis Oquinena have said things along the lines of “Experts make us look intelligent, but for us it’s just about loving the poor.”

    So with 1,200 communities, one example of less than perfection is marketed under the headline “The Myth of Gawad Kalinga.”

    That’s unfortunate, in my opinion.

    Just as unfortunate, perhaps, would be if people who had found faults in your writing felt free to label you “The Myth of Martin Perez”, despite the fact that your points of success most likely far outweigh inaccuracies / miscalls.

    I can’t see that either title could be fairly awarded given the performance of GK and yourself.

  58. Hi guys,

    All good points.

    I agree with you that GK will have to adapt just as anyone when it works with different cultures. (I believe that in most cases it can and does.) Just as we filipinos have to adapt in certain ways to the cultures of the other nations we live in. We integrate, yet still maintain our roots.

    While we can do this well as long as it doesn’t lead to the loss of our identity as filipinos and the good values that we have, even as we learn from the good of other cultures too.

    I think likening the Korean example to GK.. or seeing GK as cultural imperialism might be a bit far fetched.. even irresponsible. ‘Nuff said. (apologies if I misunderstood or misconnected.. but you could see my point yeah?)

    When we work for good then let us see the good in one another and stop looking for the muta in our brother’s eye.

    Like we, the Aeta too live in a larger community.. just as we filipinos live in a global community. WE all have the right to preserve what is ours and how we fit in the context of our changing environment. We learn, we adapt, it doesn’t mean we have to lose our identity. That is how cultures survive. We don’t want to see them assimilated.. we want to allow them to continue to prosper. That doesn’t work if they are starving.

    We in GK should not see aeta houses as shanties…. but just as there are non-aeta shanties, there are also aeta shanties too.
    In Mindanao.. many of the GK villages made for mainly muslims look the part and are functional for their.

    In saying this.. I know GK is not perfect.. and many workers, volunteers, beneficiaries and partners also may not fully understand the work and the heart of GK… but they can still do good.

    In some cases.. we miss or get it wrong… judge it then? Who do you judge? Throw the first stone? Throw it at GK? But that’s not the point is it? Is it better not to get involved and fix the problems? Lets offer an ideal instead. With my limited understanding.. here is what I think could have happened (in the ideal world).

    In the ideal situation, I think that leaders from the village (target) should have first been made involved… because they have to be a part of the solution… consulted and workshopped… visited other aeta GK sites. Buy in. Cooperation. Then the planning would begin. Then the assignment and training of leaders and the involvement of whole village. Then the infrastructure buildings would be designed in cooperation with villagers, townplanners and local government. Then the organisation of building teams… then the building of the homes.. together with the livelihood and other programs.

    Maybe this is what was tried… maybe not. Its just a simplified scenario to illustrate what can happen. One thing I am sure of is that GK works… and is successful in changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for the better. Are their lives perfect? Not a chance. Is my life perfect? not a chance.

    Can GK become better.. you Betcha! You gonna do something to make it better? Well that’s up to each person isn’t it.

    Check out these articles from PNG.. on how we can work with other cultures.

  59. Apologies for all the grammatical and spelling errors in my last point. No time for edit.

    Its cool Michael Michael. I understood what you meant by your initial post by the way.

    The Myth of Chino

  60. BTW Michael,

    Did you know that Gawad Kalinga has established partnerships with major universities both here and overseas in order to better equip the work for the future?

    The Gawad Kalinga Builders Institutes seek to link academia and longer-term strategic thinking with the padugo-based on-the-ground volunteerism that has been its foundation since the start in Bagong Silang.

    Perhaps there’s room for your helpful input through the Builders Institute? If anthropology is your strength, how great it would be to leverage it to help a movement that is uniting many in the Philippines and overseas right now.

    Ingat pare,

  61. I can see how the title can be irresponsible; however, I stand by it. Through the Sitio Target case I discovered that GK is not everything that it’s being made out to be. I have had an incredibly high opinion of GK before learning of Target — I was definitely shocked to learn the truth.

    But I realize that ‘truth’ can be fragile and that is why I’ve sought to learn the facts and the situation from the Aetas themselves. I’ve been to Target and saw the realities, and this is why I stand by my title. If the headline detracts from the contents, then that is up to the reader. I realize that I’m writing something extremely volatile, and that is why I always welcome a healthy debate on this topic.

    This doesn’t mean to say that I haven’t made concessions to my critics. Originally, the subtitle was “What the speakers and the press aren’t telling you.” I have changed that when I realized how truly irresponsible that is, and how it seemed to represent an agenda I cannot simply defend or something that was beyond my original intent — to take an honest look at GK and think up ways of how to make a good idea even better. Since then I have renamed it “A Profile of the Sitio Target Disaster” in order to underscore the specificity of the critiques I am writing.

    However, I can’t say that I am not looking for a wider debate about Gawad Kalinga since my article simply welcomes it. Moreover, there are many commited to the organization and its ideals, and thus I always welcome them to challenge me and my allegations of myth. But if they do so, I respond by challenging them to do something about Sitio Target. Sure, they can run by numbers such as 777 or 1,200 — but I only speak of one. After all, it is in that one place where we can still make myths into tangible realities.

    P.S. Thanks for the mention of GKBI. However, I have other plans.

  62. The truth… the complete truth? please elaborate Martin. Debate is good and discussion, yes. Be careful that you also do not make myths out of tangible realities… and turn hearts of good people off from doing things that are good. Who suffers? We are accountable when what we say does just that.

    I do hope that Sitio Target will become a success story… just for the people who live there who deserve it.

    But for change to take root.. it will take cooperation from all parties.. and the village will have to be open to trust, just as GK should be open to change.

    On other news… Clinton Obama. Sigh… what a waste of good people. I still hope that a good outcome will eventuate.

  63. I don’t have to elaborate further than I already have. You believe what you want to believe.

    Yes, it is unfortunate that the campaign has dragged on as long as it did. McCain definitely stands to benefit.

  64. Thanks Martin,

    It helps actually to understand the headline as referring only to one example – Sitio Target – rather than attempting to brand the whole work of GK as a myth.

    But just to revisit a point that was never really addressed: The success / sensitivity of the social worker and his seven bolos a year (requested by the Aetas) was contrasted with the failure of GK in providing housing in an insufficiently culture-sensitive manner.

    But what I’m still interested in is: If GK has it so wrong in comparison, and the social worker had it so right, and the villages themselves have the task of planning for their collective future so well managed – why are their large numbers of Aeta girls in the bars of Angeles?

    In our discussion we haven’t yet come up with any answers on that one (the only comment was, for some reason, “I find it interesting you’ve brought that up as a career path”, though I hadn’t actually done that).

    On another note, we have positive feedback from other Aeta communities, thankful for the help and care of GK and their caretaker teams…

    But yes, I can’t see that we’ve reconciled the “successful” example of the social worker, to who GK’s failure is compared, in the face of the great presence of Aeta girls in prostitution.

    Thoughts, anyone? What’s lacking in the existing communities that their daughters leave for the bars of Angeles?

  65. No one has come to answer your question because it is a gross oversimplification. It is akin to asking: If the past century of human civilization has shown tremendous strides in political, economic and scientific achievement, then why are there people who live in extreme poverty? Nonetheless, it being a gross oversimplification doesn’t mean it’s invalid; a response just has to be proportionally nuanced. Here it is.

    There is no doubt, Michael, that these Aetas do not live in a vacuum. As I have mentioned in the concluding remarks in the original entry, change is coming to their communities. They are inevitably being integrated with their surrounding communities and even parties beyond their locality (ie. Gawad Kalinga, my students and I) increasingly find themselves in touch with the Aetas.

    The reason is simple. Their population is growing and the land which they can till and utilize isn’t growing. Traditionally, Aetas are nomadic people. However, increasing commercialization, industrialization and urbanization in the surrounding areas have made it more difficult for them to live by their transitory lifestyle. They eventually settle down (that’s why now we have the Aetas of Pampanga, the Aetas of Tarlac, the Aetas of Zambales, etc. when in fact they were all once just Aeta) and through a sedentary lifestyle their population grows, and this necessitates more complex of political and economic organization.

    There will inevitably come a point where these Aetas will not be able to live off the land. Their subsistence ethos will be insufficient for their survival in an increasingly modernizing world. They know this. In recent years, the Aetas have been more welcoming of foreign influence. They have come to know the value of modern education as evidenced by Sitio Target’s city-learned teacher, pastor and midwife. They know the value of money, and have endeavored to produce a little bit more than what they need so they could sell the surplus which proceeds, in turn, will help sustain their society.

    However, not all communities are created equal. Some may deal with change on a more measured pace, while some at a more frantic one. Thus enter those girls working in bars. Those Aeta mothers selling in the public market in the city. The Aeta fathers working as tricycle drivers. The Aeta who end up begging on the streets of Manila. Clearly, the subsistence ethos will prove inadequate when a traditionally nomadic society witnesses unparalleled population growth coupled with loss of agricultural and pastoral land. To answer your question pointedly, what’s become increasingly lacking in these existing communities is the means to support their own people.

    I am aware of Aeta communities where GK successfully intervened. While I have read just reports, I can surmise that perhaps, GK was able to integrate themselves better. I can only speculate and add that maybe, the Aeta were farther along the developmental line, were more socially flexible and were thus more welcoming of foreign intervention. This hypothesis has to be tested, for sure.

    Sitio Target however, was another matter and it is this matter which I specifically write about. GK did not integrate themselves properly. The community was barely consulted (consultation meaning a conversation with an unwitting “elder” — who isn’t even one), and their needs were not assessed, as evidenced by the houses versus the needs. The GK program was seen by half as a cultural breach, in effecting dividing the community down the middle. I will not go on reiterating my critiques of GK since my post is there to be reread. There is no doubt that I would be writing differently about GK if things went the other way. However, that is not the reality I see.

    To summarize, I would like to repeat some of the key principles guiding me in this analysis.

    (a) Different communities develop at different paces. Hence, communities manage change differently as well. Therefore, intervention programs (ie. GK, outreach activities) must fit the target community and respond to their needs at their current developmental level.

    (b) Failure to respond to the community’s specific needs (either by doing too little or doing too much — as was the case with GK in Sitio Target) will be disruptive to the community.

    (c) Development programs, by nature, should only assist, support and empower communities to manage change on their own. Programs that usher in abrupt change will be disastrous since the community has not developed the transactional relationships necessary to sustain and invest in the change they made.

    Michael, you sound like a well read man. I suggest two books: The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs and White Man’s Burden by William Easterly. The former is an elaboration of the world’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals while the latter is a critique of that commitment.

    Easterly argues that “big plans” designed to solve poverty are doomed to fail because they are often disconnected from the realities on the ground. While I don’t agree with Easterly completely (particularly in his regard for market forces), I criticize Gawad Kalinga in a similar manner, using Sitio Target as my primary example.

    P.S. Just to update you, the Aetas in Sitio Target now have their bolos. They now also have one new carabao which my school just donated in the past week. Through our interactions with them, we learned that their population was growing at a rate faster than their traditional food production methods could keep up with. Upon assessing their needs further and looking at our available resources, we learned that one carabao could make so much difference. (And this carabao — a male — they would use to impregnate the other female carabao they already have, in effect “dividing” the carabao among everyone.). We could have given them a tractor or heaps of fertilizer but that isn’t what they needed and or wanted.

  66. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for the very interesting and informative reply! Your notes on the different developmental stages of the various Aeta communities make me glad I came to this page 🙂

    I’ve read Sachs book, and some of the conflicting debate between his perspective and Easterly’s, certainly very interesting indeed.
    I did find quite concerning, at least until near the end of his book, that Sachs’s appeared to believe that building programs was enough, forgetting the fact that people have different cultures, ways of thinking etc. I’ve also tried to get myself well-grounded in some of the issues of Philippine history in order to better understand today’s issues…

    This is one thing I’ve always found advantageous in GK’s approach, grounded as it has been in local knowledge and culture, as opposed to theories imposed from the outside. However, as you note, there can still be times when this can be all too humanly imperfect – there’s certainly a vast variety of cultural differentiation in the Philippines 7,109 islands!

    As a foreigner in the Philippines, I’m really encouraged to see the coming together of GK’s self-acknowledged amateur and home-grown love for the poor, and the strong academic foundation increasingly becoming a growing partner of GK.

    I can only hope that the ongoing input of you and others like yourself can help to improve the efforts of the many involved in trying to change things here for the better. After all, a lot of people stand to be affected by these things.

    Thanks again for the information above.


  67. Hi Michael,

    Its been a pleasure reading your comments. They’ve been very enlightening. I too am glad that academic institutions are getting strongly behind the work of GK and partnering with this work of upliftment. It does help to get the brightest and the best helping our work.

    God Bless,
    Not in topic – apologies.


    Congrats on getting your domain and hosting up. I guess you didn’t need hosting after all. I will have to get your tips in how to export/import your complete blog as I may have to do the same in future.


  68. hey sir Martin! :D.

    I would agree with you Sir Martin, but I think I really don’t have a good stand about this yet since I haven’t been to Sitio Target yet. But If I would, it will really change my life.

    anyways, as what I’ve written in my blog, GK, has been doing talks in my old school and that really impressed me. But when you showed this to us in class, at first, I can’t believe it, I never knew that there is a GK site that was harmed because of GK itself. I thought at first, it was just a misunderstanding your part, but Sir Martin? misunderstood something? I don’t think so.

    When you further given us details, the further I was in shock and in believe. I believed that GK was careless so to speak about this GK Village. When I searched Sitio Target in the GK site, I only saw GK Mabalacat, Mabalacat, Pampanga, not Sitio Target. I am now questioning why they did not place the name Sitio Target in their site.

    Even with this, I still do believe that GK’s intention is to help others, and I believe that GK is a good thing. But I would just like to say that I hope that they would first know the way of living of the people they will help and the things they need before they give any such help. Because maybe, their “help” is something that is not needed or would do harm to the people.

    oh, and sir, thanks for letting us know about this. It really did open my mind about our topic. Sana po ganitong kainteresting sa buong year :P.

    Rita :D/.

  69. Hi Sir!!!

    As I was browsing the comments on this article, I saw how you really want to defend the Aetas. I’m proud of you, Sir!!! I want to join AKSIS, but I think the screening is over. Can I still join?

    Also, the reason why I want to join is I am touched with the article. As you discuss it to the class, I was so amazed of the story. And when you told us about the tragic event (I won’t say it anymore because it might open up another issue), I got so sad. I don’t think that the “outsiders” can do it to the Aetas. How rude they are.

    When I was in Elementary, I don’t love Social Science subject. When I reached 1st year in Pisay, I started to love Social Science. And now that I’m on 2nd year, I started to love Social Science. I love to hear more stories like that. I am not also aware of what happens in our country. But now, I want to be aware of that.

    Even though I am a dormer, I will try to watch news so I will be updated of what happens to our country. This story made my life change. This story made my “nationalism” even better.

    GK is a good organization, but they should do good in right time, right place, and right reasons. They should not pursue what they want, mostly when the property is not theirs. I believe in the good goals of GK, but I don’t think that they should always do the good thing. They should also think of what might happen if they do their projects. Who will be affected? In what way will they be affected? Will it be good or bad?

    Well, I think I will end here. Basta sir, I want to join AKSIS. God bless us!!!

    Thank you!!! 🙂

  70. Sir! Sir!

    I read the whole article, and it was really fascinating. I haven’t seen anything like it. Not many articles I read on blogs have this much impact on me. This is perfection.


    *oh, and, like IC said, can we still join AKSIS? :)*

    God Bless, Sir (and thanks again!)
    J0n. 🙂

  71. Hi Sir,

    I’m completely compelled by what you made Sir, and much more by what you debated in your comments. Gawad Kalinga really has did a good job, although even I know each organization, company, or whatever has its flaws. And usually though, those flaws are not the fault of the collective rather of the individual. Although this comment was not made to offend anyone, I could say that probably the ones at Sitio Target did not know the true situation of the Aetas and thus caused a bit of misunderstanding. A misunderstnding could also cause a big misunderstanding until it could become a disaster. As you said Sir, it might – emphasis on the might – have caused a major misunderstand. On the other hand, as the eariler comments cited, it was for the better. I try to see it from all points of view. In short, GK’s intentions are perfectly good. Its intentions are good, what it did was good, yet it was their understanding of the situation was flawed. I also see the point that one must not shock a culture in order to change it, for a culture is like a person. Change it slowly it shall adapt, change it suddenly there shall be abrupt chaos, although there is always an exception to the rule. Sitio Target may not be that exception as we have yet to fully see how they adapt in the long run. In this ridiculuously long comment (or essay, depends on one’s POV), I’m just trying to unite both ideas from each party, be the parties be exisistent or not.
    On a sidenote, Sir when is the meeting that you talked about during the AKSIS interview just in case we were accepted? It’s not like I have high hopes or anything I’m just asking.


  72. Hello Sir Martin,

    First of all, I liked the way you criticized the Gawad Kalinga, who ironically ruined the lives of the Aetas in Sitio Target; I strongly agree on your criticism.

    We do have same point of views of GK before and even after. I, at first, looked at them as the solutions to the modern problems in the country like housing, food, etc, but after the realization about their actions and their effects, I don’t expect them to be housing saviors now.

    GK must know not only its own intentions but also its own actions. Moreover, like you said, they should have studied the situation at Sittio Target. Referring Aetas as “mahihirap” is not easy as one thinks, for they themselves in cultural sense can sustain their own needs in their community. This is what GK should know, and if GK continues this activity to other minority groups, what would one think of what will happen to these indigenous groups.

    I support the way you search and discover the truth and only the truth! Please continue to do this, as this would be for the good for the sake of the Filipinos!

    *Before the end of this comment, just like IC Duay and others, could I join AKSIS, despite its far deadline?*

    May God bless you!

    Jayson Pinza of Rosal 2011 (SocSci RuLeS!!!)

  73. Jayson,

    You should also think from Gawad Kalinga’s POV as well. Its their fault, yet one must look at their side of the story.

    (Gomen, Jayson. Not that I’m contradicting you, but I’m actually trying to augment to what you have said.)

  74. In the same strain Gab,

    Finding fault is always the best remedy for a problem. Especially because opinion is always correct.

  75. Hey Chino. Sarcasm much? It’s been awhile since you’ve dropped by. Sounds like you’ve grown old and bitter since then. =p

  76. Yeah.. it would seem so, but not really. Had little time due to deadlines. so I just turned the sarcasm on itself. I was trying to be ironic actually. 🙂 there was not much to be answered.

    It’s been a while. I’m sure future posts wont be the same.

  77. Hey man. Thanks for taking out time during work to check out my blog then. I appreciate it, even after all this time. Oh well. Haven’t been writing as much. I’m getting to utilize my leadership toolset this year at the expense of my writing. I hope to tell one mean story when I get ample time to breathe.

  78. 🙂 No worries bro. It was a welcome break as a part of my day. I’ve noticed you haven’t been writing as much.. but from what I’ve read, much is being put on your shoulders this year. All the best with that.

    Perhaps that’s because you show much promise in the eyes of the faculty board. To whom much is given, much is expected yeah? I hope you will enjoy the ride too. May the changes that come and the growth that you see give you a sense of fulfilment and allow you to accomplish your goals. I’m sure you will do very well. Looking forward to you having more time.. and reading more stories and insights.

  79. Sir Martin!

    Hi! While researching for my term paper on the “Analysis of GK and its Media Campaigns” I came across your entries on GK and Sitio Target. I just want to let you know that I’ll be using your entries as references on my paper. 🙂

    Thanks and see you around! ^^

    ~Paula T.

  80. Hi sir!

    I am a part of a group studying at the Ateneo de Manila University and we are studying GK for our management class[Gawad Kalinga as a public service program]. Is it possible for us to have an interview with you for our project? We really think your objective analysis of GK’s activities would help us come up with an objective analysis of GK’s management too. 🙂

    We’d highly appreciate it if you can give us some of your time. Please e-mail me so we can coordinate when we can hold an interview. We’d gladly adjust to whenever you’re free (hopefully within the next two weeks). =)

    Eric Andres

  81. great article – I applaud your courage in coming out with a story like this, especially with the great popularity of Gawad Kalinga – you are an inspiration.

  82. Hello there! You’ve said that you have other plans with regard to advocacy in this matter, none of which include participating into the GK structure. I am just curious: what have you accomplished?

    By the way, you must have been updated on the change in leadership in the GK Board. Any comments on that?

    Thanks 😀 (just reposted so that I’ll know if you answer)

  83. The almost 700 delegates from the US, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Columbia and the Philippines once again made history as they joined the historic gathering of Gawad Kalinga patriots, partners and friends last June 12-14, 2009 in Massachusetts for the first ever Gawad Kalinga Global Summit.

  84. Mr. Perez has made a good point. However, I believe GK still has good intentions. Thus, it would indeed be better if they do consult with the indigents before taking matters into their own hands.

    Excellent, Mr. Perez, but I hope your view on GK remains positive in the light that they are working for a good cause.

  85. Good comments. The work of Gawad Kalinga is a learning process and we appreciate the insights. There are no textbooks and templates on nationbuilding, and our teachers are the marginalized communities that we are are all trying to help.

    In the meantime, we will continue in our mission of building this country. Constructive criticisms, especially from the academe, are always good. If anyone has a suggestion on how to improve things, volunteer your time and talent to GK and give us your insights. We need the experts and their opinions. Thanks for posting this.

  86. Hi Good thing I read your article. Can you help me more info about GK. because im looking on some situation with my relatives at Q.C. GK seems to be domineering in trying to push their project while the residence have their own problem with the owner of the land they are in contract to pay, and not all members of the assn. agree to teh GK. If you have more info about them like thier operations and and members. Please.

    If possible dont post this yet

  87. to Joy,

    please try to contact Ninay Estrella – Quimpang
    GK Child and Youth Development
    +63 9196810341
    +63 9233535145
    she might be able to help you out or point you to the right direction.
    pls. be persistent – remember most GK workers are volunteers – so their schedules are quite tight.

  88. To those who think that this article is an eye opener (as to how GK operates) – you might need to wake up from your sleep.

    1.This article was based on 1 case.
    2. It was poorly researched and ill informed: he talked to 1 social worker; he did not
    bother to consult people from GK – whom he was writing about;
    3. He formed an opinion (and proliferated as FACT) without a balanced view and
    getting all the right information (did somebody say “irresponsible?”).
    4. The use of highly emotional language such as “…hell” “…evil” makes it so subjective
    that it would not even pass as an assessment paper in higher universities. He claims
    that he is not a polemicist – yet this whole article used language calculated for
    controversy and sensation!
    (The words “…eras come to an end” amuses me. I did not know that an “era” has
    passed. The GK fight for poverty has barely begun; the work is so massive-one has
    to read beyond one’s locality for a better perspective!)
    5. The title alone is questionable – the word “myth” refers to something that is
    intangible thus with all the successful GK villages around… it’s obviously a poor choice
    of word.

    The criticism was valid – GK is not perfect, it needs to be looked at. Yet the way Mr. Martin went about it – barely hides a clamor for personal fame (PRIDE-see his comments). The article should cause a sensation – otherwise who would look at it. In terms of grammar and persuasions-Mr. Martin writes well. But please have a look at all the young minds (see blog comments) that have been disillusioned. Fighting poverty needs hopeful people-not cynical ones!
    If he really wants to help, a few weekends with his students in the Aeta village won’t do. That is comparable to giving the poor – loose change from your pocket.

    Since he announced that he now knows a lot about these Aetasl, why doesn’t he head up a project on how to improve their way of living? He can partner with GK (Mr. Martin and his students can be the consultants and workers) – GK is always looking for new volunteers and partners; or he and his students can set up their own projects – either way it will create a positive change instead of merely demolishing an organization -for the sake of a few “feel-good” moments.

  89. To Mr. Martin,

    To say that Chino is bitter is an over simplification. I’d say he is saddened, bewildered and frustrated that people such as yourself who has so much influence on the young minds, choose to vilify rather than build up. This young man chose to give up a lot of luxuries, just so he can help the poor. He doesn’t have to do it-he could just live out his life building his career, having a nice house and cars. Still he works his heart and soul (since he was in his teens) to raise funds and bringing youths over to the Philippines to help out the cause; bring about an awareness and develop partnerships. He knows there are problems – as with any worthwhile cause-yet sitting in a corner sulking and muttering about imperfection is of no use to anyone.

    You tried at the end of your article a watered down presentation of GK’s side; but it’s obvious to all who reads where your emphasis and passion is on. Your students are young and very impressionable. Cynicism and highlighting the worst of every endeavor is the very reason why our country can’t raise its head above poverty and corruption.

    Instead of impudently accepting congratulations on how wonderful your article is, why don’t you rally these young people to stand up, be the Chinos of this world-fight up for what you believe; for what is good and noble – work for it, despite setbacks, problems and criticisms. Get your students (and yourself) out of their playstations, TV sets, yo-ville, Farmville, twitter and do something to build up the nation. The Philippines is full of brains telling each other what to do, but not enough brawns to actually do the work!

  90. Mr. Perez,

    Your article is simple, concise, and straightforward. I love it and please write some more.

    Never mind those cocksuckers who belittle your ability to impart knowledge and understanding.

    I am an aborigine who is studying Civil Egineering in Manila.

    Yours truly,


  91. Thank you for sharing your frank insights. I’m doing a historical thesis that partially involves analysing Gawad Kalinga, and it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has some misgivings. Indeed, your experiences echo my own when I visited an Aeta GK village in Mindoro in January 2011.

    I agree wholeheartedly when you said: “I am not here to give GK a bad name. I want it to be better. I am neither denying these Aeta their own slice of heaven. I just don’t want GK to leave them with a piece of hell.”

    I respect you for putting this up; it’s a scary thing to do for a lot of reasons. And you are obviously motivated by compassion, much like the countless GK workers and volunteers I’ve met so far. It inspires me to similarly not gloss over problems. GK cannot be opaque and seen as perfect if it is to move forward to bigger and greater things.

  92. Oh, and I disagree with Ronnie’s points.

    Especially his notion that Mr Martin’s insights will make for cynical students.

    Moreover, this text is not an academic paper, but a blog entry; it is a honest account of his personal experience and that does not diminish its worth.

    If anything, critical thinking and open minds are what is most needed in the Philippines. Belittling Mr Martin because he does not stand by the company line is definitely the wrong way to go.

  93. wow… I didn’t expect this. But this is not the whole yet, is it? GK should have analyzed the situation before deciding to build houses.
    I am curious on what the whole story is. What was the connection with the “Unat”? I can’t wait for tomorrow’s class.

  94. It seems forced changing of the ethos of the Aeta. It would be a culture shock on the part of the Aeta. If the Aetas were warriors, they would fight to the death for the reason of the encroaching modern culture on their culture.

  95. I just found out about this story but it was quite shocking and a great read overall! Change really does take time and needs a lot of community involvement. It seems that risks are always too high when indigenous communities and/or international organizations are involved, and lack of consultation (of anthropologists or community leaders) is to blame.

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