Damayan ng Maralitang Pilipinong Api (DAMPA)

Josephine Castillo

This case is based on an interview with Josephine Castillo of DAMPA on March 2, 2021.


METRO MANILA, Philippines

DAMPA works nationally but its headquarters is based in Quezon City located in the northeast of Manila Metropolitan Area. Quezon City is the largest city in the country. Even though it was planned in 1939 to serve as the administrative capital, Manila City is still the capital of the Philippines. Quezon city has an ethnically and culturally diverse population and a diverse economic base and is home to several national government executive branches.

As an archipelagic country made up of about 7,640 islands on the western Pacific Ocean, on average about twenty typhoons hit the country each year, affecting millions of people, especially the residents of informal settlements located on coastal lowlands and along the waterways (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDwjqJLLLC8&t=5s). In 2014 it was estimated that about 20% of the population in Metro Manila lived in informal settlements or slums.


The Organization

Damayan ng Maralitang Pilipinong Api (DAMPA)

“Damayan ng Maralitang Pilipinong Api (DAMPA) is a national federation in the Philippines established in 1996… It works with 90,287 members and 237 local organizations in urban, rural and peri-urban areas in the Philippines on community resilience, land and housing, livelihood and governance. As recognized members of the City and Municipal Development Council of the Philippines, DAMPA accesses policy participation, program implementation at the national level, and pushes for local and national policies that can be beneficial to grassroots women. [Currently it has 67 active local grassroots organizations in the Luzon Island, Visayas Islands, and Mindanao Island.].

The major focus in DAMPA is on resilience building of grassroots communities, such as economic empowerment, leadership development, involvement and recognition of grassroots women in decision-making across local, national and global dimensions. DAMPA conducts training for its members to enhance capacity on leadership, policy advocacy, negotiations, and risk mapping. Organization’s partners include DRRNet Philippines, Alternative Budget Initiative, and AKBAYAN also give training to community leaders.” (https://huairou.org/?s=dampa)


DAMPA’s mission is to empower grassroots women and communities, and to build political clout so that we can be trusted and recognized as partners with different stakeholders in the development of our communities. Our goal is to organize grassroots people to be empowered. So that we will be recognized and be included in all the spaces that we need to be included in. At this time we got it; we are recognized from the local to national to regional up to global level.


DAMPA is a membership organization of grassroots groups. It has 67 active local member organizations that meet all the membership requirements nationwide, and 35 active local organizations in the National Capital Region, in Quezon City and in Manila. Almost half are urban-based organizations. If we say "67 are active", that means they are abiding by everything that is in our policy, rules, bylaws. We used to have 237 members before some of the organizations were relocated to resettlement sites. Some of those are too far away for us to go there [to monitor regularly]. But sometimes we visit them, and just assist them – just ask what their issue is, some concerns that they want us to facilitate. And sometimes it’s the government who already handled them in their estate management as part of the resettlement.

Membership fee for each organization is only 100 pesos ($2) per year. The organizations have to attend the local to national level meetings that are convened by DAMPA. They also have to update DAMPA and the members with their financial report. Every organization selects its representative to attend the national and local meetings, and give their names to DAMPA. There is a yearly general assembly, and every three years, there is an election of officers from the executive body and the board of directors. And, DAMPA’s organizers do regular monitoring of member organizations, and facilitate around the issues and concerns of the communities. When DAMPA has access to programs or projects from its partners, like the Huairou Commission, member organizations have priority in receiving money. But its policy is to ensure that every member organization has a savings mechanism to be self-reliant. You can’t be a resilient organization if you are still dependent on outside [money].

Governance Structure

DAMPA has an Executive Committee, Board of Directors, General Assembly and 3 regular administrative staff members – a secretary, a general administration and finance person, and a project and program manager, as well 15 volunteer organizers.  The management team is made up of 1) President who represents the Executive Committee, 2) Secretary for general administration, 3) Chair of the Board of Directors, 4) Head of the Finance Committee, and 5) Project or program manager, who works with the organizers. Our President is elected every three years, and is in charge of the executive committee, executive body.  I'm the one in the management team who handles all the community organizers as a Project Manager. The board of directors is the legislative, policymaking body. And then we have the Finance Officer and the Secretary General, that's the one who is handling the general administration. There are 26 staff members made up of the organizers and some staff in the office.


DAMPA rents its national offices in Metro Manila. That is our base but because of COVID, we're not allowed to be there every day. So we now have a different communication platform. As the management team, we do group chats via Facebook or have zoom meetings with our staff on the staff level. 

Main sources of funding

Some of our funding is from our partners, like the Huairou Commission (HC). Through the HC, we get SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) project funds for community resilience, and some funding from the United Nations. We worked on the Women in Safe Cities Initiative since 2014, focusing on issues and sexual harassment of women and girls in public spaces and doing safety of women advocacy. UN Women and the more recent UN Trust Fund are similar projects. We started the partnership with the UN Trust Fund last year in 2020.  We partnered to implement the Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces (SHIPS) Project.

Coalitions and partner organizations

National networks that DAMPA is part of include: tThe Disaster Risk Reduction Network, Climate Change Network, GROOTS Philippines, Philippines Reproductive Health Network. It is alse in the process of organizing a local to national network that advocates for issues of older people. Internationally, it is a member of the Huairou Commission (HC). Regionally, it is part of HC’s Asian Region network. It is also part of a loose coalition, called the "Local Organizers of Community Organizations in Asia" that was co-founded by Denis Murphy. The organization has not been very active after Denis Murphy died. 


The Leader


When, how and why did you join the organization?

I started out to work as a community organizer in 1985 in my own community in Quezon City. There are big houses in our community, but we don't own our land. That's where I started and then was trained as a community organizer in my own village. Our village now has 421 families, who benefit from the Community Mortgage Program, a government program that enables the people to stay. The government pays the landowner, and the residents pay the government back in 25 years. The houses were like half concrete and half wood then. But now, you can see four-story buildings, three-story houses. Anyway, when Sandy [1] visited our place, she told me that our community looks like Brooklyn before…

I finished [a degree] in criminology. As a criminologist, I was involved in one of the intelligence groups of the armed forces in the Philippines for four years. Then, when I married, I didn’t realize we lived in an urban poor community. [When] we say ‘urban poor community’ we mean the people don't own the land. But we had a house, right? When I was living there, the organizer Denis Murphy visited our community. He was facilitating around the issues and concerns of security of land tenure. That's the time that they found me. I was eager to know everything about organizing. And because they thought that I had the skills and was eager to win as a leader, they invited me to attend some meetings. And during elections, I won. Then I attended some meetings with the group of Denis Murphy, the Koch Foundation [2] and they trained me to be a community development worker. The organization was called the Community Organizing of the Philippine Enterprise (COPE) Foundation. So Denis Murphy was my mentor in community organizing. I think it was in 1987 that we started to facilitate our land issues -- the issue of concern for our community. And we won in 1995; we own the land now. But imagine how we organized from 1987 until we got the land in 1995. Almost seven years that we struggled, and it was awarded to us. We are 421 families.

I was already an organizer in 1995, when there was a massive demolition in the Smokey Mountain[3]. It was a garbage mountain in Manila, where people had settled down. The demolition was inhuman. So we started to organize urban poor people, and convened a consultation with 17 urban poor organizations in Metro Manila. That's where and when DAMPA was founded. One of the young people with children that I met then was Isko Moreno, the well-known mayor of Metro Manila now, who was a product of the Smoky Mountain settlement. He was still very young at the time.

DAMPA is like a family, evolving, but nobody in my own family [has joined DAMPA]. They have a different focus. One of my children, who worked with me when I was organizing about 15 years ago, is now a policeman. And another, who was also going to work with me, is now an accountant. So they have different kinds of work. But they are a strong support to me. They support our activities in DAMPA, although they are not working in DAMPA.


Grassroots Organization

When we say grassroots, these are the people in the community and their organizations. It's very important that the people in the community have the ownership, and are the actors, the ones who are involved in organizing, and managing. These are either farmers or fisher folks or the urban poor and women's groups. They live in the community and bring up the ideas.

Foundation and Evolution of DAMPA

Smoky Mountain is where DAMPA was founded. The people, the urban poor people that we convened, agreed to form a big federation of urban poor organizations so that they will be empowered. We consulted seventeen organizations, and that's where DAMPA started. And then they agreed to name it DAMPA. It was formalized in 1996, and the first general assembly was held in June1996. The first group was both men and women, mixed. And at the time, the issues and concerns of the people of DAMPA was security of land tenure. As it was becoming bigger, more issues and conflict emerged within the organization. Actually, when it started, our target population was the whole family. We were not only organizing women. Because we were organizing around security and land tenure, everybody in the community, all the genders, were there.

Still, most members are women because the most available people in the community are women. They are the first affected if there are some issues and concerns like a disaster. Women are the ones who are affected because they are the one in the house. And then most of them are active in doing community work. The guys, it's only like 60% of the guys in our community. They are just a support group. Anyway, if we have some meetings or trainings, awareness raising, we involve them in it, because it's very important that the husbands know everything about what they're doing so that the jealousy will be out. Sometimes if the women are very active, and then they go home late at night, and then the husband gets jealous. Yeah, and that's the time that they have war.  They have fights because of jealousy. It's a burden on our grassroots women members. That's why we include the men so that they will know and they will learn so many things about what their wife is doing. So men need to feel like they are very important in the community. And actually, men are the support group of women. If women stop, the world will stop, right? And we are very happy because some of our organizers and our youth leaders are the grandchildren of our first batch of DAMPA leaders. It is a family, and then they become a leader, they become an organizer.

The goal in the creation of DAMPA, our vision, our mission, was to organize and facilitate around issues and concerns of grassroots organizations, and then, it was to secure land tenure for the urban poor. We had to come together. We needed to, or else [our settlements] would be demolished one by one. At the time, in 1995, demolitions were very strong. It was during Ramos' term, when there were a lot of demolitions happening in Smokey Mountain, in north of Metro Manila. The first president of DAMPA attended the HABITAT conference in Istanbul.

Smoky Mountain was demolished and they built medium rise buildings. Only a few of the families that lived there were left because most of them could not pay for the new housing. They had to go out. The livelihood of the people, their economic [situation], was not stable. So the people just sold their units, so it was useless. It's a big problem also that if you need to resettle people from the urban poor areas, from homeless to have a home, you also need to include livelihood so they can survive. You should not put them in far away places where there's no livelihood, and they can't pay their monthly rent.

So that is one of the lessons learned. Until now, our government was not too serious about that. If you are talking about security of land tenure, we're not only talking about houses, we also need to integrate the economic stability of the people.

When I was still organizing in metro Manila, the government always resettled the people far away in places like Bulacan. That is 30 kilometers from Metro Manila, but the way of making a living for the people was in Manila. They just earned 250 or 300 pesos a day, and spent 150 on transportation. So what is left of their money? That is a big problem. It is a universal issue that has no political will to be solved. I think even at the World Urban Forum, if we are talking about housing, if we are talking about resilience, it must be a holistic approach. You need to include the other issues related to housing. I'm already 60 years old; I started organizing when I was 26 years old. Up until now, and there's [still] no clear policy. How do we define security of tenure? The definition, I think, is very important. You have to think of housing comprehensively.

While you are organizing, there are a lot of different groups, and different issues will arise. We started with housing, livelihoods, and then there are health problems; there are safety problems here that we needed to facilitate as organizers. In terms of health, we had negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies to provide cheaper medicine to communities through community pharmacies. We taught people to do first aid, blood pressure testing, etc.  The local pharmacy was within one of the houses and open 24 hours. We would select someone who has a good attitude, good character, someone who will get up when she's sleeping if there's a need. But our partner in this community pharmacy [initiative] was already closed during the pandemic lockdown. We have had that until now. During the early 2000s, there were only a few pharmacies, but now, there are a lot of generic pharmacies in the Philippines that you can find anywhere, unlike before. They are small businesses, not a big pharmacy, like Mercury Drugs.

Because DAMPA does not have political colors, we can play the game. We can partner with anyone, whoever is the president or mayor, although at the national level, there's some low polls… But we are more focused on implementing projects at the barangay level. So we are more focused on the barangay level; the community is there. We only need the national level and the city level if we need to do policy advocacy, from the national level, down to the local level. But our work focuses more on the local, barangay level. Still we have partners from the national government, and at the municipal level; we are recognized. So it's very easy for us to organize and our community can access programs and projects from the local government.

We did a lot of work on livelihoods, and then, also. after Typhoon Haiyan during recovery. That's why we partner with the barangay and at our municipal level, the mayor, to work on recovery in terms of livelihoods and economic rehabilitations of our grassroots communities. At the World Bank meeting in Mexico, our Mayor Pelagio Tecson, Jr. of Tanauan Leyte, Philippines, and I presented our work as partners to show how we do partnership as a grassroots organization and local government.

Typhoon Haiyan [4] was a learning [experience]. Most of the people in the community didn't [understand] the language [or terms like] storm surge. That’s why there were a lot of people who died. Actually, it's not only 6,000, the local people here say it's almost 15,000 people who died.  What we did was awareness- raising about the language so that the people will know [during early warning announcements] what storm surge, etc. means. DAMPA risk reduction trainers do live training about disaster risk reductions in every barangay. We did this in partnership with the local government and some Asian groups like Buddhists Foundation and Japan Habitat.

So we did these things during recovery and rehabilitation because we needed to recover not only economically, not only provide housing, but we also had to put it in people’s minds ‘What do you call this disaster risk reduction? What do you mean by that?” Right? So we focused more on resilience building activity, not only emergency response. We also have to be prepared to be resilient, stronger communities. So whenever there are typhoons or whatever disaster, people will not be too weak, or too dependent on outside humanitarian aid. We are also advocating for humanitarian aid to go directly to the communities. [As I said before], because there was a lot of corruption during Typhoon Haiyan, most of our grassroots people did not receive enough humanitarian aid.

When COVID invaded the world, invaded our communities, it was good that savings is a big factor in DAMPA. Because our organizations have savings, and during COVID, our basic needs were secured, food security was there; our community was secured. And instead of waiting, during COVID lockdown for a food bank from outside, our community itself had their own preparedness for food. They bought food from our farmers who now have farms and are ready for that. And then, because we’re in partnerships and recognized in the National Capital Region, it's easy [to access humanitarian aid]. Because of our partnership with Dinky Soliman [2] and other partners, we get a lot of humanitarian food aid from different business firms, like Jollibee, like Magnolia. Also, our partners from the northern part of Luzon, the farmers in Ifugao province, give fresh vegetables to our people in the National Capital Region.

Rural urban connection is really very important because we need to be allies, especially during disasters to get some assistance from both rural and urban communities. During COVID, it was good that we have a community with different strategies for communication. We have a group chat on Facebook and radio. We [direct] our members to listen to the radio to be updated about the COVID, and we have regular meetings through group chats with our members.

Not all our communities at this time but 67 of our organizations do savings. And during lockdown because of our partnership with different government agencies, we had these egg-laying projects with our women members. So the women produce fresh eggs that are very cheap. They can produce it and serve it to other communities. During the first lockdown, when there [was a need for] a lot of face masks, our women made cloth face masks; they did this as part of their livelihood.

Achievements and Challenges

The biggest achievement of DAMPA is that we are still alive after almost 25 years. It started with seventeen organizations and now we have over two hundred organizations. We have a lot of partners, government and nongovernment organizations. We have a lot of thousands of members who benefit from housing projects that we facilitated to have security of land tenure.

The key challenge, I think, is still the political will. We have worked on disaster risk reduction and do more on climate change right now for resilience building. The challenge is raising the awareness of our government officials. They did not even know, for instance, the Millennium Development Goals. We give the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)[1] orientation at the barangay level, but government officials don't know them. It's a big challenge to the government and to us, a grassroots non governmental organization to give awareness on whatever global policy there is, connecting it from the global to barangay level. It's a big gap. How can we implement the SDGs in 30 years, if even the implementers don't know that? Governments sign the agreements and then don’t implement them. There is an information dissemination and awareness gap, and lack of political will. They're not serious with [their commitments to international agreements]. They're just after accomplishments in talking but no accomplishments in walking. So our international work is very important. We need to raise the awareness of the actors [for the agreements] to be implemented. What I mean is, if we are talking at the global [level] we need to work for that locally, right? You see, walk the talk?

After Typhoon Haiyan, there was a lot of corruption because of the government and in general. There was a lot of humanitarian aid that came to the Filipino people from different countries but not all this aid reached the communities. Not all, millions of dollars were lost due to corruption. And in some instances, some of the food for the people was [found] buried because the food was stocked up, and just buried when it got rotten.

During the Sendai Conference in Japan, I was one of the speakers in the high-level dialogue. I told them: ‘If ever you want to give assistance to the people who are affected, you need to go directly to the community, not to the middleman because that's where the corruption is happening.’ There is the experience of the Tzu Chi Foundation. They asked permission from the local government, and then went directly to the community. They did not give aid to the government, and did the distribution directly to the people. That's what we want. Not the government because there's a lot--millions were corrupted during Typhoon Haiyan.

There is corruption at the community level, too, but that is a different kind of corruption. It is the corruption of the mind. They corrupted the minds of the people; it started even in the family. It's not only money-related, corruption of mind is a big corruption because if you corrupt the mindset of one person, then that will continue generation by generation.

Citywide policy change initiatives

DAMPA organizations are a part of the Municipal Development Council [7]. Our advocacy was to get in that space so that we learn how much is the budget, what are the projects, and how much is there for projects, everything. It is very important that our organizations be a part of these spaces from the local to national level. So DAMPA members are accredited at the city and municipal level. And if ever there is a municipal address, state address, where they will present their programs, the city or municipality’s development plan, we are invited. That's the time that you can say something if you want and you will learn so many things from them.

We also have this at the barangay level. We invite our member organizations, our members to attend what we call the barangay address. That's the space where the barangay officials will present the budgets, the projects, the previews, and the current and future projects that they have. Through attending these spaces, you will learn and can advocate what you want. For DAMPA members, all the residents in that barangay must attend, because that's the time that they will present all their programs, the finances, everything. It is very important that our members are involved in these spaces.

Actually, before we do advocacy, policy advocacy, first, we do consultation with our membership.  Then it is discussed in the board of the General Assembly. With zoom, it's very easy for us today. We consult our representatives from different clusters, from different organizations, and inform them that this is the policy that we want to advocate, and ask what is your comment or suggestion? Consultation is very important, because we need to be inclusive. [You are inclusive] not because you have the high level officers, you do need them, but the approach of DAMPA is bottom up. That means it is inclusive.

Involvement in Citywide Climate Change initiatives

DAMPA is accredited in the barangay level, up to the local and even national level, and we are involved in planning everything. If it is NCR, our members attend. Because I mostly am now here in Leyte, I'm involved through zoom meetings at this time during lockdown. But before, I was the one who attended even the national level with some of our members, and we were involved in planning. If we say partnership, we mean we are not only a partner in the implementation, but we are a partner in all the processes. Partnership is a give and take process. So if you tell me we are partners, [it is] from the beginning until the end of implementing whatever you want to do, or plan, we are together.

We do awareness raising not only with women and girls, we also include all the barangay people. We also involve pedicab drivers, tricycle drivers, Jitney drivers, as well as the young boys and young girls. [We work] at the barangay level, local government and government level. Barangay is the lowest level of the government. Since we partner with the barangay officials, it's very easy for us to intervene and convene meetings, do training and organize with them.

On the national level we work with different networks. We are part of alliances and networks provided that the network's issues are our issue. Like the Disaster Risk Reduction network, which we are a convener of. We focus on disaster policy, policy advocacy on disaster risk reduction. We are also involved in a network focusing on the reproductive health of women. Now we are also organizing to form a network advocating the issues of concern of older persons. Seniors have a big problem here. There are a lot of older people who can't receive social pensions. So we need to ratify some of the policies from the local to national level. Then we are also the Asian region part of the Huairou Commission network, and of course, our global network is the Huairou Commission. We are loyal to the Huairou Commission because they helped to build and empower us as grassroots women and a grassroots organization.

At this time if there are some storms, typhoons, and flooding, the people are already prepared. Before that [happens], they hear and they know [what to do] and everybody will be ready. The evacuation center and our local government is [also ready] before the typhoon comes. They already start doing something to let the people be out of danger through early warning devices, early warning preparedness. Yeah, so we did that. Also, when COVID invaded our communities, during the lockdown, instead of just waiting like you might for a food bank or help from outside, our communities were prepared. Through our rural urban networks, through savings mechanisms, food security was there and basic needs were secured.

Visions for the future

DAMPA's plan is for our organization to be strengthened and capacitated. The most important thing in our organization is capacity building of our membership. Because in an organization, we have different generations, right? We have the old ones; we have the new ones… We need them all to be capacitated.  Government officials, government agencies also must be capacitated -- that's our advocacy. The people and the government must be capacitated to handle different issues and concerns and to have good governance. To have good governance, there must be a partnership between the people and the government.

Our dream is to not only be recognized, because we're already recognized; we have built clout. But we also need to be capacitated and at the same time resilient in all aspects. That's our dream, resilient in terms of economic sustainability. Economic sustainability is very important for the health and wellness of our members. Health is very important for all of us. Even though you have programs, you want to volunteer, but if your health is not good, then you can't do them. So if we want to be holistic, we also need to involve health issues.

Lessons from DAMPA

People should learn about how DAMPA sustains itself as a grassroots organization and as an independent organization. It's very important how we survive, actually because there are so many obstacles… Before we had an NGO who managed us, but they wanted to manage us in different ways. So we needed to struggle to be independent. And when we became independent, there were more issues, but then we can consult our own members. We are not just after the suggestion of the NGO partners, but the issues and concerns that we facilitate come from our members. Our issues now, our advocacy now, and our programs now came from our members. It didn't come from our management; it came from our members, because we consulted them. So that's why we have safety advocacy, we have housing programs, we have livelihood. They came from our members, and then we just consolidated and facilitated the issues of concern for our members. When we do something, we get some resources to work on the problems for that issue, and it becomes a project or program of DAMPA.

Women’s Leadership

Women are unique. We women work more and are less corrupt. Maybe that and then women are better in management. We are good managers, maybe because women are the ones who are managing in their house as a housewife—I started as a housewife. We are also good managers in terms of managing organizations. Just empower us, capacitate us and then we will be good managers from the family down to global level.



[1] Sandy Schillen is the Executive Director of the Huairou Commission.

[2] “The Koch Foundation was established in February 1979, by Carl and Paula Koch. Carl Koch believed he was “just a steward of the finances given by God to use on His behalf.” This belief inspired the commitment he and his wife made to establish the Foundation. The Koch Foundation continues to fulfill Carl Koch’s belief of supporting evangelization of the Catholic faith worldwide.” https://www.thekochfoundation.org/

[3] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ_ogmgFDfg; https://ejatlas.org/conflict/smokey-mountain-philippines; https://www.nytimes.com/1993/06/16/world/tondo-journal-on-scavengers-mountain-a-few-scraps-of-hope.html.

[4] Super Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Super Typhoon Yolanda, made landfall in the Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, as a Category 5 storm. ... The typhoon's fury affected more than 14 million people across 44 provinces, displacing 4.1 million people, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving 1,800 missing. https://www.google.com/search?q=yolanda+typhoon+philippines&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS732US732&oq=yolanda+typhoon&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l9.8503j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[5] The Secretary of the DSWD and one of the global advisors of the Huairou Commission.

[6] Sustainable Development Goals https://sdgs.un.org/goals and Millenium Development Goals https://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/

[7] See: https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1991/07/23/executive-order-no-471-s-1991/; and Functions of Municipal Development Councils http://jagna.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Functions-of-Municipal-Development-Councils-and-Others.pdf.