FROM THE MARGINS
Religious organizations have been providing humanitarian services for a long time, aided by faith-based institutions that demonstrate the capacity-building dimension of faith to help the poor and the marginalized. In the Philippines, the SEDP-Simbag sa Pag-Asenso, Inc. is a prime example of such institutions.
The Socio-Economic Development Program (SEDP) started out in 1994 as a program of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Legazpi. Its prime mover is a man I admire, Fr. Jose Victor “Jovic” Lobrigo, whose well-grounded experience in social development ensured the success of this microfinance program in the Bicol region.
Microfinance was just a budding industry then, but through his initiative, the Bicol Microfinance Council was organized, ensuring coordination among microfinance institutions (MFIs) and rural banks in the area. Long before there were microfinance credit bureaus, Fr. Jovic pushed MFIs to share information so that practitioners can learn from each other and ensure that there will be no duplication of loans to clients. The council became a potent advocacy group, successfully lobbying for resources and favorable policies with LGUs and regional government offices.
Fr. Jovic was among the MFI leaders who lobbied and helped shape Republic Act 10693, the Microfinance NGOs Act. The law, passed in 2015, strengthened NGOs engaged in providing microfinance services and created the Microfinance NGO Regulatory Council (MNRC), which is tasked to accredit NGOs providing services to the poor and small entrepreneurs. I take my hats off to Fr Jovic, who continues to serve as the NGO representative to the MNRC.
From welfare to development
For many years, the Social Action Center of Legazpi pursued different strategies to address the local poverty situation. They came to the realization that beyond providing relief, a more effective and sustainable livelihood program for the poor is needed. Thus, from a welfare approach, they gradually shifted to one that is developmental. The Targeted Women and their Families for Socio-Economic Development (TAWFSED) Project was created in 1994, to assist the poor women of Albay by providing financial assistance to support their livelihood projects. The Vendors Development thru Microlending Project (VDMP) was later developed when women-vendors appealed for an alternative source of financing to free them from loan sharks who charged very high interest rates.
In January 1999, the two projects were merged under the SEDP, which adopted the Grameen lending methodology wherein members formed groups to avail of cheap credit without going through the processes required by formal lending institutions such as collateral and guarantor requirements.
In 2003, SEDP formally spun-off as a separate entity and was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It changed its name to SEDP-Simbag sa Pag-asenso, Inc. (A Microfinance NGO) in 2015.
Expansion and services
Over the years, SEDP created mutually-reinforcing organizations to respond to the growing needs of their clients. These are: SEDP Mutual Benefit Association (MBA); SEDP- Asenso Inc.; and SEDP Multipurpose Cooperative.
SEDP offers different products and services. They offer regular loans to finance members’ microenterprises, like business loan, special loan, micro-agri loan, and “Babuyang walang amoy.” They also offer multi-purpose loan, housing loan, green light for life loan for the acquisition of solar products, and Dakila Loan, which helps cover the members’ annual premium to Dakila Plan insurance for senior members aged 65-70 years old. They even offer the Member Security Loan for the social security needs of members and their families. SEDP also have capital build-up and voluntary savings products for members.
Through SEDP MBA, members get microinsurance and social protection services, as well as calamity assistance during typhoon, earthquakes and other disasters. Accordingly, SEDP MBA has almost 80,000 members and currently insures more than 350,000 individuals. On average, they process six claims amounting to P67,889 every day. SEDP also provides enterprise development, spiritual formation, scholarship and educational assistance, healthcare, and advocacy support to members.
SEDP operates in all provinces of the Bicol Region and parts of Northern Samar in Eastern Visayas. As of January 2023, SEDP has a Loan Portfolio of P653.6 million, with a high repayment rate of 97.22 percent. Its nine branches with outreach in the parishes are serving seven cities and 71 municipalities.
SEDP’s growth was very evident when Fr. Jovic showed me their cooperative store in one of my visits. The store displayed their clients’ colorful products — bags, beads, clothes, slippers, handicrafts, and processed foods like pili nuts, candies, pastries, and many others – showing the beauty and richness of the poor’s entrepreneurial spirit. It was a very strong statement: the poor can thrive, if but given a chance.
Fr. Jovic has passed on the leadership of SEDP to its current president/CEO, Fr. Rex Paul Arjona, with the Most Rev. Joel Baylon as chairman. SEDP continues to pursue its vision of a dynamic and proactive development institution of the Diocese of Legazpi, committed to the total advancement of the entrepreneurial poor.
SEDP reminds us of what our Lord said in John 10:10 – “I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”
(Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip is a poverty eradication advocate. He is the founder of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually-Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), a group of 23 organizations that provide social development services to eight million economically-disadvantaged Filipinos and insure more than 27 million nationwide.)