Saturday, May 12, 2012

Villar Foundation - Celebrating 20 years of Transforming Community

My earliest recollection of Las Pinas was during the mid-seventies where my school visited the historical Las Pinas Bamboo Organ. The historical treasure was built during the late 1800s by the first Parish Priest of St. Joseph Church of Las Pinas, Fr. Diego Cera De la Vergen Del Carmen, an Agustinian Recolect Priest from Spain. For many years, the Organ was De-commissioned because of some broken parts that need to be replaced due to countless earthquakes, typhoons and other natural calamities happen over the years. Unfortunately, the Organ cannot be repaired locally because the original blue-print schematics were already destroyed by time. That is why in 1973, the Philippine government sent the Bamboo Organ to Germany for it to be repaired and in 1975 the bamboo finally came home good as new. It was a very memorable experience for me because for many years students came to know the organ only in books but no one really had the opportunity of hearing it. After it was repaired our school was so fortunate to be one of the first groups of students to hear the sound of the Bamboo Organ again.

When my family moved to Alabang, my impression of Las Pinas was reverted to discouragement because of the perpetually present traffic problem along Alabang-Zapote Road more specifically on the Las Pinas Area. Motorist back then would take the whole day traversing the Alabang-Zapote route just to get to Coastal Road to Manila.However, in recent years, it was a relief to know that the city government implemented the friendship route where private motorists was given access in the private roads of Villages as alternate route which effectively de-congested the traffic problem in Las Pinas.

 I have been an environmental advocate for more than 15 years and whenever I search for other best practices on Solid Waste Management being implemented in other local municipalities, I always come across many transformational stories about Las Pinas, most especially the restoration of its rivers.

 Las Pinas River / Molino Dam

Just a week ago, I was so fortunate to be invited as one of the 15 bloggers to do a media coverage on the 20th celebration of the Villar Foundation.

Villar Foundation is a non-stock non-profit organization created by the Villar Family whose aim is to support projects toward helping the less fortunate countrymen break free from the clutches of poverty. In Las Pinas, the place where the heart of the Villar family is much closer to, addresses the problems of poverty in various approaches. Because there is no one-single solution to solve the root-cause of poverty, the foundation’s principle is to address all factors that affect the life of a poor community, simultaneously. On its 20th year anniversary, Villar Foundation wishes to celebrate with the People of Las Pinas 20 years of their hard work and dedication to provide a continuing solutions in some of the Urban municipalities are now facing such as garbage problem, traffic congestion and urban poverty.

It all started in the rivers of Las Pinas. Ms. Cynthia A. Villar, former congresswoman and currently the managing director of Villar Foundation was saddened by the condition of its rivers where much of her cherished child-hood days were attributed to its clean and pristine waters many years ago. The rivers which used to be clean and rich in aquatic life were now filled with all sorts of garbage thrown into it. This problem worsens over the years because of indiscriminate garbage dumping of residences that led to another problem which is flooding. That is why when she run for congress in the district of Las Pinas, she made a mental thought , that whether she would win the election or not, she vowed to use her capacity and resources to rehabilitate the rivers of Las Pinas.


The group arrived at Barangay E. Aldana where we had our first hand exposure to Coconut Coir and Peat Enterprise of Las Pinas. We were guided by Engr. Dexter Gonzales, Villar Foundation Project coordinator and he shared to us on how the foundation found a lucrative social enterprise opportunity through some of the garbage they found in the rivers while they were cleaning it. And one of them were coconut husks that was thrown into the rivers coming from the public market. A consultant Prof. Arboleda of Bicol University taught the local community the use of coconut husks as a woven material that can be formed into threads, much like of the abacca.

 Coconut coir and Peat Enterprise orientation

Coconut husks are separated from the shell and shredded

 Husks are air-dried and strained to remove shells that was left

Twinning Machine

Coconut threads were made to nets used to prevent soil errosion

First, the coconut husks were shredded in a machine separating the husks form the shell. The shredded husks are left to dry-up for several days then it was placed in a manual twining machine to form a thread, after which, it is woven into a net like products where it is used to hold soil from erosion in landscaping. The husks are also use as fiber insulator in making beds and are being bought by industrial buyers by the kilos. Sir Dexter shared to us that cleaning the river gave birth to several livelihood projects that helped a lot of mothers to become productive. The foundation installed a coconut-coir center in each of the 20 barangays of Las Pinas and hundreds of families are being benefited by its produce.


The Hand loom Weaving Center is another livelihood project of Villar Foundation where people living in the depressed areas were given the opportunity to weave blankets. This woven blankets are the traditional types and the fabric used are much similar that of indigenous hand-woven fabrics made by women in the early days in the Cordillera Regions.

Driven by the foundation’s commitment to help the poor families in Las Pinas, initiated by then Cong. Cynthia Villar, they searched for various means to enhance the creativity of its people in weaving. The foundation bought 17 looms directly from the Cordillera and distributed it to five barangays. Currently, the looms are producing 800 blankets per month and an average income of a weaver go as much as P4,300 per month. I was surprised to hear that these creatively woven blankets are not being sold commercially. It goes to the supply of the foundation where they give it to calamity victims anywhere in the country during typhoons.

Villar Foundation bought 17 looms from Cordillera Regions

Each weaver earns as much as P4,300 a month...

...trying to learn how to weave with out much luck


After a moment of exposure at the Hand loom weaving center, our group went to another historical part of Las Pinas and also the place where the projects of the foundation were visualized and that is the Zapote River. This river is one of two major rivers of the city. The other one is Las Pinas River which has an actual length of 12.6 kilometer that runs in the interior of Las Pinas to Manila Bay. The Zapote River is much longer stretching 18.5 kilometers bordering Las Pinas and Bacoor, Cavite.

 The Molino Dam was built by St. Ezekiel Moreno 

Blogger experiencing river crossings...

A few years back, these rivers in Las Pinas were one of the reasons of the flooding in the city because of the tons of garbage that was thrown here by the residents mostly by the informal settlers living in the river side. But by the concerted efforts of the Villar Foundation and the residents themselves, the river that was used to be murky, filty, smelly and dense became a clear flowing river that is now creating a significant form of aquatic life.

Ms. Cynthia Villar, Managing Director of Villar foundation dedicates her 
life in saving the rivers of Las Pinas

An ingenious transport for people crossing the river...

The spot where we visited was another historical landmark - the Molino Dam. The dam was built in the 18th century by another priest who later became a saint, Fr. Ezekiel Moreno. The Dam was built to raise the water for rice irrigation in Las Pinas. Today, it is no longer used as a Dam but as a crossing station where residences from Bacoor, Cavite can cut a shorter route to Las Pinas. Our group was curious about the transport where people ride on, so some bloggers tried it for short trips back and forth, while others took photos of their ecstatic expressions.


After the short river-crossing experience, the group went to Barangay Pamplona Dos. It is the center for the Solid Waste Management system that is now being strictly implemented by the city government of Las Pinas to all house hold.

One of the 20 Barangays that process its own Solid waste materials...

Mr. Villalon explains the process of Decomposting...

Mixture of biodegradable waste, shreded coconut shells and enzyme additive...

At the center, we were warmly received by the staff of the Barangay where they showed us how all the garbage of Las Pinas were being processed by all the 20 barangays. A part from the usual recyclables like plastic bottles, news papers, cans and glass bottles, the center is noted for its comprehensive processing of biodegradable waste collected from the households to a rich type of compost materials that is being used by the city government in their wide variety of vegetation program to restore the “greens” in Las Pinas.

 Bricks made out of cement, sand and shredded plastic wrappers..

Decomposing machine made form locally manufactured materials...


One noticeable problem of the rivers of Las Pinas are the fast growing  Water Hyacinth or Water lily that clogs the natural flow of water in the rivers. An indigenous concept adapted by the foundation to get rid of the “pest-plants” was to make handicraft products out of water lily.

Water lily stacks are harvested from the rivers...

The stalks are sun dried and woven into baskets and other handicrafts...

 Although, other municipalities have already adapted this concept, the foundation has proven creativity in making innovative designs of water lily products distinct from other places. Two of the most promising examples of their creativity are the Bangus float that was part of the entries in the recently celebrated Bangus festival in La Union. The other one is the Christmas tree design that received numerous citations and awards. These two designs are all made from water lily and coconut husks materials.

 A livelihood project that produces export quality products...

They make various designs of handicrafts...

A Christmas tree made form water lily...


Finally, after a tiring and yet a very educational trip in some of Las Pinas’ best practices in conserving the environment, we visited the home of the Villar Family. We were escorted by the staff of the foundation and we were treated with a mouth watering lunch buffet.

Saute shrimp in butter...

 Well crafted dinning arrangement with Capiz plate coasters...

When we arrived, one thing that is quite noticeable is the well manicured landscape and lush gardens that surrounds the estate. The interior are filled with life-size murals and paintings hanged on most walls and countless books and reading materials from the family’s much loved authors.

 A well maintained garden...

 Larger than life muralls...

 A pose with Ms. Cynthia Villar and John Cueto...

After we ate lunch, we were warmly received by Ms. Cythia Villar herself. As she ate her late lunch, she enthusiastically shared her passion in preserving the cultural heritage of Las Pinas. She also mentioned her journey in most of the foundation's 20 years of proud undertakings in making Las Pinas as a prime jeweled city in Metro Manila, Ms. Villar are still making bigger dreams on what they can accomplish 20 years more. She hope to in visioned a city where foreign and local tourist will visit and appreciate the City’s cultural artifacts like the famous Bamboo Organ but most importantly how its people was transformed into environmental advocates where the rivers are clean and alive, bamboo plantation are flourishing along the riverside and most especially how the people of Las Pinas was able to rise up from poverty and become a sustained and strong community.

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