Moran-Floirendo gets high from helping others
By Annelle Tayao
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Filed Under: Housing & Urban Planning, Civil & Public Services, Celebrities, Poverty
“[BUY] a house and lot , because that’s the most important thing right now and I can’t afford it,” was 1973 Miss Universe Margie Moran-Floirendo’s answer when asked what she would do with a million dollars during the pageant’s final question-and-answer portion.
More than 30 years later, Moran-Floirendo – one of only two who have so far won the title (the other being Gloria Diaz) – shows that her answer wasn’t just for herself, but for her countrymen as well.
As volunteer for Habitat for Humanity Philippines (HFHP), Floirendo has been helping provide homes to the poor for 10 years.
“I got involved when Fernando Zobel de Ayala asked me to be involved, first with the youth group,” says Moran-Floirendo. “I got ‘habititis.’”
Now she is co-chairperson of Friends of Habitat, the social mobilization and networking arm of HFHP. She is also deeply involved in HFHP’s upcoming housing event – the 2nd Asia Pacific Housing Forum.
“[The 2nd Asia Pacific Forum] is a global solution to housing technology and finance, focusing on how to really improve housing solutions, particularly [in] third world countries where the situation is more or less the same [as ours],” says Moran-Floirendo.
The forum, which is in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the City of Taguig, will be held on September 7-9 at the Dusit Thani Hotel Manila, Makati. It will gather speakers from the social, private and public sectors, the academe and other international organizations.
Themed “Maximizing Urban Poverty Housing Solutions for Greater Results,” the forum will focus on urban poverty housing and development, especially those in the slum areas.
“We have to be strategic. The housing backlog in the Philippines is about four million, these people do not have their own land or house or are living in substandard housing,” says Moran-Floirendo.
“We cannot just build, we are not contractors,” she adds, stressing that the need for housing also involves “the need for holistic formation.”
“You handle [and] upgrade a whole community. It’s not a dole out; we teach people to be responsible,” she says. A mortgage contract is signed by home partner families to let them understand that they have to pay for their homes. “We build houses according to their capability to pay, so we don’t burden them with debts.”
Aside from the monetary contribution of home partners, there is also what HFHP calls “sweat equity,” where they must help with the construction of their houses for 400 hours, and 1,000 hours if the property is a three- to four-story condominium.
If the required number of hours is not yet fulfilled by the time the house or condominium is finished, home partners can use the extra hours by helping the entire through community, particularly in the construction of sidewalks and other infrastructure support. She, however, says there are still people who she finds hard to convince. “Some people just really don’t want to pay, so they go somewhere else,” she says.
She also says that housing must be demand-driven, that home partners must be willing to relocate and pay for the costs.
Two major HFHP projects currently underway are the “Peace Build” and “Kapit Bisig sa Ilog Pasig” programs.
Peace Build is aimed at rehabilitating communities of internally displaced persons affected by armed conflict in Mindanao, while the Kapit Bisig sa Ilog Pasig is about relocating informal settlers along Pasig River to a site in Calauan, Laguna.
Although heavily occupied with her work in Habitat, Moran-Floirendo also finds time for other socio-civic activities. A former ballet dancer, she is president of Ballet Philippines. She is also part of the Mindanao Commission on Women, and is involved in various environmental activities.
The beauty queen’s “habititis” has also infected her two daughters, Gabrielle and Monica, who volunteer with HFHP when they are home from work and studies abroad.
More than just a roof
Her fulfillment with HFHP stems from her direct involvement with people who truly need help. “[It’s] poverty alleviation… [an] exposure to the grassroots level. The government can’t do it alone,” Moran-Floirendo says.
And from the 200 houses a year accomplishment during her initial projects with Habitat to 5,000 houses a year at present, she has seen that better housing can provide so much more than just a roof over the urban and rural poor’s heads.
“You improve your health, education through better communities,” she says. “And all these people can use their houses as center of livelihood. [It’s] not just a need for housing – [it’s] a need for improvement in the economy.”