“Thinking outside the box” is a common phrase which means thinking differently from what is expected. However, for Department of Education (DepEd) Region V Assistant Director Cristito Eco, thinking outside the box is not enough. He thinks and acts beyond the proverbial box.
As then officer-in-charge (OIC) of the Office of the Schools Division Superintendent (SDS) of Catbalogan City in 2015, Eco saw the opportunity to go beyond his duties and responsibilities. He introduced several projects that have not just benefitted stakeholders in education, but all constituents in the city.
Before becoming an Assistant Regional Director (ARD), Eco was a teacher, principal, and vocational school administrator. Knowing how hard it is for teachers to do paper works manually, he initiated the project called “eCOSystem” (enhanced Computerized Office System) in 2015.
Fully implemented a year later, eCOSystem is able to automate the manual tasks of teachers, thereby making their performance more efficient. The new system also promotes transparency, enables security and preservation of office documents through electronic records management, and helps in making informed decisions and actions.
In the same year, Eco developed Project Harampang, which literally translates to “discussion, meeting, or open forum” in the Waray dialect. It is a quarterly discussion conducted by the DepEd Division Office of Catbalogan with various sectors in every district, including principals, teachers, parents, and barangay officials, among others.
Its primary aim is to discuss issues and concerns on governance and operations in schools, and appraise the schools’ efficiency and effectiveness from the participant’s perspective. The project also serves as a channel for the Division Office to make the community more aware of their programs and activities, and engage their participation. It was also through this project that Eco found out the problems of the community beyond the scope of the education sector.
“Dapat ma-admit nila na they are part of the problem, and if they are able to own the problem, they’ll also think of solutions. Kasi kung uunahan ko sila na eto ‘yung problema, ito ‘yung gawin natin, people will just obey,” Eco added.
Banca ng Buhay
Upon realizing the great importance of involving other stakeholders, Eco put together the Banca ng Buhay Project, in cooperation with the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), Standard Chartered Bank, and the local government units (LGUs) of Catbalogan City and Barangay Cagutsan.
The main purpose of the project is to provide fishing boats and gears among families in the coastal areas, but a unique aspect is that the beneficiaries must not only use the donations for their livelihood, but also to transport students to schools. “After three years, ibibigay na sa kanila, pero bago i-turn-over ‘yun, dapat serbisyuhan muna nila ‘yung mga estudyante nila para hindi magtuloy ‘yung drop-outs,” Eco stated.
This project involves six barangays namely, Bagongon, Buluan, Cagutsan, Cinco, Mombon, and Rama. All of which are too far from the city proper, and students would normally take at least an hour just to reach their schools. After a year of implementation, drop-out rate significantly decreased. In fact, Antonio G. Tuason National High School had zero drop-out in school year 2016-2017.
Aside from providing livelihood to fishermen and transportation to students, the Banca ng Buhay Project also provides the wives of fishermen with training and livelihood opportunities such as fish drying, pig farming, and managing of sari-sari stores.
2017 Gawad Career Executive Service Award
These three projects paved the way for Eco to receive the 2017 Gawad Career Executive Service Award from the Office of the President. But despite having already received this prestigious recognition, Eco still continues to create new projects such as Bungkaras, his flagship project for the capacity building of school heads to become innovative.
“The recognition is an added value, because I do not work for recognition. We work because there is a need for us to do something about the current situation. When you are recognized, it’s actually an honor and a testimony that we are doing the right thing in our own little way,” he humbly mentioned.
Due to his innovative ideas and innate generosity, Eco was able to get on board various groups that share his vision of improving the lives of the people of Catbalogan. He did not limit his commitment to the education sector, but extended his expertise to help the community at large. Through his passion and dedicated efforts to serve his community, Eco proved that thinking outside and beyond the box is acting and making your ideas serve the people.
“We have actually proven, not only in the DepEd family but in all government offices, that funding is not actually the reason that you cannot implement programs that will have impact on the marginalized and the communities. I adopt the planning approach that if you really want to solve a problem, do not start looking at the funding; start looking at the solution,” Eco concluded.