Friday, December 27, 2013

From relief to release: History of NGO networking in the Philippines

The first three phases of the history of NGOs and subsequent networking in the Philippines, as discussed in the book of Alan G. Alegre Trends and Traditions; Challenges and Choices, can be classified as Relief to Release. Like the trend worldwide, NGO work was more as a response to the ravages of war through relief and reconstruction activities. Eventually, NGOs engaged in social reformation and transformation endeavors which were met with repression by an oppressive regime whose hard line stance did not spare even legitimate and religious organizations. After an initial wave of repression, those that did not join the underground movement continued with their commitment through institutional work, which eventually came to be known as NGO work. It was in working with NGOs that they found release from their suppressed commitment to serve.

American Colonial Period to Post WWII: Relief, Rehabilitation and Welfare

This period witnessed the emergence of voluntary, private initiatives that engaged mainly in relief and reconstruction work to support a war-ravaged country. Considered to be the first NGOs, their welfare endeavors continued even after normalization. Eventually, the welfare work was geared toward social reform, colored with anti- communist motivation, which concentrated on the problems in the countryside. The environment led to the setting up of the pioneer NGOs in the country: the Institute of Social Order in 1947 and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement in 1952.

The Deepening Social Crisis and the Rise of New Social Movements (1965-1972)

A conglomeration of events shaped the global and national sociopolitical landscape which affected the history of NGOs in the Philippines. On the one hand, there was a worldwide questioning of the previous development approach; an emergence of new theories of underdevelopment; highlight on revolutionary anti-colonial struggles; and change in the social directions of the Catholic Church which played a key role in this stage of development.

On the other hand, as the Philippine social situation was rapidly deteriorating, there was a resurgence of nationalism and student activism and a groundswell of public outrage, which culminated in the First Quarter Storm. At this period, grassroots organizing dominated the NGOs directions.

Two NGO networks were established during this time: the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) in 1967 and 1971, respectively. NASSA served as a clearinghouse and coordinating mechanism for the Philippine Catholic Church’s social involvement, while PBSP established itself as a network among business corporations and NGOs they supported.

This period also witnessed the emergence of the community organization approach as an alternative to the limitations of community development. This approach led to the establishment of the Philippine Ecumenical Council for Community Organization (PECCO) in 1971. As a result, many NGOs were organized bearing the new orientation/approach. In 1972, after a series of informal meetings, ten NGOs with more traditional business and family foundations came together to form another network, the Association of Foundations (AF).

Coping with Repression, Carving a Niche (1972-1978)

When the late President Marcos used a hard line stance to establish a New Society, the NGO community was included in a systematic crack down on opposition groups. All legal attempts at organizing for popular empowerment were paralyzed. NGOs responded to the situation in various ways. While some went underground to wage armed struggle, others were either coopted or forced to lie low. After an initial wave of repression, those that did not join the underground movement continued with their commitment through institutional work, which eventually came to be known as NGO work.

Three significant developments in the networking took place during this period. In 1974, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) came together and adopted a statement defining the priorities and strategies of the development work of the church and its related organization. This development resulted to the formation of a body similar to NASSA- the Commission on Development and Social Concerns. Four years after, as an offshoot of the split of PECCO, a fellowship of pastors and lay workers to assist churches in development efforts was organized into a network known as the Ecumenical Center for Development (ECD).

In 1977, a network among cooperatives came into existence as a response to the government’s attempt to regulate the cooperatives. Known as National Association of Training Center of Cooperatives (NATCCO), the network was later renamed National Confederation of Cooperatives, Inc. It was observed that these church-related networks were more political compared to the first three networks established earlier, namely: National Council of Social Development, Philippine Business for Social Progress and Association of Foundations.

As seen by Soliman (1990), this period witnessed the birth of secular NGOs established by activists who had been working within the church umbrella wanting to institutionalize social development work outside the church. Their endeavors concentrated on uplifting the conditions of the people through cooperatives and provision of start-up capital for income-generating projects. In the words of Alegre (1996),  “the intersection of three efforts - the church reaching out, the growing needs of POs, and the development concerns of secular NGOs - gave birth to creative programs that showed NGOs coping amidst repression.”

The situation also became favorable to groups and organizations with political and ideological leanings directly opposing the martial law regime. With their relatively advanced coping mechanism, these groups became influential in the NGO movement. They even set up different NGOs and exerted a considerable influence in the programs and projects of existing ones to become more effective in the latter part of this period

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