#KusogMindanaw2022: The state of civil society organizations
- IAG Philippines
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Charlito 'Kaloy' Manlupig, former executive director of Balay Mindanaw and chairman of Kusog Mindanaw, delivered these remarks during the Kusog Mindanaw 2022 Conference on November 11, 2022 in Davao City.
Good afternoon everyone. I am Kaloy Manlupig, founder and president of Balay Mindanaw, a Mindanao-based, Mindanao-focused and Mindanawon-led NGO engaged in community-based and barangay-focused equity, development, humanitarian and peacebuilding work in Mindanao. I will share with you some of my impressions and insights on the state of CSOs in Mindanao.
Article 1, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution states that the "State shall encourage non-governmental, community-based, sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation."
This is further asserted in Article XIII, Sections 15 and 16 that the State shall respect the role and rights of independent people's organizations in the pursuit of their collective interests and aspirations and ensure their effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision-making.
This participation was institutionalized so that socio-economic and political structures may be moved by the efforts of people together with the government. And through people's organizations those who have no wealth or political influence can empower themselves.
By far, the most concrete expression of people's participation in governance is the role played by the non-government organizations (NGOs) and people's organizations (POs) in the so-called local special bodies, such as the local development council (LDC), which according to the Local Government Code, should be constituted from the barangay level up to the regional level. The LDC and lately, the peace and order councils have a crucial role: it formulates plans that would determine what development projects should be pursued and how these would be financed, among others, and how local conflicts are resolved.
Indeed, the CSO/NGO/PO community has contributed significantly to the empowerment and development of peoples and communities by creatively exploring the windows of opportunities offered by the gains of the People Power revolution and the 1987 Constitution.
It is also inportant to note that the CSOs’ advocacy for federalism has led to the formation of various initiatives that had become the leading federal movements even before the current administration declared it as a priority agenda.
CSOs’ peace advocacy has contributed modestly but significantly to the gains of the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination. The Bangsamoro has won a significant major but incomplete victory. The Moro leaders have repeatedly declared that failure is not an option for BARMM. The CSOs must continue journeying with them so that the gains of this victory reach each and every Bangsamoro community.
There is a long menu of meaningful NGO work in BARMM - organizing for empowerment, transitional justice, camp transformation, peacebuilding, peace education, social enterprise, disaster preparedness and emergency response and many more. There are also real prospects for resources to support these engagements.
The GRP-NDF peace process remains in limbo. We thought that a just resolution and an end to the decades old conflict were already at hand, but the violence continues. However, we continue to help create safe spaces for community peace conversations.
So how are the Mindanao CSOs today?
Redtagging and the Anti-Terror Act are among our biggest challenges.
We are currently in an interesting and challenging situation, and navigating the present requires that we all agree about our future. Our current strategic plans, programs and projects are presumed to be our responses to our reading and understanding of the current situation.
We also continue to face the Challenges to us Southern CSOs: Sustainability and the Realization of a genuine “partnership between/among equals”.
By “southern CSOs” I refer not just to geography but also to the North-South power dynamics.
When I began as an NGO worker more than four decades ago, we would always write in our project proposals that we would eventually be self- sustaining and independent from imposition by funders after a certain period of time. We believed then that this was important because this would give us the freedom to set our own agenda and priorities. Sadly, this remains a dream to many CSOs.
The Philippine political, economic and socio-cultural structures are highly centralized, with most of the decisions made in the center. The North-South and Center-Periphery Relationship is very real in the Philippines when we look at the relationship between Manila and the rest of the country.
Our unitary form of government that was set up by Federal USA, is not a historical accident. It was deliberately established to perpetuate and sustain the colonial relationship with them. Control the center, and you control the entire country.
All the Embassies are based in Manila, almost all the biggest multinational corporations are based in and pay their taxes in Manila, most international and national CSOs are based in Manila, an overwhelming majority of the international donor agencies have their HQs in Manila. And these agencies are most comfortable dealing with those who have arrogated unto themselves to be the representatives of those who are in the periphery - the provinces and the local communities. These individuals and groups have crowned themselves as the gatekeepers, the clique that has a monopoly of understanding the problems and knowing the solutions.
International donor agencies deal with Manila-based national NGOs as contractors, Local/provincial NGOs treated as subcontractors. They prescribe the agenda - for humanitarian work, development work, and human rights work. Thus, the Manila-based national NGOs usually have the access to contacts, information, and resources. They usually get the funds, and treat the provincial groups as mere sub-contractors. International and Manila-based agencies create PMOs that become additional layers and costs. And because these Manila-based agencies usually do not have local presence, they hire new staff for every new project, and create project management offices that only add to the bureaucratic layer and costs.
Prescribed menu of fundable projects discourages comprehensive approaches Because priorities are set by the international agencies and the Manila-based agencies, the local groups are reduced to being mere implementors of canned projects that are not that responsive to local realities. Rigid system of monitoring discourages initiative, flexibility, relevance and creativity. Most if not all the International agencies have their well-established systems - operations, financial and others. Corporate or business practices and systems have creeped even into the NGO/CSO systems in the name of professionalization and accountability. Most of these only serve to discourage innovation, flexibility and relevance.
There are however bright spots and inspiring cases. We just have to continue pursuing not just our mission but also our advocacy for a better state of CSOs especially in Mindanao. We must continually remind ourselves about respect for local initiatives and local knowledge. As local CSOs we must also insist on building partnerships among equals. We must not allow ourselves to be treated as second class development and peace workers.