Sustainable security

The sustainable security of states can only be based on the security of people: their physical safety; their socio-economic well-being; respect for their dignity and political and cultural identity as individuals and as members of communities; gender equality; and the protection and promotion of all human rights – including women’s rights – and fundamental freedoms in the home, in the community, in their country and in the wider world.

Agents for Change: Civil Society Roles in Preventing War & Building Peace, Catherine Barnes, European Centre for Conflict Prevention

Welcome the American Spring

Nations must be bewildered at goings-on in the US of A. The seven countries on immigration ban especially. It must’ve rocked their governments to see the nation they so “hate” take to the streets for them. To defend all of them. Ah. If there is one group of people in the world now that can be said as model of #LoveNotHate post-9/11 it’s Americans under the Trump administration. It’s naive in a way, like children easily forgetting pain, which more hot-blooded Eastern nations find hard to digest, but paradoxically that is what has made America great in the first place. 

american spring?
Who knew #MakeAmericaGreatAgain would become the rallying point of two opposing views?

The ancient dance

In the post The Places in Between I mentioned of “differences between groups” that are “deep, elusive, and difficult to overcome” to which I further said has parallelism in the Philippines.  I understand these may hold vague meaning to many.  The following examples, cited in the context of lessons learned from chai drinking tradition vis-a-vis the insurgency problem in Afghanistan, provide practical meaning to the phrase.

One of the key tenets of the Pushtunwali, the code of conduct of the Pashtuns, is hospitality. Hospitality is not just a Pashtun value, though. It is an Afghan value. It is shame to be considered inhospitable, and as O and I discussed over the weekend, we have both been offered chai by families whose khalats we were either searching or had just searched.

We have both had chai served to us by Taliban, as well. A Talib will not kill you while offering you hospitality. It just isn’t done. They may have been shooting at you an hour before, and they will be planning their next ambush even as you sit there with them, but they won’t kill you during chai or while you are leaving immediately afterwards. A mile up the road is a different story, but not during chai.

One of his had to do with getting into a TIC (Troops In Contact, or firefight) with a group of Taliban in the southern Tag Ab Valley who had shot at his group from a higher elevation and then fled in the direction of a village. He and his group of ANA reached the village some time later, intending to search for weapons and evidence of Taliban activity. They were immediately offered chai.

O is quite sure that some of the people serving him chai that day had been shooting at him shortly before.

One of my favorites is the day that I was sent on a mission into an area of the Tag Ab where I had not ventured before. I was the guy who was available to go. The reason was because we had reliable intelligence that Taliban had been in two houses and were possibly still there. They were there for discussions, and they were there to have chai.

This was my first experience going down the a particularly miserably narrow alley-like road between the main north-south road in the valley and literally into the riverbed. We parked in the riverbed and the team from the 82nd stayed there while I and my terp accompanied the ANP alone while we walked a couple of miles to the target houses.

We reached the first target house and it was the home of the village Malek, a senior elder position in the village. We asked him about the visitors he had had that day and the ANP searched his house.

They found sixty rounds of 7.62×39 ammunition. AK ammo. In AK magazines. Not good. We detained him and took him and the ammo with us. We then moved a mile or so to the next house and after a search and protestations of innocence from the homeowner, we proceeded back to the district center. Upon my arrival the Wuliswahl, or Sub-governor, of Tag Ab, a man since replaced and who we believed was no doubt “dirty,” requested the pleasure of my company. By name.

“Crap.”

I entered his sitting room, carpeted with rugs and with pillows arranged around the periphery, to discover three other gentlemen seated whom I had never seen before. One vaguely resembled the man that I had only recently detained. The Wuliswahl ordered chai and bade me sit.

It turned out that two of the men were supposedly Maleks from neighboring villages and the third was the detained Malek’s brother. The whole point of this chai was to dissuade me from taking the Taliban-friendly, ammunition-hiding Malek in to the temporary detainee-handling facility we had established at the north end of the Tag Ab Valley.

There were still small talk and solicitations as to my health. I asked how their villages were doing. This was brief small talk. They had an agenda, and they really didn’t wish me good health anyway. If they had been able, they would each liked to have killed me; but this was chai. We were dancing an ancient dance.

We drank chai and they expressed themselves thoroughly; alternately asking for and demanding the release of the Malek, vouching for the detainee’s character, and asking that we let him go in their custody so that they could bring him in the morning. This part went on for quite some time.

I countered their points with discussion of the finding of prohibited ammunition, his need to set an example, and our belief that he had hosted Taliban for chai in his home. They refuted those claims, his brother offering to let me burn his house with his family in it if his brother had Taliban in his home; a dramatic portion of the dance.

They spoke of his honor, his honor in the eyes of his village, and of their honor-bound duty to seek his release.

Finally, I told them that I understood that it was their duty to come and seek his release, and that they had done their part to uphold their honor.

I told them that I am an askar, a soldier, and that my honor depends on me following my orders. They agreed; that is what askare are supposed to do. I asked them civilly, as I sipped the opposite side of my chai cup, if they were asking me to dishonor myself. The four men assured me vociferously that none of them would ever ask me to dishonor myself.

I thanked them, as I rose to leave, for understanding that my orders were to bring the man in, and I thanked them for not asking me to violate my orders and dishonor myself. I excused myself, bowing slightly with my hand over my heart in the Afghan way, and shook each of their hands mumbling, “Tashakur, khud hafez.”

They wondered how that had gone so awry, but the civility of chai provided a safe situation for us all to speak our peace and attempt to negotiate. I still get a chuckle out of the outcome of that discussion, though. Through all of that, voices were never raised. That’s chai.

One can glean from the above of deep differences in the Eastern and Western ways of working toward objectives, in war or in politics. The cases above presents real ethical and moral dilemmas.  For instance, should the soldiers blast the enemy right there and then because in war enemy is enemy chai or no chai?  Or should they play along with the rules of the game in order to maintain some semblance of peace for the rest in the community?

I remember my grandfather’s advise to us his grand kids: do not think twice when it comes to the enemy.  Kill if you must.  And be swift about it.  I remember that we laughed at this because what did he mean?  Enemy?  Kill?  We didn’t know no wars.  We were born in the time of Boeing 747s, Madonna and the birth of pop culture, game and watch, Japanese brands. But I came to understand that the advice or warning was given in the context of his own experiences in World War II, with Japanese who invaded their farm and their neighbors with many not so lucky, and a short stint in Saipan.  His words played in my mind again a year ago while watching the movie, Lone Survivor, on a bus ride going home.

The landscape of war and warfare as we see it staged in the Middle East and elsewhere has changed since my grandfather’s WWII experience. After WWII, the objective was to never again go to war or declare war hence the UN and treaties and conventions chief among them on human rights.  But despite the promise we did go to war although because now a new set of rules – of human rights – governs us the war went underground so to speak where a different set of rules confront us.

Add to this the palpable change in the socio-political fabric of societies in the Middle East, that of locals’ increasing departure from the steps of the ancient dance of their forbears, the unintended negative outcome of such is division within the community and members judged based on who sides with whom. Such splits the community further.

That said, I’m beginning to think the conflict’s not even about faith – Muslims versus Christians – because both share the same fundamental truths chief of these is love which in no way preaches or forgives killings of innocents, so what are both sides fighting each other for?

I’m now beginning to think that the conflict for the most part redounds to simply one of generational gap that has unnecessarily escalated into dramatic proportions and reactions (as is the tendency of couples to hurl suppressed recriminations against each other that are totally or vaguely unrelated to the initial cause of their argument, digging up in effect a bottomless grave to cast their verbal treasures into only to bury themselves in it afterward).  What are the rules of engagement and whose are these?

The gap between generations is marked by a tug of war for independence and individuality on one side and tradition and compliance to the established order on the other. With nations, for sovereignty and independence. The insurgents are supposedly wrestling these from the West which doesn’t make sense at all because they should be knocking on their own government’s doors whose primary responsibility is to dialogue with their citizens if it at all possible and restore order.

But who makes up government?  Who should the insurgents talk to?  And what is the form of government?  Their Constitution says it’s now a democratic State. Being one, what do the rulers say about the insurgency and it’s goals?  What do the people say?  Who do they say their representatives are?  But in keeping with tradition, that is, theirs as the less powerful voice, the people’s collective say on the matter is unimportant.

Between the lines

Between the lines of the President’s fifth SONA are important qualitative information about the state of the nation.

First: the choice of an IP, an Aeta, as among those who benefited from DepEd’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) points viewers to the country’s many native tribes hence cultural diversity. The Aetas, Ilongots, Mangyans, and Muslim tribes in Mindanao, the mountain tribes of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), to name some.

It further directs the audience to the matter of IP integration in Philippine society. What popular and negative names are Badjaos, for example, known by? because these impressions are why they’re not invited in mainstream activities. Scavengers and beggars on city streets are thought of as Aetas. But behold the featured ALS beneficiary. She’s articulate, confident, and dignified. I’m confident with higher education, more training and development, she can stand on her own, a Filipino IP, in an international gathering. That’s called transformative education.  And that is what funding for public education aims for.

Second: the superhero persona that Filipinos ascribe to the President and which the media promotes, I fear. I remember this particular scene from The Incredibles:

Like the star-struck boy waiting by The Incredibles’ front door, certain circles in imperial Manila wait at the door of the Executive Office for “something amazing” to emerge out of it. Beginning in the time of former President GMA, it has become a tradition to anticipate from the SONA podium utterances so amazing (thus the amazing gowns that go with the occasion). But the trouble with superheroes and their superpowers is they don’t exist in the human world. By pinning all hopes and dreams on another, one effectively gives up one’s life to this other. Only patients in mental wards do that.

When the other bungles up the life we’ve handed over, we get frustrated, doubly because not only have we lost control of our life but now the other has too, and enraged, we seethe for the opportunity to get at the other. I think this is the route that spouses have taken when we read in the news that one of them has decapitated the other’s body part which, ironically, had provided both with “something amazing” for some time. How do otherwise enamored couples arrive at the point where they want nothing more than to bludgeon each other? Putting one’s life on hold in order to wait on the other to do “something amazing” does that, eventually.

It is the twenty-first century but we still have to amaze the world with something that we’re able to produce in-country and offshore and mass distribute. South Korea has it’s unique management style and Samsung. Need I mention Japan? Or Singapore? The way I see it, it is more difficult for today’s developing and least developed nations to make the leap than it was for developing nations in the 60s (South Korea began seriously transforming it’s economy, one of the poorest then, around that time). For one, disasters due to a changing climate are more frequent and incredibly massive in scale. Another, countries and regions are now even more integrated that a crisis in one affects the rest, setting back what progress is being engineered in affected areas. Then global technological advancement and invention is happening by quantum leaps and bounds. To just catch up, this country needs to do double, triple, overtime.

The people are responsible for the state of the nation as much as the officials they have elected. Citizen and civil society (e.g. people’s organizations) participation in barangay and town affairs is the basic and most accessible means through which Filipinos can significantly influence the direction of development and progress. But, as is almost always the case, only five or ten barangay residents would heed the call for, say, attendance, to meetings, and almost always, these are the senior citizens. There are several civil society and private sector groups and organizations in Baguio City, for instance, but it’s disheartening that only two or three would show up when the City Government calls for participation from the community.

Expectedly, what could the Barangay Captain, Mayor, and consequently, the President report back to the nation? Garbage in, garbage out says the computer programmer. Mediocrity in, mediocrity out.

But, the Filipino can exceed himself. Filipino immigrants are proof of that, showing that when they imbibe the discipline and ethics of their country of choice, say, the US, they’re able to leave financial poverty behind and live the American Dream.

This discipline is lacking here which largely stems from poor enforcement of laws and policies. The US Government has not signed the Convention of the Rights of the Child yet this didn’t prevent it from providing quality infrastructures and services for it’s children. The Philippine Government is a signatory of the CRC but it continues to turn a blind eye to poor and severely undernourished children in the public schools. The DepEd cannot compel it’s schools to perform academically when half of the students are brain dead from hunger. What can the Department do to address this? Or, what is the Department doing to ensure that it’s programs e.g. school gardens are implemented on the ground? The Philippine Government has upheld the RH Law but it looks like the document will just gather dust on library shelves. Is it’s IRR being developed? Meanwhile, Barangay LGUs should’ve by now organized orientation-meetings to disseminate the law and get a feel of residents’ needs and expectations in RH services.

The President is not the enforcer of laws and ordinances. It is National Government Agencies and Local Government Units.

The private sector in many ways contributes to the perpetuation of corruption and arbitrariness. Many in the sector take advantage of the culture in public offices. For example, many businesses contribute to blight: a firm going into the gravel and sand business does not put up it’s own warehouse or acquire it’s own lot but instead utilize public streets as warehouse for their goods; ads are plastered on any available public surface and left there until shredded by wind and rain; business signages are haphazardly-written on whatever material available and mounted however owners like. Yet there are regulations for these things.

The responsible and competitive business owner will always choose quality when it comes to his or her business, regardless of government’s regulations because in the long run and in the context of globalization (i.e. there are increasing number of firms offering the same product and service) quality will keep the business running and ahead of it’s competitors. Besides, we are not in the Stone Age anymore.

The day the SONA will amaze it’s audience is the day when Filipinos and their elected representatives delivered on their duties.

On the role of I/NGOs in social change and economic development

Let me tell you about this current project.

All right.

These are perspectives on a company. Actually, a family owned business in Pennsylvania. At one time it employed over seventy-five people. Today it employs forty-six. I don’t care about this company or the employees, but I am significantly invested in their major competitor.

Okay.

When founded, the original president made wonderful decisions. In the past five years, the reins passed, and the decisions have been less fortuitous. The chairman is now seeking to sell the company, recognizing the economic climate. They need money to continue; banks aren’t lending money. If he doesn’t sell, the doors will probably close in the next two years. I’m considering a very low-ball offer. The benefit to me is to reduce the competition. If my offer is accepted, the doors will close immediately. According to my accountants, the company in which I’m already invested is projected to increase sales by over 18 percent immediately upon the close of this company. This means I reap benefits. They project my venture in this company will be recouped in profits in less than two years. The long-term benefits are increasingly fiscally rewarding. What do you think the employees of the Pennsylvania Company are hoping will happen?

They either want their company to go on as it is—or to be sold to someone who’ll keep it running.

Good, why?

So they’ll keep their jobs.

The people on the manufacturing floor, custodians, secretaries, and other auxiliary employees played no part in the decisions which now have direct consequences on their lives.

Yes, but they have families, debts, and responsibilities. And I’m sure they’re all worried.

Exactly… What can the people in that plant do to help their situation?

Nothing—it isn’t in their hands.

Correct again…

So are you saying the actions of the people who don’t have control, have no consequence?

No—their actions may have great impact. A lot depends on the goal of the person who has control. Let’s say someone else with capital decides they’re interested in this company. More than likely, they’ll either personally visit, or as I did, send an envoy to investigate the company. If those employees are hardworking, loyal, and if this investor is interested in keeping the doors open, their actions will be an important piece of the equation when decisions are made. Their attitude could actually determine if their company will remain open. On the contrary, if the employees are dissatisfied and disgruntled, investors interested in maintaining the company will shy away. One of the issues which affect these situations is the knowledge of the employees, or the people seemingly out of control. It’s interesting how many people live their lives completely unaware of decisions unfolding around them. Now if they are aware and proactive, they may try to recruit investment on their own. I have controlling interest in a few such companies, funded by Rawlings Industries yet run and invested in by the employees. They now benefit from not only paychecks, but also dividends. It creates a wonderful incentive for hard work and dedication.

So if I decided I was tired of shopping for clothes and wanted to shop for companies, I could go to Pennsylvania, offer them a little more than your low-ball bid, and keep the company going, assuming the employees are hardworking, loyal, and want to keep the doors open.

Well, yes, Mrs. Rawlings, I know you have the capital; however, if you use my bid as a baseline, you’ll end up arrested for insider trading. You can’t make an offer based on the offer of a competitor, unless it has been made public. Mine has not.

How can you make a deal without considering the people and lives it affects?

It’s called business. It’s how we have what we have and will have much more. Closing that business is my concern, the people are not. If my bid is accepted, their presence is no longer needed.

So, there are times when innocent people reap the consequences of others due to no fault of their own.

Yes. It happens all the time.

– exchange between Anthony and Claire, in Consequences by Aleatha Romig

Yes, in the real world as well. My view on this is that (a) business is business is business – “closing that business” has been and continues to be the recipe for the continuous success and relevance of business. Mix up the recipe and the outcome and we’ll all have food difficult to swallow. However, (b) “innocent people” can deal with business by playing the game: make themselves continually relevant, by keeping informed about the market and equipping themselves with the knowledge, attitude, and skills demanded by the market. They need to roll with it.

This is easier said than done, as it happens. Those with resources are able to keep up, if not the capitalists. Those without which this country has a significant share of are the “innocent people”.

Business is not the entity that will right their “innocence”, although, indirectly, compelled by the demand that business be more socially responsible (though the way I see CSR is it’s more of a risk management strategy rather than of business suddenly having a heart), “excess” capital is being directed to fund work in poverty alleviation, implemented by corporate social arms, or channeled to either the public sector or civil society organizations. But how is it that compared to business i.e. capital leading to exponential growth and wealth for players in the market, the “excess” capital has not led to the same exponential wealth for the bottom billion?

There are plenty of literature explaining this, but I’d add, as a theory, this: it’s the lack of organization in terms of how this capital should be used vis-a-vis end-recipient needs and wants. Business has got the equation right already: it doesn’t supply that which isn’t demanded, or a variation, it doesn’t offer a product that it knows won’t pique buyers’ interest, the consequence of discounting this equation well established, and that is, losses and eventually death (if it doesn’t learn quickly). Business is highly-attuned to this consequence.

The business of poverty alleviation on the other hand lacks a common and straight-forward equation. Operation is most often one-sided, focused on the supply side. But what do the end-customers need and want? Compared to business, the community has not been that attuned to it’s consumers nor to the consequence of this practice. Regardless of individual circumstances, tastes, and preferences, it continues to provide “innocent people” products – projects and programs – that it expects to be consumed wholesale, no less. In this, it can learn a thing or two from business: the ability to project, create, and bundle, with just the results of research on small groups, goods and services that appeal to the masses as well as sections of the population.

The community is averse to the term ‘niche’ reasoning that this only applies to the business sector.  When I was starting in the I/NGO sector, with a degree in economics, the first thing I was told was to drop the term and such others from my vocabulary.  I wanted to say WTF but then I thought, I was new and had time to wait and see for myself.  And I saw, time and again, that the community seriously need to understand that it cannot successfully proceed toward social development without understanding it’s link to capitalism (i.e. civil society / social structure as the condition for the rise or development of the middle class).  Understanding that, the community will stop doing everything for people and communities, instead be more of a facilitator.

I remember a meeting I had with a client. We were discussing water and sanitation, the subject of the commissioned study. I asked him if his organization was working with NEDA, or at least with local economic planners. He said they were not and why was I asking that. I said, can I be honest? Off the record? Sure, he said. The way I see it, I said, the lack of toilets among the poor is primarily a strategic one and an economic issue, not of the poor lacking appreciation or awareness of good sanitation as if often cited. If they had regular jobs and income, I said, it’s inevitable that they would want – demand it of themselves or their government – to have better housing and with that, toilets, or better toilets. As one gets richer, I reminded him, one would desire and want things that are better than, or more of, the things one had before or have currently. It’s human nature, I said. At present, they have visceral knowledge of the importance of latrines and sanitation and are only incapable to pay for one or a better one. My point, I concluded, is that your organization could give these people all the toilet and sanitation awareness and appreciation trainings year after year, but if they remain unemployed and there’s no change in their current incomes it’s a futile investment.

Another example, resilience building in the context of rapid economic growth and financial crises.  Instead of imitating what business or government does, I/NGOs can: organize “innocent people” and assist them in setting up mechanisms to process information, retrain them to read the market and meet it’s ever new demands, link them to the market, and provide continuing technical support. With their new-found independence and mobility that comes from having income of their own, “innocent people” no more will themselves avail (demand) goods and services (e.g. health care, better housing, water supply) they need or want. Of course, the support I’m referring to here is that targeting the so-called bottom billion who are not in emergency situations (in that case, they’d need immediate care and assistance – where the current way of doing things has actual impact).  With institutions, for instance schools, it can:  support student organizations and along with school administrators and personnel train them in skills that would help them access funding on their own (e.g. reading the donors’ market, techniques in brainstorming for ideas, identifying ideas that sell, proposal development and writing), link them to other donors and organizations, local and international, and support them in building up their project management portfolios.

In other words, facilitate and build competent social organizations (the foundation of a strong civil society and a critical element in economic (and political) development).  Business and government do not do that.  It simply is not in their best interest.

The Dark Side of NGOs

How many NGOs and civil society groups are there in the country? The list with DSWD is a lengthy hundreds if not thousands. You’d think, with this number, “believed to be especially good at reaching and mobilizing the poor in remote rural communities and at adopting participatory processes in project implementation,” how come the much hyped about leap of progress from the bottom up hasn’t materialized? How come a great number in this country, as the papers are again reiterating on their headlines, is still poor?

A discussion paper at ILO, Civil Society, NGOs and Decent Work Policies: Sorting Out The Issues, by Lucio Baccaro, may shed light:

NGOs fail to learn from one another and promote innovation because they often compete with one another for donor funds… because they are increasingly dependent on foreign donors, NGOs become less and less accountable to local recipients. This contributes to decrease their legitimacy in the eyes of the recipient communities and negatively affects their programmes. In fact, the need to comply with donors’ concerns with effectiveness and sustainability of projects focuses the activities of the NGOs on clearly measurable and easily reachable short-term targets at the expense of long-term impact.

On the issue of Disaster Risk Reduction alone, for instance, emergency response and rehabilitation, the failure to converge, between and among NGOs (UN-OCHA, in an evaluation, has been criticized for not taking the lead in the absence of a leader), makes for a serious case of island kingdoms. Devastated communities, for their part, have at least swiftly learned their lesson – to be adept at dealing with the diverse and often conflicting issuances and policies of NGOs.

The paper continues

An important accusation raised against NGOs is that of collateralism with power. To make themselves more acceptable to governments, NGOs – it is argued – have abandoned their early concerns with structural reform/transformation and have retreated in the more hospitable and less politically contested territory of service provision… NGOs are not agents of self-empowerment or grass-root democratisation, but rather “troy horses” for a new form of imperialism. In particular, NGOs are accused of being economically and ideologically controlled by Western donors whose funds are conditional on the NGOs not seriously challenging the status quo; of being politically unaccountable to the local populace and solely accountable to external donors; of creating a new petite bourgeoisie of NGO bureaucrats benefiting from rich salaries and opportunities for international travelling; while genuinely grass-root, radical movements are deprived of potential leaders; of actively contributing, with their emphasis on “self-help,” to the dismantling of state services and protections; and of being completely ineffectual in addressing the problems (e.g. eradication of poverty) which they are concerned with… Even though many NGO programmes target women and seek to empower them through credit provision and income opportunities, many feminists argue that these projects fail to address the structural causes of female subordination and ultimately, reproduce the structural conditions which generate the subordination itself.

Sobering, sobering words. A cause for deep and serious reflection.

Rethinking Civil Society Role in Local Development

Of international NGOs, most would opine that the money is given in charity or out of personal philanthropy. They’re correct but in reality the donations are more economic and in a way political in nature than just charity.

At the organizational level, the heart of international sponsorship of local communities is the redistribution of wealth from citizens in developed (sponsoring or donor) countries to citizens and communities in less wealthy nations. As with the objective in taxation, inflows from the international community are redistributed as investments in local development (e.g. education, health, disaster risk reduction) including capacity building for local government. In turn, local citizens are informed of this, not for them to be overly grateful though naturally they would be, with the intention that it would “open” them toward recognition of the fact that they are active participants (as opposed to passive recipients) of the redistribution process; by making their voices heard in the decision-making process they become active participants. For example, in true bottoms-up fashion, situational analysis with communities should yield the gaps needing address by the international community.

But how come, and this is also the conundrum within the international development community, despite decades of local aid and development support poverty (in its broadest sense, deprivation of freedom, according to economist Amartya Sen) has not leapfrogged itself out of its sinkhole? Similarly, how come with the hundreds of local NGOs and inflows the community receives out of international funds poverty has not been significantly reduced or alleviated? How come we have government (taxes) and thousands of NGOs (financial flows from international) and yet poverty seems unfazed by all these? What is with poverty in this country that even powerful structures with their gazillions can’t seem to shake out from its hole?

Philippine Agenda 21 actions

The ecosystems-based action agenda of PA 21, meant to be integrated in development planning, consist of:

1. forest/upland ecosystems
2. coastal and marine ecosystems
3. urban ecosystems
4. freshwater ecosystems
5. lowland/agricultural ecosystems
6. minerals and mines
7. biodiversity

Civil society ought to instigate a complementary report, like a citizens’ report card, of the state of the PA21 agenda actions in time for the June 2012 reporting.

The organized voice is always the stronger voice, but how come I’m not hearing much from the stronger voice?

Of late, I’m taking the initiative to keep abreast of the Cordillera Region’s bid for autonomy because, whether or not it will become a reality, this is a critical event for the region and its mostly indigenous people, and which need to be shaped starting at the lowest level of government, the barangay.  In relation to urban management which I’m taking up in graduate school, I foresee the city and region, when granted autonomy, to have more flexibility in defining urban spaces, develop these around non-Western or locally-defined culturally-apt designs (think the ingenuity of Banawe rice terraces).

But if your government, by this I mean the elected, won’t tell you about this  brewing event there’s a thing as active citizenship, in that you do home study and home work.  So I did, and realized again the power of the Internet which delivers information, from around the globe or the region, right at your fingertips.  Before Internet, in my work as a researcher, to make a report of, say, demographic and socio-economic background of xx community, I had to make appointments with individuals and organizations , travel long hours to meet with interviewees or search archives of organizations, negotiate differences in weather, culture and personality, worry about safety and security, etc.  With Internet, time, effort, and costs are greatly reduced, as when you could, even in bed, access websites and databases of organizations you would otherwise have to make personal appointments with.  For example, doing my home study on the region’s move for autonomy, I don’t need to go to, say, Kalinga, to get important data as this information is made available on the Net.  With vital information right in front of you, one only need critical thinking to distinguish related from unrelated information and ability to synthesize and interrelate the information into a comprehensible whole.  But back to the subject of regional autonomy.

My study of the documents generated around the proposed CAR autonomy, particularly the four consultations, which you can read here, here, here, and here, with the public in Baguio City, points to one shocking information:  non-participation of civil society particularly NGOs.  I’m disturbed by this especially that around the globe among major Northern development research agencies and even aid organizations of governments such as UKAid (formerly DFID), discussions are threading around the effectiveness of NGOs and INGOs with regard their role in national and local development considering that the history of NGOs sprang from civil society’s disillusionment with the public sector’s bureaucracy and the private sector’s heartless stance to development.

There are many medium and big NGOs in the city, and there are some which are affiliated with international NGOs, meaning you could safely surmise that their human resources, relative to non-NGO workers, are highly knowledgeable – I know many who have been sent on scholarship to AIM and abroad to study development – about the critical role of people’s participation in shaping national and local development.  If I could be honest about my reaction to their absence in the autonomy consultations, I’d say they are being hypocrites and throw in having a bit of tyrannical streak too:  they preach to others, particularly whom they call the marginalized and disempowered, about the need to participate in shaping their own development and to organize and speak up with one voice, but why when it comes down to it NGOs are not known to practice what they preach?  Having worked in NGOs myself, I think the trouble lies in the assumption of NGOs that what is happening ‘outside’ – external to the organization – will not touch them or their clientele as long as there is money pouring in and they keep their heads down and do whatever they’re doing.  Often, as seen in this autonomy issue, ‘whatever they’re doing’ excludes the public sphere as there is innate aversion among NGOs to engage – not necessarily confront – with government, and this is the NGO’s greatest tragedy.  Also, when I say ‘public sphere’, I meant to include collective organization or unity among NGOs which the sector is seriously lacking in.  These are two reasons for which even with a thousand and one NGOs and similar civil society groups in the country, disempowerment, poverty, and lack of real development continue to plague the people.  Moreover, ‘whatever they’re doing’ is often restricted within the narrow boundaries of projects and programs, with NGO workers losing sight of these projects’ and programs’ continuing impact on, interrelatedness, and connectedness to a system that extends beyond the organization, and this system always includes the government.  NGOs have narrowly focused on just one side of government, the people, forgetting that the paradigm cannot be without the institution (rules of governance), the public administrators and the elected.  In fact, given the present inability of human beings to discipline themselves over the fight for scarce resources, take out government and hello chaos.

Are NGOs losing it too?  As mentioned earlier here, the birth of NGOs sprang from people’s disappointment over the public sector’s ineffectiveness and the private sector’s obsession with economic development, in essence then the NGO is the organized voice of alternative development as desired by the people.  But of late, I don’t hear the NGO speaking out, publicly, relentlessly, loud and clear, for the people or the clientele or advocacy it represents.  Its work has taken the turn into mere marketing, commercializing development, and because the cry for empowerment is commercialized, those responsible to give space for an empowered citizenry could choose either to buy it or ignore it.  But empowered citizenry is not subject to choice of either the governed or the elected, it is a right.  By commercializing development such as churning out more t-shirts and bags than empowered citizens and communities, co-opting the real needs and desires of communities by giving preference to donors’ demands, obsessing over the political correctness of reports to donors and headquarters  instead of over the real impact of projects and programs on people and communities, the NGO is losing its ethic and core values distinct that of the public and private sectors.

In the public consultations around CAR autonomy, a person who wants to be heard as the loudest won’t go in there as an individual representing him/herself unless he or she is a Cojuangco or a Cosalan or a Dangwa.  In these instances, the organized voice is always the stronger voice.  In the attendance roster of the three consultations, there were more representatives from the private sector than from civil society groups and organizations.  Victoria Tauli-Cruz, head of Tebtebba Foundation, commented in a news article that the autonomy issue, to be relevant, should be brought down to the grassroots.  I agree but what if government is adamant it won’t go to the grassroots as in this case?  I say, don’t wait for government to “go down” but go to government instead, what active citizenship is about:  if government doesn’t come to you go to it, you have all the right to present your stand, stake your claim.  But if like Tauli-Cruz, the rest of the local NGOs are standing on a “waiting” mindset – waiting to be invited, waiting for government to go to them – then they’re no better than the people and communities they say lack the drive to participate in development.  NGOs need to renew the culture of humility on which they are founded; humility to approach another stakeholder and engage in genuine dialogue and collaboration because one doesn’t have all the answers and resources.  It is pride that will take them farther and farther from the people and closer and closer to being one of the organized tyrants.

The regional autonomy, if granted, will impact on everyone in the region including NGOs, perhaps more so because in the context of indigenous peoples rights, ‘development’, as imported from the Western world and currently the paradigm used in the country, may take on a different meaning, and to local NGOs this means making a 360-degree change of their (Western/Northern) systems and culture.  I’m all for this change.  Are the local NGOs by their non-participation saying they’re not?  But they have to go up front now and say it and negotiate instead of going on rallies after everything has been settled.  But then again if they’re not for these change, are they saying they’re for the Northern paradigm of development?  Ah, perhaps this is the greatest tragedy of all – the lack of clarity of their role; NGOs couldn’t really confront government as could peoples’ organizations neither could they throw stones at the private sector for its cold take to development because it’s where most of the money’s coming from.  And the middle ground is the position of a mercenary which NGOs are often critiqued of being.  Which brings back this presentation to the basic question of, whose development?  whose interests?  is the NGO effective in its role as facilitator for change?  do people need NGOs at all?