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
Expansion and Innovation (1978-1983)
Learning from the past experiences, NGOs refined their strategies. This effort resulted to qualitative increase in the organized mass movement, as reflected in the formation of more alliances and federations of people organizations. The NGO movement itself experienced tremendous increase in numbers. Human rights advocacy was broadened to include other areas of concern like indigenous people’s rights, ecology/environment problems, and women rights. As a result, more NGOs were organized bannering on respective sectoral issues.
This period also witnessed the utilization of new approaches and tools for development like the micromedia, participatory action research, popular education, alternative medicine, and appropriate technology.Following the increased unpopularity and isolation of the Marcos regime in the international scene, foreign funds flowed freely in support of development work. Many Northern NGOs and funding agencies even went to the extent of setting up their Philippine desk making the country their base of operations in Asia because of the bulk of projects being supported here. Repression in various forms, however, was also intensified. As NGOs grew in number, networking as a strategy became attractive because of its effectiveness in lobbying and advocacy work. More regional and national networks were formed during this period, e.g., Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PHILDHRRA) which was established in 1983. Moreover, the other regional and provincial NGOs were integrated into new networks. With these developments, NGOs have become “key players in the country’s sociopolitical landscape.”
*Corazon Soliman is the current secretary of the Department of Social Welfare in the Philippines
To be continued