PEACETALK: The State of CSOs in Mindanao


(Delivered to Kusog Mindanaw Conference 2022 at Waterfront Insular Hotel on November 11, 2022)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/November 12) — Hello everyone. I am Kaloy Manlupig, Founder and President of Balay Mindanaw, a Mindanao-based, Mindanao-focused, Mindanawon-led NGO committed to community work and focused on equity, development, humanitarian and peacebuilding in Mindanao. I will share with you some of my impressions and thoughts on the state of CSOs in Mindanao.

Article 1, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution states that “the State shall encourage non-governmental, community and sectoral organizations which promote the welfare of the nation”.

Article XIII, Sections 15 and 16, further affirms that the State shall respect the role and rights of independent people’s organizations in pursuing their collective interests and aspirations and ensure their effective and reasonable participation at all levels of the social, political and economic life. decision making.

This participation was institutionalized so that the socio-economic and political structures could be moved by the efforts of the population in collaboration with the government. And through grassroots organizations, those without wealth or political influence can empower themselves.

By far, the most concrete expression of popular participation in governance is the role played by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and popular organizations (POs) in so-called specialized local structures, such as the local development council ( CLD), which, according to the Local Government Code, should be constituted from the barangay level up to the regional level. The LDC and more recently the Peace and Order Councils have a crucial role: they formulate plans that would determine which development projects should be pursued and how these would be financed, among other things, and how local conflicts are resolved.

Indeed, the CSO/NGO/FO community has contributed significantly to the empowerment and development of peoples and communities by creatively exploring the windows of opportunity offered by the achievements of the people power revolution and the 1987 Constitution.

It is also important to note that CSO advocacy for federalism led to the formation of various initiatives that had become mainstream federal movements even before the current administration made it a priority agenda.

CSO peace advocacy contributed modestly but significantly to the gains of the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination. The Bangsamoro won an important but incomplete victory. Moro executives have repeatedly stated that failure is not an option for BARMM. CSOs must continue to walk with them so that the gains from this victory reach 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, preparedness disaster and emergency response and many more. There are also real prospects for resources to support these commitments.

The GRP-NDF (Government of the Republic of the Philippines – National Democratic Front) peace process remains in limbo. We thought a just resolution and an end to the decades-old conflict was already within reach, but the violence continues. However, we continue to help create safe spaces for community conversations about peace.

So how are CSOs in Mindanao doing today?

Redtagging and anti-terrorism law are among our biggest challenges.

We are in an interesting and challenging situation right now, and navigating the present requires that we all agree on 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 address the challenges facing us, Southern CSOs: sustainability and realizing a true “partnership between/among equals”.

By “Southern CSOs” I refer not only to geography but also to North-South power dynamics.

When I started working in an NGO over four decades ago, we always wrote in our project proposals that we would eventually be self-sufficient and independent from donor imposition after a certain period of time. We thought it was important then because it would give us the freedom to set our own agenda and priorities. Unfortunately, this remains a dream for many CSOs.

The political, economic and socio-cultural structures of the Philippines are highly centralized, with most decisions being made centrally.

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 put in place by the federal government of the United States is no historical accident. It was deliberately established to perpetuate and nurture the colonial relationship with them. Control the center and you control the whole country.

All embassies are based in Manila, almost all of the largest multinational corporations are based and pay their taxes in Manila, most international and national CSOs are based in Manila, an overwhelming majority of international donor agencies are headquartered in Manila. And these agencies are more comfortable dealing with those who have claimed to be representatives of those on the periphery – the provinces and local communities. These individuals and groups have crowned themselves as the gatekeepers, the clique that has a monopoly on understanding the problems and knowing the solutions.

International donor agencies deal with Manila-based national NGOs as contractors, local/provincial NGOs are treated as sub-contractors.

They prescribe the agenda – for humanitarian work, development work and human rights work.

Thus, national NGOs based in Manila generally have access to contacts, information and resources. They usually get the funds and treat the provincial groups like mere sub-contractors.

International and Manila-based agencies create PMOs that become additional layers and costs

And because these Manila-based agencies typically don’t have a local presence, they hire new staff for each new project and create project management offices that only add to the bureaucratic layer and cost.

Prescribed menu of bankable projects discourages blanket approaches

Because priorities are set by international agencies and Manila-based agencies, local groups are reduced to mere canned project implementers that are not very responsive to local realities.

A rigid monitoring system discourages initiative, flexibility, relevance and creativity.

Most if not all international agencies have their systems well established – operations, finance and others. Business or corporate practices and systems have even crept into NGO/CSO systems in the name of professionalization and accountability. Most of them only serve to discourage innovation, flexibility and relevance.

There are, however, positives and inspiring cases.

We just need to continue to pursue not only our mission, but also our advocacy for a better state of CSOs, especially in Mindanao.

We must continually remember to respect local initiatives and local know-how. As local CSOs, we must also insist on building partnerships between equals. We must not allow ourselves to be treated as second-class development and peace workers.

(MIndaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Kaloy Manlupig is Chairman Emeritus of Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. in Cagayan de Oro City).


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