Tag Archives: Caucus of Development NGOs

History of networking in the Philippines (1986- present)

Ebbs and Flows of a Painful Transition (1986-1992)

The EDSA event and the wave of political democratization that followed changed the national terrain overnight. Development efforts continued to flourish as NGO works increased significantly amidst the newly won democratic spaces. In acknowledgement of their role in organizing and mobilizing the popular forces before and during the EDSA Revolt, the contribution of NGOs (and POs) to national development was formally recognized.

The 1987 Constitution clearly acknowledged the role of NGOs and POs in a democratic society by including them in its key provisions. In a sense, the role of NGOs was institutionalized, so much so that during the first years of Cory government, many of the appointees came from the NGO community. Even funds from government and international bodies were coursed through the NGOs. As a result, there was a proliferation of NGOs all over the country, covering all possible areas and lines of work. Abad (1990) observed that this made the Philippines one of the most dynamic NGO communities in Asia, if not in the world.

Traditional politicians, entrepreneurs, and even government units that set up their own NGOs for vested interests, however, took the situation. This was so prevalent that so-called development NGOs were forced to band together to distinguish themselves from pseudo ones. Two new networks were formed during the post EDSA period, namely: the Council for People’s Development (CPD) and the Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA) in 1986 and 1988, respectively. Others strengthened their unity, stepped up their coordination efforts and responded frequently to unfolding events as networks– and not merely as individual NGOs.

The formation of the Caucus of Development NGOs (CODE NGOs) in 1990 was one of the high points of this trend. In a move unprecedented in the history of the Philippine NGO movement, ten of the largest NGO networks in the country, including the church-based networks and the cooperative sector representing about 1,500 NGOs nationwide, came together in the first ever National Congress of NGOs in December 1991. The networks agreed to work on three areas of concern: (1) training a successor generation of development NGO leaders; (2) Relating with government as a sector, especially the military authorities in the national and regional level;  (3) Relating with the donor community both here and abroad.

Among other objectives, the following are worth mentioning: (1) to convene the different Development NGO networks especially in confronting pertinent development issues collectively; (2) to provide the venue for dialogue, linkages, and cooperation among the member networks; and (3) to formulate and popularize an alternative development paradigm.

Among those represented in the congress were Philippine Partnership for the  Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PHILDHRRA), Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA), National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO), National Council of Social Development (NCSD), National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), Council for People’s Development (CPD), Ecumenical Council for Development (ECD), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), and Association of Foundations (AF).

This coalition resulted further in the ratification of a historic document – the Covenant for Philippine Development. No wonder, some development workers considered this period as the golden age of networking and coalition building in the Philippines because NGOs of different orientations and historical context agreed to act as one in responding to the opportunities and challenges of the new conjuncture.

Maturation and Renewal (1992 to the Present)

The NGO community has become an important actor in Philippine politics after the EDSA phenomenon. This position was further strengthened by the Local Government Code of 1991. The Code highlighted the role of NGOs in the local governance process and provided for their participation in the following areas: membership in local special bodies, partnership with the government in joint ventures in development projects, and participation and sectoral representations in local legislative bodies.

The Code requires the local government to allow accredited NGOs, POs, and, in some cases, private sector individuals to take at least twenty five percent of the seats in local development council and to have at least one seat in four other boards, dubbed local special bodies: school board, health board, peace and order council, and pre qualification, bids and awards committee.

The local government Code has also institutionalized NGOs as active partners in the local governance. The LGU may enter into joint ventures with NGOs in the delivery of certain basic services. NGOs or POs are also given preferential treatment with regards to the use of aquatic resources and in the grant of franchise in the construction and operation of such facilities. The LGU may also extend financial assistance to the NGO for its economic, socially oriented environment and cultural projects.

NGOs play a very significant role in the recognition of “civil society” as an indispensable partner of the government in development endeavors and in nation building. The legitimacy and prominence of the NGO sector has been carried over up from the Aquino leadership to the present administration. As in the past, people with links to the NGO movement have been appointed to cabinet positions. NGO communities are also involved in numerous consultative mechanisms as a distinct social sector. Alegre (1996) noted that another indication of the NGOs continuing significance is the increasing leverage of some of the larger and more established NGOs and the major NGO networks and coalitions with various funding agencies and multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and other various United Nation-based commissions.

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How effective is networking in development endeavors?

In the previous blog,  the vulnerability of NGOs was discussed as they frequently pioneer new approaches and challenge development orthodoxy. NGOs are vulnerable to groups with vested interests. Consequently, the NGOs face the problem of either co-optation or reprisal from the government and other traditional power holders that want to maintain the status quo. Moreover, they have to deal with the proliferation of pseudo NGOs that undermine the sector’s credibility. A number of these pseudo NGOs set up not for any other purpose than to take advantage of funding sources for dubious or narrow purposes, according to Abad (1990).

Faced with such problems and threats to their credibility, NGOs have seen the need to establish linkages and networks among themselves and with other sectors of society. Melgrito (1994) has defined networking as coordination among people, groups or organizations of various interests and orientation, working together as in a chain so as to function in a specific manner. It takes place when organizations link up together and make concerted efforts for mutual advantage and greater effectiveness towards the achievement of a common goal.

As a strategy, networking has been used by many sectors in pursuing development endeavors. Networks link local efforts for more effective lobbying and advocacy and provide venues for the exchange of experiences and resources between similar NGOs. A proper coordination of NGO activities, in networking, helps prevent unnecessary duplication or overlapping of development effort. NGOs are also protected from any form of threat because of their collective nature, while they police their own ranks through common code of conduct.

In the Philippines, NGOs have reached the highest level of unity in networking during the launching of the Caucus of Development NGOs (CODE NGOs) in 1990. This solidarity, however, did not happen overnight. It was a culmination of decades of common struggle similar to what other NGOs in other countries experienced in the course of historical development characterized by diverse intensity and highlights.

The united effort of Philippine NGOs evolved from relief and reconstruction work to welfare activities geared toward anti- communist inspired social reform. Affected by the social context, which witnessed worldwide questioning of development approach, Philippine NGOs found themselves doing grassroots organizing for transformation. Such approach, however, faced a momentary halt when confronted by a repressive regime that used an iron-fist policy in dealing with oppositions. Overcoming the threat, NGOs became instrumental in the qualitative growth of the organized mass movement, which culminated in the EDSA phenomenon. Thereafter, NGOs have maintained their legitimacy and prominence in Philippine society. The gains of networking in the national scene inspired the NGOs to translate it to the regional and provincial level.

In Iloilo, NGOs have formed themselves into various networks, some even earlier than the CODE NGOs. So far, there are about four networks existing in Iloilo. The oldest of these is the Iloilo Council of Social Development (ICSD) which traces its roots to the oldest NGO network in the national level, the National Council of Social Development, formerly Council of Welfare Agencies Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. (CWAFPI).

With the highest level of networking or coalition building ever reached by the NGO Community, it has been assumed that issues and problems among NGOs have started to diminish. Reality, however, proves otherwise. Despite the gains of networking, various tensions continue to exist between and among NGOs.

The success of NGO coalition building could not hide the fact that the Philippine NGO community remains riven by three cleavages, namely: ideological, professional, and proliferation of pseudo NGOs. Conflicts and differences ranging from competition for declining development funding to sectarian tendencies affect even the largest NGOs of the country (Alegre 1996). These problems and other issues, concern, and challenge confronting NGOs lead to the question: How effective is networking in development endeavors?


Second  of  the series of posts on Networking as  Development Strategy of NGOs in the Province of Iloilo. Thesis requirement for my Master of Social Work degree from University of the Philippines-Diliman in 2000.

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