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.