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History of Networking in the Philippines (Coping with Repression- NGO Support to the Surging Mass Movement)

In the previous post we traced the beginning of NGO networking in the Philippines from the formation of the Council of Welfare Agencies Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. (CWAFPI), the forerunner of the present-day National Council of Social Development (NCSD). We also discussed two periods namely: American Colonial Period to Post WWII: Relief, Rehabilitation and Welfare and The Deepening Social Crisis and the Rise of New Social Movements (1965-1972).

This article will cover three periods in the history of NGO networking in the Philippines, as follows:

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.”

NGO Support to the Surging Mass Movement (1983-1986)

The Aquino assassination in 1983 became a rallying point of growing opposition and outrages which gave birth to the “parliament of the streets.” It was a period of multi- sectoral organizing and alliance building as regional and national federations and alliances of POs were formed with NGO support. Similarly, NGOs strengthened their existing networks and formed new ones to share resources and find security in their numbers amidst continuing military harassment. NGOs’ support to the surging of mass movement culminated in their participation in the Snap Election and the subsequent EDSA Revolt.

(To be continued)



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History of Networking in the Philippines

The beginning of NGO networking in the Philippines, according to Alegre (1996), can be traced from the formation of the Council of Welfare Agencies Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. (CWAFPI), the forerunner of the present-day National Council of Social Development (NCSD). As early as 1952, a group of social work leaders organized the Philippine National Committee of the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW). This eventually evolved into the Council of Welfare Agencies Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. (CWAFPI), the umbrella organization of the various welfare and civic organizations, e.g., the Catholic Women’s Clubs, Boy/Girl Scouts of the Philippines, National Red Cross, etc. which, up to this day, cater to such sectors as traditional women’s groups, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. 

The early organizational formation, however, is only one part of the story of networking with particular focus on welfare agencies. Alegre (1996) presented a comprehensive discussion of the factors that contributed to the growth and development of networking in the Philippine NGOs in his book Trends and Traditions; Challenges and Choices. This observation is complemented by a chronological presentation of the formation of nine mainstream national networks after NCSD in From the Present Looking Back: A History of Philippine NGO by Karina David (1998). Hence, the history of networking in the Philippine is better understood in the context of historical evolution of NGOs in the country. 

The story of Philippine NGOs generally follows the trend of the world history of NGOs- from relief and welfare endeavors to social reformation which eventually led to the transformation approach. Alegre (1996) divided the history of NGOs into six distinct phases rooted in key points in the country’s recent past, as follows:

American Colonial Period to Post WWII: Relief, Rehabilitation and Welfare

This period witnessed the emergence of voluntary, private initiatives that engaged mainly in relief and reconstruction work to support a war-ravaged country. Considered to be the first NGOs, their welfare endeavors continued even after normalization. Eventually, the welfare work was geared toward social reform, colored with anti- communist motivation, which concentrated on the problems in the countryside. The environment led to the setting up of the pioneer NGOs in the country: the Institute of Social Order in 1947 and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement in 1952.

The Deepening Social Crisis and the Rise of New Social Movements (1965-1972)

A conglomeration of events shaped the global and national sociopolitical landscape which affected the history of NGOs in the Philippines. On the one hand, there was a worldwide questioning of the previous development approach; an emergence of new theories of underdevelopment; highlight on revolutionary anti-colonial struggles; and change in the social directions of the Catholic Church which played a key role in this stage of development.

On the other hand, as the Philippine social situation was rapidly deteriorating, there was a resurgence of nationalism and student activism and a groundswell of public outrage, which culminated in the First Quarter Storm. At this period, grassroots organizing dominated the NGOs directions.

Two NGO networks were established during this time: the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) in 1967 and 1971, respectively. NASSA served as a clearinghouse and coordinating mechanism for the Philippine Catholic Church’s social involvement, while PBSP established itself as a network among business corporations and NGOs they supported.

This period also witnessed the emergence of the community organization approach as an alternative to the limitations of community development. This approach led to the establishment of the Philippine Ecumenical Council for Community Organization (PECCO) in 1971. As a result, many NGOs were organized bearing the new orientation/approach.

In 1972, after a series of informal meetings, ten NGOs with more traditional business and family foundations came together to form another network, the Association of Foundations (AF).

(To be continued)


Next post:  Coping with  Repression, Carving a Niche (1972-1978) and Expansion and Innovation (1978-1983).

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