Out of poorly informed political judgement, bold innovation, and controversy, has come a CIDA programme for assistance to NGOs which, despite its errors—and even contrary impact in Negros—may eventually be said to have made a small contribution to the resolution of the deep ongoing conflict in Philippine society. Though it is too early to make a conclusive assessment, this tentative finding comes from numerous conversations with NGO representatives and government officials in both Canada and the Philippines, and from two visits to Negros.
To understand the impetus behind CIDA initiatives, one must first understand the politico-economic context in the Philippines in the mid-1980s. By early 1985 the economy was in rapid decline, over 30% of the labor force were estimated to be unemployed, inflation was around 50%; political dissent, both violent and nonviolent, was at an all time high; and the president’s health was precarious. At one point there was a false report that he had died. Spurred by the prospects of succession, the moderate opposition was beginning to pull together, so that by November, when Pres. Marcos announced an early election, it was possible to bring unity around Corazon Aquino, widow of the slain senator. (Heavy leaning on Salvador Laurel by Cardinal Sin was still necessary, however.) But the unity did not include the Communist Party of the Philippines, which announced a boycott of the elections, even though some leftist groups did support Mrs. Aquino.
When the election was held in February, fraud was rampant. But the independent count by NAMFREL, the reports of hundreds of foreign observers, and the escalation of non-violent action by Aquino supporters, made it difficult for Marcos to sell either to the Filipino people or abroad his supposed ‘reelection’. Thus when a segment of the military mutinied against Marcos, they had wide popular support. The inauguration of Mrs. Aquino as president was confirmed by the departure of Marcos a few days later. The world had watched while peaceful demonstrators stopped pro-Marcos tanks. The euphoria was contagious; Cory took office on a wave of popularity (see Johnson, 1988). TV coverage made Canadians much more aware of the Philippines than ever before, and in February 1986 their impressions were favorable.
In the last years of the decaying Marcos regime, the Canadian government had wisely kept its distance, in part by not approving new government-to-government economic assistance. In February 1986, however, there was popular backing—as well as advice from allies and economic self-interest—for moves to support the new democratic regime. Clearly President Aquino needed all the help she could get. She was confronted by near economic collapse, an overwhelming foreign debt, a thoroughly corrupt bureaucracy, and widespread insurgency in the countryside. The restoration of democratic institutions, which she accomplished in 1986-87, was only a small part of the task she faced.
Negros was one of those provinces most devastated by the rapaciousness of Marcos cronies, as well as declining world prices. The Philippine sugar industry, centred in that province, had suffered both from a 18-year low in prices and also from the extractions of the Marcos-backed sugar monopoly. Sugar planters were protesting vociferously—some of the larger ones may have had to sell an extra Mercedes. Hundreds of thousands of workers were jobless, their families on the verge of starvation. The Communists made the most of this crisis.
Fear of the strength of the revolutionary movement among sugar planters was probably at its peak just before the 1986 elections. The majority recognized that a legitimately elected president would make it easier to restore order. and thus backed Cory. Some, like Daniel Lacson, even proposed projects that would help feed their penniless workers, showing a sense of the patron’s responsibility toward his clientage. (This included very limited temporary land reform, such as in the Land Sharing project administered by the Chito Foundation and supported by Howard Dee’s Assisi Development Foundation). The more short-sighted planters showed no such responsibility, but expanded hacienda security forces.
In 1986, just as Canada was launching new aid initiatives, the situation in Negros began to change. The revolutionary movement itself lost ground in the middle class because of its failure to back Cory Aquino. Conflict also grew within the movement over that question. Cory was popular and appointed as acting governor the moderate reformer Daniel Lacson. (He was elected governor nearly two years later.) With an upward turn in sugar prices, however most planters, with new hopes of profit, didn’t even want to listen to proposals for _moderate _reform. Instead many expanded their commitment to private armies or helped finance the Philippine Constabulary Forward Command (PCFC), a PC auxiliary under control of the provincial PC commander.
By 1987, when the president issued her executive order declaring in principle that all croplands would be subject to reform, sugar prices had jumped by 1/3 over 1986. So reform was even more unpopular. Some of the most conservative planters formed the secret Negros Independence Movement, vowing to fight for secession if necessary to retain their land. In the other camp, disagreements within the Communist Party over the decision not to extend the ceasefire but to escalate the fighting led to some important defections, including the provincial party chairman himself. With reduced incentives for reform, hardliners came to the fore both among the planters and the insurgents. (Jones, 1989: 250.)
The PC commander, Lt. Col. Coronel, in order to assert tactical control over numerous private armies springing up and to increase the funds available, proposed the creation of the Sugar Development Foundation, the primary purpose of which would be to levy a uniform lien on all sugar planters to finance the centralized paramilitary force, which was already abducting, shooting and killing church workers, union organizers and other peaceful civilians, as well as fighting the NPA. Such a lien was ordered by the Sugar Regulatory Administration in the following year and was expected to generate P 40-50 million per year. This served to institutionalize the polarization between left and right. By 1989 the Bishop of Bacolod, Antonio Fortich, who had often served as the only communication link between government and radical opposition, was retired. His replacement has cautiously begun to reverse some of the policies of Bishop Fortich, who was a strong proponent of land reform and a tireless defender of human rights—so much so that his residence was twice bombed by vigilantes.
In the capital the president, threatened by coups and semi-coups gave larger and larger concessions to the military in order to win them over. (Wurfel, 1989b) Any leadership for the enforcement of human rights was abandoned, while in Congress Mrs. Aquino’s brother, Representative Jose Cojuangco, led the landlord bloc in emasculating land reform legislation, so that by the time it was enacted it was almost impossible to implement. Thus a regime which had taken power on a wave of “people power” had moved so far to the right as to make some of its policies indistinguishable from those of its predecessor. It was in that national context that Gov. Lacson also moved to the right. While he may have been a “moderate reformer” out of power in 1985, by 1988 he was embracing the military and finding it difficult to push through his earlier ideas on partial land reform. He was a member of the landed elite and could not veer too far from their consensus.
In 1986 Canada made two innovative initiatives, one at the national level and the other for Negros, both relying on Philippine NGOs to carry forward local projects. The national scheme, which came to be known as the Philippine Development Assistance Program (PDAP) was the fruit of a proposal-invited by CIDA— made in 1985 by a group of centrist foundations: the Association of Foundations, the Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PHILDHRRA), the Asian NGO Coalition, Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Assisi Development Foundation. These foundations, accustomed to drawing on the business sector for funding, were quite frank in admitting that the economic crisis was drying up their sources (PDAP: A Proposal, 9)—thus the timeliness of the arrival of ClDA on the scene.
Though in describing the kind of projects that would be funded these foundations listed “permanent social change” as one of the “desirable project criteria” (Ibid, 19), what was more noticeable was that their proposal continued to talk of the poor as “clients”, the terminology of traditional social work. Nor was mention of permanent social change convincing in light of the proposal that for management training PDAP should call on Sycip, Gorres, Velayo and Co. (SGV), the largest accounting firm in the Philippines which served most of the major corporations. In fact, it was also proposed that SGV, along with the Asian Institute of management (AIM), would have associate members on the program committee of PDAP that would approve all projects.
In June 1986 CIDA announced funding of $4.88 million for PDAP for four years. Mr. Howard Dee of the Assisi Development Foundation was chair of the Philippine Committee, a prominent Christian Democrat and philanthropist, he had substantial investments in Canada. Ms. Maria Hulme of HOPE International Development Agency of Vancouver headed the Canadian Committee.
Under PDAP the project cycle begins with an idea by a Philippine NGO proposed to the committee in Manila. If approved, it is forwarded to the PDAP secretariat in Ottawa, which seeks a Canadian NGO sponsor through which CIDA funds would be channeled. Among the thirteen Canadian NGOs who participated in PDAP, some of the largest, though invited, decided not to participate. There were those who criticized the rather narrow spectrum of Philippine NGOs with whom CIDA initiated dialogue. While PDAP may have been an efficient mechanism for the delivery of funds to certain types of worthwhile projects, it could not be considered to have played any kind of reconciling, bridge-building role between NGOs, or PDOs (Peoples Development Organizations), of different political orientations.
It was clearly in Negros that the need for bridge-building was the greatest. The widespread malnutrition and near starvation on the part of some made Negros the center of international media attention in 1986. It was natural for the Canadian Embassy in Manila to direct a delegation headed by Tory MP James Edwards to the island in April. Edwards, like many other foreign visitors, was particularly impressed with acting governor Lacson, his vision, his articulateness, and his apparent commitment to reform and development. In June External Affairs Minister Joe Clark also met Lacson and announced that an innovative program for Negros would be the centerpiece of a new $100 million five-year CIDA commitment to the Philippines.
In September 1986 the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding for an $11 million Negros Rehabilitation and Development Fund (NRDF). “In the short term”, said CIDA _((IDA in the Philippines, _May 1988), “the NRDF can provide immediate relief to the people most seriously affected by the collapse of the sugar-based economy, especially the sugar workers in the area. Over the longer term, an objective of the NRDF is to help foster self-sufficiency and enhance the decision-making capacity of the rural and urban poor of Negros by providing them with access to land, technology, agricultural inputs, education and other key productive resources.” The NRDF had also set as a goal to .. play a major role in the socio-economic transformation of one of the most distressed provinces in the Philippines., indeed an ambitious one. (NRDF, Special Progress Report 8 [June 1987])
The central role of acting Gov. Lacson is seen in the fact that he chose 8six individuals…with strong track records in NGO development work” to sit on the NRDF Program Committee, authorized to approve projects. The only two additional members were representatives of the Philippine government and of CIDA. CIDA funds were channeled through this committee and a CIDA Monitor held office in Bacolod to help keep tab on projects approved. (Since 1987 it has been Greg Forbes, a young Canadian with considerable experience in cooperative work in the Philippines who, with the help of his Filipina wife, has a considerable understanding of Philippine society.)
It is not surprising that Gov. Lacson’s nominees were members of the Negrense economic elite. In fact, most of the Lacson nominees were also board members of elite foundations which quickly became beneficiaries of NRDF funds, e.g. The Chito Foundation, the Negros Economic Development Foundation, First Farmers Human Development Foundation, the J.F. Ledesma Foundation, or In-Hand Negros. Buasdamlag, Inc., the largest beneficiary (with an approved amount of nearly P9 million) was also landlord controlled. Granting began in Janurary 1987; all of the above had grants approved in the first six months.
Some of the consequences of this somewhat incestuous relationship did not improve the reputation of the NRDF. For instance, In-Hand Negros, which included the governor’s wife on its board, hired piece workers for an average of $1.50 per day to manufacture toys for export. The wage, shocking as it is, was not unusual for Negros; what was more surprising was that board members of this non-profit organization received $700 a month in stipends, or more than half the annual salary of a school teacher. (Laurie, p. 27) Buasdamlag, Inc. contracted out the administration of some of its projects to Kabalaka Development Foundation, another creation of the planters. According to local priests Kabalaka field workers sometimes charged farm workers who failed to sign up for Kabalaka projects with being members of the NPA—which provided military and para-military forces with a license to kill. Kabalaka agents were also accused of “educating against land reform”—and one of Kabalaka’s leading figures was reported to be a founder of a planter-backed vigilante group. In fact, NRDF’s own investigation of Buasdamlag projects discovered enough disquieting aspects to warrant cancellation.
Numerous complaints about NRDF’s elitist orientation filtered back to Canada through Canadian NGOs with partners or friends in the Philippines. The leftist National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), headquartered in Bacolod, was especially upset with a program that they believed was merely propping up a “feudal” system, especially its political enemies. Even though invited by CIDA to do so, NFSW refused to even make a project proposal to NRDF, probably fearing rejection, given the make-up of the program committee of the board.
By June 1987 negative reports on NRDF were of sufficient weight that the Canadian Council on International Cooperation organized a small meeting with CIDA representatives. Finally CIDA itself decided that the wave of criticism, about PDAP as well as NRDF, was so serious that they organized a series of major consultations across the country (Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver) in January and February 1988. CCIC helped in the preparation for these sessions which constituted an unprecedented effort by CIDA on behalf of a particular country program.
After lengthy introductions about the aims and structure of the entire CIDA undertaking in the Philippines, discussion turned to the controversial aspects. On the whole this observer found CIDA spokespersons remarkably open and accepting of criticism. The main thrust of criticism on PDAP was that it excluded progressive NGOs and POs in the Philippines and thus discouraged the participation of some Canadian NGOs. CIDA insisted that there was an openness to meeting with all organizations in the Philippines, except the NPA, but conceded that “there was perhaps not enough communication with the [Canadian NGO] community when PDAP was in its formative stage and that its focus may be too narrow”. (Report on Consultation Meetings, 6) In fact, in March the PDAP Philippine Committee decided to expand its membership and revise project selection criteria to include more community organizing activities.
The discussions on NRDF were perhaps even more “spirited”. All sessions addressed the failure of NRDF to give sufficient attention to land reform, the very core of social transformation. There were suggestions made, some specific and some not, that NRDF grants may have been given to groups and individuals in some way associated with the vigilantes, prime suspects in many human rights violations. Subsequently CIDA did prevail on the NRDF board to cancel the Buasdamlag project, and even before the consultations, CIDA attempted to expand the character of the board with the appointment of Sister Michele Gamboa, respected by progressive elements within the Church. Later in 1988 CIDA began to insist that any new project must contain, at least as one element, some permanent land reform, with the transfer of titles to farmers or farmers’ cooperatives.
Fortunately by 1988 CIDA had abandoned the position of a previous Canadian official in Manila that “the opposition of Canadian NGO’s to direct funding [of Philippine NGOs] is one of the most regressive anti-developmental stances which has ever been adopted by anybody involved in development work.” What was earlier perceived in CIDA as blanket opposition by some Canadian NGOs to direct funding was really a displeasure with a lack of voice in determining the range of Philippine NGOs to be funded.
Significantly changing the range of groups to be served by existing funding institutions is not an easy task, however. Even a new determination by the CIDA representative appointed to the NRDF board in 1988 faced opposition. Some of the more conservative sugar planters on the board were actually required to resign, after they had tried to block CIDA-favored reforms. Replacements included an ineffectual small farmers’ representative, Gaston Ortigas of Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Manila who is firmly committed to land reform despite his elite background, and Monsignor Victor Rivas, vicar-general of the diocese of Bacolod, an articulate spokesman for progressive elements within the church. Acceptance of Fr. Rivas was particularly difficult for Gov. Lacson. Even so, at one NRDF board meeting in early 1988 CIDA pressure succeeded in securing the adoption of a policy that planters’ groups were not to be recipients of NRDF funds—but at the subsequent meeting the decision was rescinded. Board acceptance of the principle that all new projects should include an element of permanent land reform required a threat of complete withdrawal of CIDA funds. Thus, inevitably, the attempt to reform NRDF to bring it into line with policies more consistent with CIDA’s general objectives shattered the earlier image of NRDF as a body controlled by Filipino decision-makers.
One can see in the nature of the projects approved in 1988 and 1989 a greater emphasis on church groups and cooperatives. However, the increased tension in the board has slowed down the rate of grant decisions (30 in 1987, 18 in 1988). While $2.7 was disbursed by May 1987, by July 1, 1989, there had only been an additional $2.8 million in disbursements. But even with a renewed commitment to reform by CIDA and an attempt to restructure the board, it seemed hard to alter old patterns.
The ODISCO Farm Systems Development Foundation project was approved in March of 1988. An independent research by the staff of the Institute of Philippine Culture of Ateneo de Manila Univeristy, Quezon City, in Murcia, Negros Occidental, gives an insight into ODISCO operations through the eyes of the military and of the small farmers. (IPC, Process Monitoring Report, 1989, pp. 2,5,7-8.) In one barangay a teacher was afraid to let ODISCO use a school building for an · Economic and Social Awareness Seminar” because “the military is very suspicious and does not trust anybody”. So the vice-president of ODISCO wrote a letter to the PC Provincial Commander informing him about the seminar and inviting him to attend. The Commander replied that there was no need for him to attend since “ODISCO is for the good of the people”.
The ODISCO project consisted of the provision of carabaos, plows and farm inputs to farmers, as well as educational and training programs for the beneficiaries. The eleven barangay residents who had received carabaos reported that they had to repay ODISCO, plus 10% of the recipient’s net harvest per crop to cover the expenses of the ODISCO personnel supervising the project. When asked to characterize
ODISCO’s presence in the community one resident said that it “would free the farmers from poverty through the use of technology”. Others saw ODISCO simply as a source of carabao. Still other informants said that “ODISCO’s teachings were based on the Holy Bible” and stressed the eradication of such vices as smoking, drinking, gambling and dancing. But since both instructors and attendants in ODISCO seminars didn’t follow some of these teachings, “the seminars fell short of their goals.” A friendly relationship with the military and a fundamentalist religious orientation were typical of conservative NGOs in Negros.
Apparently CIDA decided that any attempt to fundamentally alter the structure of PDAP would be difficult. (After all, Mr. Dee had good Canadian connections.) Some members of PDAP identified with the Aquino government and deeply resented criticism of it. Thus, they were not disposed to cooperate with NGOs or POs whose criticism of the regime was quite fundamental. CIDA’s most innovative and constructive response to criticism of its Philippine program was consequently in the formulation of an entirely new structure, after lengthy consultation.
The consultation process itself was unprecedented and indirectly promoted peace. The flexibility and innovation of Jim Carruthers, Counsellor (Development) in the Canadian Embassy was key to the success of the wide-ranging consultation. However, it now also seems apparent that External Affairs was subtly shifting its view of the Aquino Administration from the earlier total embrace to a more 11 critical collaboration 11 . This shift made it easier, perhaps even imperative, to consult with a wider range of Filipino groups, including those in principled opposition.
The format proposed for a large” NGO consultation” was as part of the country program review (CPR) which CIDA is supposed to initiate every five years. After preliminary conversations both with representatives of PDAP and CCIC, and a special CIDA attempt to dialogue with the National Council for Peoples Development (NCPD), including NFSW, there was general agreement that a consultation should be held in June 1988, with responsibilities for the secretariat shouldered by PHILDHRAA and CCIC representatives on the steering committee. At the meeting in Tagaytay, a pleasant hill station less than two hours from Manila, there were over 50 persons in attendance, almost all representing NGOs and mostly Filipinos. Guest speakers, including some of the country’s most outstanding intellectuals, addressed the general political, economic and social situation, as well as particulars of the CIDA program or the role of NGOs. The workshops produced a rather progressive consensus on a number of issues, especially considering that some NGOs present had close links with the business sector. As the preamble to the subsequent report put it, “Development…cannot be divorced from the process of democratization” . Thus militarization and human rights violations were identified as major obstacles to NGO development work. Jim Carruthers, speaking for CIDA, confirmed that “Social change [in the Philippines] is essential and urgent. The NGO community is, and should be, a major player in social change”. (_Ibid., 115) Plenary sessions sometimes addressed what were for CIDA very sensitive issues; one concluded, clearly referring to NRDF, “funds should not go to landlord-initiated NGOs”. Another session summed up the discussion: “In response to threats [of militarization], NGOs see the need for coalition-building and advocacy on social and human rights issues.” Overall these consultations were described by one participant as realistic in the face of grave threats and yet somehow optimistic about what could be accomplished.
CCIC had made it clear that their representatives came to Tagaytay merely to critique CIDA’s programs, hoping to have an impact on CIDA’s thinking, but without any commitment for a future role. Nevertheless a Canada-Philippines NGO Steering Committee came out of the June consultation. The original mandate was only to build on the considerable consensus among NGOs that emerged in Tagaytay, facilitate on-going dialogue with CIDA and monitor the preparation of the country program review to try to ensure that NGO concerns were given proper consideration. But after three meetings the Steering Committee actually produced a proposal for a new structure and new program to be called PCHRD (Philippine Canadian Human Resources Development). Consensus building had been jeopardized in January 1989 by the withdrawal of the NCPD representative from the steering committee, apparently as the result of a development in Negros. But in a few months he returned. This was especially important since the NCPD was the farthest left of the groups involved and its absence would have undermined the attempt to build a broad coalition.
PCHRD is unique, both in Philippine experience with foreign aid donors and in the history of CIDA. It goes farther to build bridges over conflict than anything else CIDA has yet done. The ten Philippine NGOs to be represented on the Philippine Coordinating Committee range all the way from Philippine Business for Social Progress (and thus an overlap with PDAP) to the NCPD. (PDAP, without alteration, has had its funding extended). A Canadian Coordinating Committee of wide membership will also be formed. The two coordinating committees will together form a Joint Committee which will be the governing body of PCHRO, authorized to allocate funds to projects proposed unless a single grant exceeds $200,000, in which case CIDA must also concur. When the entire structure is in place CIDA will make available to PCHRD $ 15 million over five years. There is no other structure funded by CIDA anywhere in the world where NGOs are given such a sweeping role in making project decisions with CIDA funds and especially where local NGOs are given an equal voice with Canadian organizations. In fact, many people in the Philippines were surprised that Ottawa gave its approval.
At the same time that PCHRD is being phased in, NRDF is being phased out. Even though only about half of the original $ 11 million has been allocated, and less than that spent, it now appears to be CIDA’s intention to allow the program to come to an end when its originally contemplated four-year life span is reached in 1990. Canadian participants at the Tagaytay consultation believed that the consensus against NRDF there had a large part to play in the CIDA decision. But difficulties of trying to implement NRDF’s intended goals in cooperation with Gov. Lacson, more and more representing the interests of the Negros landed elite, were surely sufficient grounds for the phase out.
The Impact on Conflict
Having described the recent history of CIDA funding of NGO- administered development projects, and the political and economic context in which this took place, let us now ask whether any of this made a contribution to conflict resolution or the promotion of peace. Note that the question is being asked _only _about aid channeled through NGOs, not about government-to- government aid. If we should venture into the latter category we should face the awkward fact that the largest segment of Canadian aid to the Philippine government is in the form of commodity imports, the proceeds of which amount to budget supplements. In a situation where the military budget has risen rapidly in the last three years, can it not be said that Canadian aid helped make that possible? (To be sure, some commodity imports generated counterpart funds designated for public high schools.) And has peace flowed from strength? It is difficult to make any such connection. Let us, therefore, remain focused on aid through NGO channels.
But can we even assume that aid devoted to the purpose of development, if administered by NGOs, will help resolve conflict? A prior clarification of the nature of “development” and of “conflict” is in order. But before tackling the definitions we must recognize that whether it be $11 million for NRDF, $4.8 million for PDAP, or even $ 15million for PCHRD, these are small sums in relation to an economy with an annual GDP of over $40 billion. Canada is not a large actor on the Philippine scene, providing only about 1 % of all ODA, and NGO-administered funds are less than 15% of ClDA’s Philippine budget. Yet “peace” or “conflict” are not social conditions or processes which can be measured quantitatively. Interventions which are quantitatively small can, if they are seen as morally right and based on an accurate assessment of the situation, have a significant impact on peace and conflict resolution. This is true, in part, because such interventions act as a catalyst to other groups and agencies, foreign and domestic. It may be a bit like acupuncture—if you hit the right nerve, you can do a lot with a single needle. Aid magnitude is not, therefore, by itself an important issue.
Except in Mindanao, conflict in the Philippines is not of ethnic origin, as it is in many parts of the Third World, but conflict between social classes—and perceived as such by the protagonists to an increasing degree. It occurs because at least a portion of the peasants and workers have become aware of the inequities heaped upon them by political and economic institutions, and wish to change those institutions, or at least the policies they impose. Some are willing, if pressed, to use violence to achieve those ends, while others are not. Unfortunately the government often fails to make that distinction and thus by its actions drives the non-violent into the arms of the violent—as has happened with so many Basic Christian Communities in Negros.
Because this is the nature of the conflict, it is clear that it cannot end without the widespread infusion of justice in social relations. It may be suppressed for a time, but then reappear, as it did in 1969. The appearance of peace may result from the exhaustion of the antagonists, but if the cause of the conflict is not removed it will be temporary. Under these circumstances, as Gerald Schmitz has noted, real peacemaking is “a call to nonviolent action to transform social structures”. (“Aid and Peacemaking: Some Reflections”, 2).
If peace requires justice, how is justice to be established? Does “development” insure social justice? If by development we mean simply economic growth, then the answer is clearly “no”. All economists now agree that rapid growth inevitably increases social inequity, they only disagree on how much and for how long—and why. But fortunately the concept of development which wraps greater equity into the required definition has had increasing use around the world in the last decade. It is largely a question of perspective: if you are a national economic planner it may be possible to equate GNP growth with “development”, but if you are poor peasant, “development” that makes the rich richer and leaves the poor behind is hardly to be desired. Let us define development, therefore, as growth with justice—and with empowerment of the powerless. For if the poor do not acquire the power to make effective demands for social justice, they will not get it; it does not come automatically, even with a development strategy which sets out to allocate larger shares to the poor.
This was the problem in Negros. The rhetoric was right. NRDF was to fund projects “benefitting the poor”. The Guidelines even announced that “NRDF seeks to foster the self-sufficiency and enhance the decision-making capacity of its target beneficiaries”. But, despite the guidelines, in the first year the funds were channeled through landlord foundations. NRDF bankrolled the preservation of existing patron-client relationships—far from the intended “transformation of existing social structures”. This is not surprising, really. Foreign aid, or any other external intervention, cannot be neutral; it either reduces social justice or enhances it. The result is determined by the channel chosen. And since foreigners most often deal with political and economic elites, their assistance usually reinforces inequality.
In Negros in the 1980s there were important mass-based NGOs which, if they had been willing to implement projects for community organization and agricultural improvement, could probably have made a small contribution to the enhancement of social and political equity, and thus, potentially, the resolution of conflict. But there were two reasons why that was unlikely. First, there was an ideological chasm in Negros in the 1980s between genuinely mass-based organizations, on the one hand, and the government and economic elite on the other. CIDA, whose personnel inevitably moved primarily in government and elite circles, found it very difficult to bridge the gap. But, secondly, so did the mass-based organizations. They were deeply imbued with a “them/us” dichotomy, and CIDA officers seemed to be among “them”, especially after the establishment of the NRDF board. To be sure, the NFSW would probably have been happy to become the sole channel of CIDA funds in Negros, especially if they had been given entirely without strings, or any kind of project supervision. For NFSW had priorities which sometimes conflicted with CIDA’s ideas of full transfer of project funds to stated beneficiaries. (But so also did landlord foundations; CIDA was not able to police their improper diversions of funds either.) In sum, polarization in Negros made it impossible for CIDA to deal evenhandedly with oppressors and oppressed. There was a war going on and each side had marshaled its forces. Monsignor Rivas, standing in the midst of the battle, put it very gently; said he, “NRDF is a drop in the bucket towards real social change in Negros”.
What happened to the Candoni post-harvest facility in early 1989 helps to clarify the nature of the situation. The Candoni project allocated nearly P3 million in July 1987 to the Negros Economic Development Foundation (NEDF), originally founded by Gov. Lacson, to buy a ricemill, threshers and dryers. It was operational by 1988 and in March 1989 it was attacked and destroyed by the NPA —the first NRDF project to suffer in this way. Those attempting to explain, or even justify, the attack point to the tie-up with Gov. Lacson, and his increasing unpopularity in Communist circles. Some also suggest that the Samahang Nayon, or village cooperative, that was operating the rice mill was controlled by the military— it did happen elsewhere--and was thus denying use of the mill to any farmers suspected of being “subversive”. The Canadian Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, on the other hand, gloats that this proves that Marxist revolutionaries really do not have the interest of farmers at heart, but believe that the masses must suffer more in order to increase their commitment to armed struggle. (“The CIDA Class War in Negros”, Canadian Digest, 1:4 [Oct. 1989] ) While such an idea can be extracted from Marxist literature, it is unlikely to guide local NPA commanders. Their followers were being denied the use of a needed facility, if it was controlled by the military, and thus NPA leaders acted within their framework of justice to destroy what was seen as primarily benefitting the “exploiters”. Access to the mill was also consolidating a clientage that was being used against the Left—a problem for the NFSW in most NRDF projects.
While it is thus probably inevitable that NRDF would itself become engulfed in the conflict in Negros, the way in which it was set up hastened the process. There was not a sufficiently careful prior study of the political situation, and no evidence of “consultation” beyond the circle of Gov. Lacson’s friends.
Some of these same sorts of mistakes seemed to have been present in the formation of PDAP. NGO officers most eager to meet CIDA were those first contacted; out of this a program plan emerged. Serious consideration did not seem to be given to alternatives. Thus projects were funded which, even if they did not strengthen traditional patrons, as in Negros, were not exactly effective in mobilizing the poor in the struggle for justice. There is little evidence that PDAP contributed either to genuine development, including empowerment, or, therefore, to peacemaking.
What is now a source of hope is that CIDAlManila seems to have learned from earlier mistakes. The thoroughness and caution of the consultation leading up to the formation of PCHRD earned CIDA wide respect in the NGO community, thus forming the basis of trust for future cooperation. Furthermore, CIDA provided the venue for fruitful dialogue among Philippine NGOs that had never before met, and may have previously viewed each other with suspicion. The dialogue and the opportunity to participate in a new NGO/development process strengthens the hand of the moderates on both left and Right. And since NGOs across the spectrum have influential friends in both the government and opposition, if understanding is increased and hostility reduced among NGOs of different persuasion, it may rub off on other elites in conflict. PCHRD also increases the chances of projects that include community organization and empowerment as well as welfare, and thus the prospects of a non-violent struggle for justice.
Sober reflections, however, reminds us again that the role of CIDA and the NGOs in the total political and social system is still a minor one. So that the ability of PCHRD to contribute to peace promotion is heavily dependent on many other extraneous factors, but most particularly on the attitudes of political and economic elites. There are some dark clouds in the sky. Congress is presently debating a bill to require a central government registry of all NGOs and POs, regardless of whether they are incorporated, which will demand addresses of officers and lists of members—something that military intelligence has been wanting for a long time. If enacted and fully implemented, this could be devastating to PCHRD. A similar threat is found in the recent announcement by the Philippine military of a handsome price on the head of a top official of the NCPD, an entirely legal organization.
These are hints that CIDA will be dragged into the fray on human rights violations if it is going to be able to preserve one of its most prestigious programs. In fact, if PCHRD members do become the targets of gross human rights violations and CIDA doesn’t take a stand, it could trigger so many withdrawals as to cause the program’s collapse. A commitment to development with justice also requires, of necessity, a commitment to human rights. If external intervention is invited in one endeavor, it cannot be excluded from the other. The obstacles are many, as we have seen, but insofar as PCHRD can sustain dialogue across the political spectrum, and can promote development with justice while protecting the human rights which must be exercised in that process, it will have made some contribution to conflict resolution and the promotion of peace in a land which has certainly enjoyed too little of it in recent years.
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