History of Community Organizing in the Philippines
Marcos’ declaration of martial rule in 1972 altered the terrain for social movements. All progressive groups were subjected to repression while some individuals were either eliminated or arrested by the military. During the early stages of martial rule, all attempts at organizing ground to a halt, except for the Zone One Tondo Organization (ZOTO).
The repressive situation led a large number of activists to go underground and wage armed struggle against the Martial Law regime. Some organizations like the FFF were co-opted by the regime. Others simply laid low.
Church-based programs which functioned as non-government organizations (NGOs) were the first to engage in organizing despite martial law. These include the Urban and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Episcopal Commission on Tribal Filipinos, Share and Care Apostolate for Poor Settlers, and PEACE, among others.
Soon, however, NGOs resumed grassroots activities. The Philippine Ecumenical Council for Community Organization (PECCO) continued with the refinement and implementation of the community organizing (CO) approach all over the country, in combination with the Marxist structural analysis and the thinking of Saul Alinsky and Paolo Freire. Politicized NGOs used the structural analysis approach in conscientizing and mobilizing, while the Basic Christian Community framework was developed by the progressive church as a response to the needs of the time. Programs like education and health, economic enterprises and cooperative development were used as entry points for organizing to avoid getting in trouble with the dictatorship.
Various political formations saw the need to set up NGOs or influence the programs and projects of existing ones in order to pursue their own interests. On the positive side, it cannot be denied that the most effective NGOs of the period were those whose leaders and staff had ideological leanings. On the other side, internal ideological struggles wracked some NGOs as ideological debates and rivalries within the mass movement spilled over to the social development community. PECCO, for one, split in 1977 because of ideological differences among its elements, leading to the formation of two separate organizations—the Community Organization of the Philippines Enterprise (COPE) and the People’s Ecumenical Action for Community Empowerment (PEACE).
Developmental institutions eventually saw the need for more coordinated activities among themselves. In December 1972, ten foundations came together and formed the Association of Foundations (AF). The association expanded to 40 members by 1976. More progressive groups formed the Philippine Alliance for Rural and Urban Development (PARUD), a consortium of POs and NGOs with more or less the same ideological bent.
Repression continued, but opposition to the Martial Law regime became more consolidated. There was widespread unrest as the majority of the people remained mired in poverty; wages were kept at very low levels and human rights violations increased. When Martial Law was "paperlifted" in 1981, organizing efforts multiplied and innovative approaches and tools were developed and replicated all over the country. NGOs were instrumental in the development of the organized mass movement.
Human rights as an advocacy issue was effectively raised by pioneers in this field such as the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines and lawyers’ groups like Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and MABINI.
International campaigns against weapons of mass destruction, environmental conservation and sustainable development influenced the Philippine social development terrain. NGOs with these issues as primary concerns were established during the period. The women’s movement also began to flex its strength locally.
NGOs recognized the need to band together into networks for purposes of linkaging, synchronization of activities, and cooperative exchanges of experiences and resources. Networks formed during this period include the Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in the Rural Areas (PhilDHRRA) and the Council for People’s Development (CPD). Regional NGO networks such as Kahayag Foundation in Mindanao and the Consortium of Development Programs in the Cordillera were formed also.
Cooperatives went through a second wave of growth during this period. The government formed the Cooperative Union of the Philippines in 1979 and required all cooperatives to register. Independent cooperatives refused to yield and instead formed the National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO) (ACSPPA/PCHRD, 1995).
The assassination of Benigno Aquino in 1983 led to widespread street protests which became known as the "parliament of the streets." It attracted a cross section of society including previously unpoliticized sectors, such as business and the institutional Church.
There were efforts to forge unity among the anti-dictatorship forces. Several coalitions were formed: Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA), Kongreso ng Mamamayang Pilipino (KOMPIL), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) and others. But these organizations did not last long due to ideological differences among its members.
Major organizations among the ranks of the peasant, fisherfolks and indigenous peoples were organized for the purpose of advancing sectoral agendas.
Other venues of development work were explored further. Programs that focused on livelihood, gender equality, ecology, alternative legal assistance, support for migrant workers and others were implemented.
One of the issues that divided the social development sector during this period was the question of whether to participate in the 1986 snap presidential election. The mainstream national democratic movement and the NGOs and POs under its influence opted to boycott the election, while the other left-of-center formations decided to participate, albeit critically.
During the First Quarter Storm of the seventies, CO was introduced through the Philippine Ecumenical Council for Community Organization (PECCO). The group organized communities in Tondo and established the Council of Tondo Foreshore Community Organization which proved to be an organization of leaders. Re-training was carried out to improve the organizing skills of PECCO personnel. The Saul Alinsky method of conflict-confrontation developed in Chicago was adapted to conditions in Tondo. As a result, the Zone One Tondo Organization (ZOTO) was born. The program was replicated in other parts of the Philippines, including the rural areas and usually introduced through Church structures. The Alinsky CO method was refined to include reflection sessions, which were, in turn taken from Paulo Freire’s "Pedagogy of the Oppressed."
When Martial Law was declared, organizing efforts continued. During this time development workers began pushing for people’s participation and CO became the tool for achieving this. Both international development groups and government began advocating and funding CO programs. Thus, community organizing proliferated.
Even before PECCO adopted Alinsky’s practice of community organizing, the progressive section of the Catholic Church were already started organizing Basic Christian Communities (BCC) in Mindanao with the proclamation of Vatican II. It soon spread to some parts of Luzon and Visayas and the organizing was basically liturgical, employing Bible studies and other creative forms of worship. But during the Martial Law period, the BCC became a means for witnessing the Teachings and Example of Christ through socio-political work.
Cooperative formation, organizing that was socio-economic in nature, also persisted during this time.