Tag Archives: Iloilo Coalition of NGOs and POs

Open letter to our colleagues and partners in welfare and development endeavors

Today starts the celebration of the 14th NGO PO Week in Iloilo. Spearheaded by the Iloilo Coalition of NGOs and POs (ICON), the annual celebration is done in partnership with the provincial and city government to give due recognition to the role of Non-government organizations (NGOs) and People’s Organizations (POs), and other civil society organizations in nation building. It has been institutionalized by Provincial Ordinance No. 2000-042 and City Regulation Ordinance 2001-190.

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This year’s theme is “Reclaim our Noble Heritage: Sustain the Power of Networking.” It was supposedly intended to respond to the multi-billion pork barrel scam that has besmirched the noble aim and name of NGOs. In fact, the planned highlight of the celebration is the big gathering of NGOs and POs in the city and province of Iloilo to tackle the current national crisis brought about by the pork barrel scam. As well, as the subsequent backlash even to genuine organizations that have been consistently serving the marginalized sectors of the society. At the planning stage, we felt the need to strengthen our ranks through linkages and networking to safeguard the organizations from fly-by-night ones. We consider the crisis an opportunity to bring into the public consciousness the noble heritage and role of NGOs in nation building.

In fact, in a statement published after the finalization of the plan last November 2, ICON has deplored the use of fake NGOs in a conspiracy to steal taxpayer’s money which besmirched the noble aim and name of non-government organizations . The Coalition has observed two angles in the current controversy- the systemic graft and corruption practices and the role of the NGOs.

We considered the act a double injury. The large -scale misuse of the people’s money is outrageous. Siphoning money out of government coffers thru fake NGOs adds insult to injury. For it besmirch the good image established by the genuine NGOs for decades. Worse, it provides justification to some government officials and local chief executives who do not feel comfortable with the watchful eyes of NGOs and their seeming intervention as provided for by the local government code in the Philippines. For indeed, one way of averting the systemic robbery in our government is to involve genuine NGOs in monitoring projects.

MASIPAG Visayas handles the relief operation of the Philippine-Misereor Partnership, Inc.-Panay Cluster to famers in San Dionisio, iloilo

However, as we started our information-dissemination campaign Typhoon Yolanda had overtaken us, as it battered the Central Philippines. We almost forgot our plans as respective NGO members started their initial response in the form of relief operation. It was just last week, when the board of directors reviewed the theme and the activities for the week-long celebration. We have decided to continue with the theme, as this current crisis provides the same opportunity to reclaim our noble heritage. Such nobility is manifested, among others, in the quick response of NGOs to the recent needs, havoc, and ravages brought about by Typhoon Yolanda to supplement the government’s intervention.

We have simplified the celebration, though, due to pressing needs of the time which have also made our officers and member organizations busy in respective relief operation and rehabilitation plans. The following are the activities we decided to retain out of the previous plan:

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December 2, 2:00 pm Opening of Photo Exhibit, Robinsons Place,                                                              Iloilo City
December 3 – 8:30 am, Forum on Volunteerism, 4th floor                                                                              Henry Luce III Libraries, Central Philippine University
December 6- 8:30 am NGO-PO Fellowship and Capability Building                                                           Seminar, 4th floor Henry Luce III Libraries, CPU
December 7- Advocacy- Dialogue with NSTP students in various                                                             universities and colleges

The supposed highlight of the celebration on December 6 will be spent, instead, to discuss how we can maximize our participation  in the  on-going relief operation and  how we can sustain linkages and networking in helping in the rehabilitation or rebuilding process. In this way, our theme will still be relevant in responding to the crises in our country in various fronts or aspects. Despite the  crises, let us continue to celebrate this milestone of networking in Iloilo.

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We need more politics to sustain our network

Now that we have reached the 13th year of celebration, we are certain to sustain the activity in the coming years. For number 13 has been considered both unlucky and lucky number. Countries around the world associated the number 13 with either luck or disaster. Let the debates go on. Regardless of the result, the fact remains that we have survived the 13th year which, for me, assures us of a bright future.

Slide1For the past 12 years we have experienced both worlds – the peak and the lowest condition of the Iloilo Coalition of NGOs and POs (ICON) advocacy work particularly in spearheading the NGO PO Week celebration. To quote the wedding vow, we were together in “times of plenty and times of want, sickness and health, joy and sorrow, failure and triumph.” There was a time we had two full time staff, at other times, none.

ICON is a story of struggles – from the lobbying stage for the institutionalization of the non-government organization s and people’s organizations (NGO PO) Week to the subsequent pioneering days in organizing the network. We also struggled to sustain both the coalition and politics in the government.

A review of the history will help us understand the state of our coalition, learn lessons from the past to guide us in another decade of development. Circumstances, indeed, had determined the nature of the organization. Looking back, I realized that what sustains us for years is POLITICS. It has been defined in various ways to capture the complexities of relations of people in the society involving authority or power. Some even thought of politics as sort of “intrigue or maneuvering within a political unit or group in order to gain control or power.”

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While we might have experienced these elements in our 12 years of struggle, I want to qualify what I mean by politics that sustains our network. It is an acrostic/acronym which capsulizes the sustaining elements in our organization, as follows: Participation, Optimism, Lobbying, Integrity, Tact, Interdependence, Coordination, and Spirituality.

Participation

Historically, the NGO PO Week, which gave birth to ICON was a by product of participation. When seemingly moderate organizations decided to take an active role in the mainstream of politics in the development council, which was dominated by veteran leaders, and subsequently captured the slot for the civil society organizations representative.

Thereafter, we have sustained our activities throughout the years, as well as our relationship, because of your participation. As development workers and empowerment advocates, we share common understanding of participatory approach and apply such in our network.

Optimism

Our existence as network has been characterized by ups and downs. The task to convince veteran organizers of various persuasions to form the coalition and sustain it had been taxing and wearisome. We also struggled to sustain both the coalition and politics in the government. We even had the foretaste of tug-of-war of politicians at Capitol during elections.But we succeeded against all odds because of our optimism. Such optimism will continue to guide us for another decade of struggle.

Lobbying

An effective tool but less applied by NGOs because of its association with traditional politics, lobbying sustains our relationship with government partners. The provision of the local government code for our participation in the development councils and local special bodies become a sort of leverage in our lobbying. Having represented the NGOs in the Executive Committee of the provincial development council for many years, I have learned how to maximize such privilege in lobbying.

Integrity

ICONWith pride I can say that, as a whole, ICON has maintained its integrity. Of course, there were tensions and even skirmishes among officers in the past but as a network our integrity remains intact as far as relationship with the government and the public is concerned. We were never accused of using others for our own needs or advantage. Neither did we allow our network to be used by others, much more the politicians. We always work in partnership with others for mutual advantage.

Tact

Our delicate condition as loose organization and task in coalition building has developed in us the skill to handle or deal with difficult or delicate situations. We have experienced crises but handled it with tact. I can still recall an instance when some of the member organizations protested against an electric company related to power supply and used our office for mobilization which created friction from other members who were supportive of the company. More important than citing other cases is the fact we were able to handle all these with tact and further developed our skills in handling more issues.

Interdependence

I always relate our relationship in the network to the beauty of the rainbow which is an excellent representation of systems theory. While there are only three primary colors (red, yellow, blue) there is a multiplication of colors when these link, interact, and overlap. Try to separate one from the other, and the beauty of rainbow is gone. Yes, it is our interdependence that gives color to our relationship, no mater how fragile it may be.

Coordination

The nature of our network is ambivalent. Since we are not implementor of projects we do not have much fund. On the other hand, we are not a threat to other organizations as we just facilitate and coordinate the welfare and development activities of NGOs and POs, as well as the government agencies in order to maximize resources.

Spirituality

By spirituality, I do not necessarily mean religiosity. Although we have religious sectors in our network since its founding. In fact, their presence have been instrumental in sustaining our integrity. However, spirituality is meant here as relationship among people, the non human environment and God. Thus, spirituality is eclectic and inclusive than religion. It encourages diversity and encompasses other relationship and beliefs. It is spirituality that serves as the well spring of our voluntary endeavors.

Yes, it’s  politics (participation, optimism,lobbying, integrity, tact, interdependence, coordination, and spirituality) that sustained our network for a dozen of years. We need more of these  politics  to sustain us in the next decades of networking towards development.
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Message delivered during the ICON Assembly of Leaders on December 6, 2012 at  the Conference Room, University Research Center, Central Philippine University to culminate the 13th NGO PO Week celebration in Iloilo.

EDSA Revolution: A Shift in Life’s Direction

Our forum on EDSA Revolution was successfully conducted this morning at the Reading Area of Henry Luce III Libraries of Central Philippine University. It was our way of celebrating the 26th Anniversary of the People Power Revolution. The activity was co sponsored by the Department of Social Work, Office for Student Affairs, and the Iloilo Coalition of Non-government organizations and People’s organizations (ICON).

Dubbed EDSA Revolution: Recollections, Lessons and Relevance to the New Generation, the forum was an attempt to bring into the consciousness of the young historical insights to make them value the God-given freedom. Our resource persons were consistent advocates of human rights and front liners in local mass actions even until now. They were joined by a young Baptist pastor who shared his theological reflections on the relevance of the unprecedented event in our faith.

I could not help being nostalgic even at the start of the program when my social work students sang the Bayan Ko. The song was often sung during the protest rallies and even religious prayer rallies during the dictatorial rule. It has become popular that some considered it the unofficial national anthem of the Philippines. Inevitably, memories flashed back in my mind when we joined the people’s struggle at that time.

Yes, Protestant Christians, or should I say Baptists, were participants in the struggle, too. Some of our youth and pastors who dared to brave the “darkest nights” were gone without seeing the dawn. Their contribution was never documented, neither appreciated by the Baptist community. Others continue to live with the stigma of the haunting past.

Unlike others, we were not there in EDSA to experience the birth pangs of restored democracy and jubilation in winning the battle. But we were with the group of peasants, workers, student activists holed in Sta. Teresita Church, Iloilo City for some days. At that time, there was a stalemate in constant clashes between rallyists and government troops. Cornered, the former found refuge in the church and started to appeal for help from middle forces.

I was among those who responded, representing the church sector. Bringing blankets, food contributed by seminarians, pastors, church members, and some CPU students and faculty, I was not able to leave the place due to security risks brought about by heightened tension. There, we served as negotiators, peace keepers, counselors, planners for the ecumenical services and prayers, advocates to get more support to sustain the needs.

My political conversion took place some years earlier while doing pastoral ministry to political detainees in Camp Delgado. Raised up in seemingly apolitical environment, my primary motivation was to witness for Christ which I did. However, when they also shared their work and struggles, I could not help but being awed by their commitment, dedication, courage and strong resolve in the service of people.

I felt humbled to think that these people who were not even so much concerned about their faith in God or the lack of it have this kind of love to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters. Unlike those who confessed and professed to be followers of Christ but failed to put such faith into practice.

Thereafter, I became interested in studying Philippine realities, attending symposium, forum on human rights, joining prayer rallies, organizing seminarians and pastors. At times, I just enrolled part-time in the seminary to have more time doing volunteer work in church-related organizations. In 1984, with only one semester left before graduation, I decided to work full time doing solidarity work during the intensification of the people’s struggle.

After the historic EDSA ’86, I decided to go back to the seminary to resume my studies. It was then that I realized the price I had to pay. For technical reason my return to the seminary was disallowed. Upon our dean’s advise, I shifted to social work and return to the seminary upon compliance of the requirements.

My first year was sort of a test on how to survive the isolation from Christian community because of past experiences and the trauma attached to my involvement. With the help of my family and my beloved and the support of significant people, I finished my Bachelor of Science in Social Work degree and employed in the University. Thereafter, I also earned my Theology degree.

Gradually, I recovered from the isolation and was given more opportunities for development including masteral study at University of the Philippines- Diliman. It was also within those period that a major split and bloody rift among former comrades began to intensify. Confronted with various crossroads, I tried to find other means to continue my commitment to serve the people. Hence, the shift in my life’s direction.