On The Move

Duterte damage to CSOs skin-deep

The Duterte administration has been in power for three and a half years, and like a household visited by a devastating storm, Philippine civil society organizations (CSOs) have formally assessed the damage President Duterte has wrought on the sector. Overall, they have been badly shaken, but the edifice is strong and will overcome. The report is contained in the 2018 Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index for Asia, 5th Edition, November 2019. The report was developed by the United States Agency for International Development, the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance and the Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. The implementing partner for the Philippines is the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (Code-NGO). The report covers nine countries — Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

As it stands, the Philippine CSO sector reports seven dimensions of sustainability, from highest (1 max) to lowest (7 max): sectoral infrastructure, 2.9; service provision, 3.2; organizational capacity, 3.4; public image, 3.5; advocacy, 3.6; legal environment, 3.7; and financial viability, 4.0. The scale considers the range 1-3 as “sustainability enhanced,” 3.1-5.0 as “sustainability evolving,” and 5.1-7 as “sustainability impeded.”


The Philippines and Bangladesh have the highest overall sustainability scores of 3.5 and 3.8 respectively, while Burma, Cambodia and Thailand have the lowest scores ranging from 4.6 to 4.9. Only the Philippines reports a dimension score — for sectoral infrastructure — in the Sustainability Enhanced category. All told, Philippine CSOs are surviving the Duterte administration. The key to this conclusion is in distinguishing the “hard” from the “soft” dimensions. In the tactical or “soft” dimensions of sustainability, there have been visible deterioration.

The legal environment at 3.7 showed the greatest damage, going down from 3.5 in 2017. In fact, it has steadily deteriorated from 3.2 in 2014 due to reports of state harassment of CSOs, human rights defenders and advocates, activists and lawyers representing marginalized groups.


Advocacy at 3.6 saw a steady drop from 2015’s 3.0, 2016’s 3.3 and 2017’s 3.5. CSO advocacy weakened as self-censorship increased and mobilization for protest actions slackened due to the President’s verbal offensive against his critics.

The public image of CSOs at 3.5 last year deteriorated from a high of 3.2 in 2016 and 3.4 in 2017. This paralleled the drop in the Philippines’ spot in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index by six spots as Mr. Duterte verbally attacked major media companies, including Rappler, Inquirer and ABS-CBN, for alleged biased coverage of his war on drugs.Service provision at 3.2 deteriorated from the 2017 score of 2.9, which was an uptick from the constant 3.0 from 2014 to 2016. CSOs continued with their diverse goods and services in the areas of health, legal assistance, training and research, housing, environmental protection, communications, product development, and savings and credit. In the strategic, “hard” sustainability components, CSOs are undamaged. Sectoral infrastructure supporting the CSO sector at 2.9 was unaffected by the Duterte administration. This score has been constant since 2015. The challenges that Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) brought in 2013, among others, have induced higher levels of overall capacity development among CSOs.

Similarly, organizational capacity at 3.4 was steady, as the scores were unchanged since 2014. Several CSOs report that due to decreased funding, they have been forced to downsize operations by reducing personnel or suspending operations altogether in 2018. On the other hand, constituency-building was stronger last year, as advocacy CSOs mobilized thousands of protesters over the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.Even financial viability at 4.0 was the same as that for 2016 to 2017. In fact, it had improved from 2014 to 2016 (4.2 to 4.0). Some 67 percent of service delivery organizations continued to get foreign funding, while 50 percent received government funding and 20 percent worked on procurement contracts.It is clear from the above that the damage wrought by the Duterte administration on CSOs is only skin-deep. Filipino CSOs have earned their rightful place in a society mired in poverty and inequality, natural and human-made disasters, political dynasties and corruption, lack of political vision and civic competence, and quick-fix governance. In such a country, real authority over the long term is not political; it comes from tangible contributions to societal welfare.

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TAGS: civil society organizations, CSOs, On The Move, Rodrigo Duterte, Segundo Eclar Romero
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