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Civil society and political redemption in 2022

The post-election drama in the United States continues, and every day reports a diminution of whatever respectability and legacy Donald Trump may have earned during his four years in office. As each day passes, Trump increasingly becomes a bizarre figure, at best a national embarrassment and at worst an ominous threat to the national security of the United States.

These events are keenly observed in the Philippines, and there is a realization that the country is hurtling toward its own moment of political redemption in May 2022. But just as the Americans did not quite know what the outcome of the November elections would be, so too are Filipinos wondering whether the Duterte administration would come to pass.

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But we need to enlarge our vision beyond the actual candidates and look at the lay of the land. Where will the mobilization happen around a credible candidate that will trounce Mr. Duterte’s heir apparent at the polls? I naturally look to the civil society sector in the Philippines, which had proven itself equal to the task of helping depose Ferdinand Marcos. But what is the state of “civil society” in the Philippines today?

Last month, USAID and CODE-NGO released the Civil Society Organizational Sustainability 2019 Index for the Philippines. At first blush, the report is not encouraging, but a deeper analysis shows what could be done, perhaps over the next year, to enable it to play a more prominent and decisive role in helping bring about the Philippines’ moment of redemption.

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The main problem in waking up this sleeping giant is its amorphous character. The report says there are almost 360,000 civil society organizations (nonstock, nonprofit organizations, cooperatives, homeowner associations, labor organizations, and workers’ associations). Without proper segmentation of this sector, one wonders how a report could be written to reflect the CSO sector as a whole.

The report says that Philippine civil society has an overall sustainability score of 3.9 on a scale of 1 (highest) to 7 lowest, same as last year. This is “sustainability evolving.” This index is best appreciated by looking at the trends it has monitored since 2015, over a five-year period, and trying to relate the 7 dimensions to one another. My insights from the report are as follows:

From 2015 to 2019, the most significant driver of the sustainability of CSOs is the harsh “legal environment” (3.3 down to 3.9) of the Duterte regime. CSOs have tried to mitigate this with “sectoral infrastructure” (3.0 up to 2.9), which has enabled CSOs to sustain low levels of “financial viability” (4.2 up to 4.0) and “organizational capacity” (unchanged at 3.4). While surviving, they nevertheless reduced their “service provision” (2.9 down to 3.2) and “advocacy” (3.0 down to 3.6) performance, which are the core functions of CSOs. As a result, CSOs have suffered a deterioration of their “public image” (3.2 down to 3.6), which matches the deterioration of their “overall sustainability” (3.3 down to 3.5) In fine, the harsh legal environment cut down CSO advocacy, pulling down overall sustainability and public image.

What can CSOs do to improve their sustainability? The report shows that “sectoral infrastructure (intermediary support organizations, resource centers, CSO coalitions, training, intersectoral partnerships, local grant-making organizations) is the highest-scoring dimension. This may be the view from the “supply side” (CSOs providing sector support) but not from the demand side (CSOs requiring support). If there is a dimension that needs strengthening in order to neutralize the harsh legal environment, this is the CSO sectoral infrastructure.

What can be done to strengthen this dimension? CSOs must help increase coordination and cooperation within the sector, and enable it to “bolt-in” and move as one in crucial initiatives and issues. An incremental range of sector-building initiatives would include: (1) Teaching CSOs how to “fish” (training, capacity-building); (2) Restructuring the CSO “fishing industry,” supply-side (differentiation, segmentation, networking, synergy); (3) Restructuring the CSO “fishing industry,” demand side (sustainable consumption via community partnership, self-help, and mutual help); (4) Restructuring the whole economy to give CSOs importance and a proper role in national governance, development, and sustainability (inclusive policy, decision-making, governance); (5) Providing CSO organizational survival safety nets; and (6) Creating force multipliers for “below the radar” advocacy and service provision.

In sum, CSO sector sustainability must have 8 S’s: sector-wide sense, strategy, self-help, systems, synergy, social innovation, scale, safety nets.

All these ideas about getting to our point of political redemption make it clear that bringing about the change we seek is not easy. One needs the frame of mind of a revolutionary with project management skills to make it happen. But daunting as it may seem, it had been done in 1986, and it can be done again.

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TAGS: Donald Trump, Ferdinand Marcos, post election, US elections, USAID
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