Social Climate

We top Asean in (genuine) NGOs

/ 11:05 PM August 30, 2013

Our nongovernment organizations (NGOs) have been blooming for a long, long time.  Here is an assessment from a quarter-century ago:

“Of all the ASEAN NGOs, the Filipino ones are the most numerous, radical and most innovative in terms of tactics and strategies—there are NGOs in almost every sphere of life, leading to a great complexity in the social and political process.  They have also been most able to reach down to the grass  roots and in a number of issues have been able to solicit and obtain active support from the lower classes.  Much of this success is due to painstaking grass-root organization work by full-time organizers, and a people-oriented approach to problem solving, although some Filipino activists will disclaim that NGOs have done enough mass work.”


This is by social scientist Lim Teck Ghee, in “Non-government organizations and human development: the ASEAN experience,” based on his research in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand (in the book “Reflections in Development in Southeast Asia,” Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1988).  He observes:

“It is also in the Philippines that the ferment of alternative development strategies and alternative systems is most pronounced.  How much of this is due to the more radical Filipino popular political culture or whether this is a reaction to the perceived excesses of authority is not clear.  Obviously, too, the faltering economy which has badly affected both Filipino lower and middle classes, and especially aroused the ire of the latter group, has been an important factor in explaining the radicalization of NGOs here.”


Teck Ghee did his study in 1983-1985, on a research grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. We became good friends, since I was another grantee, along with Arief Budiman, Reynaldo

Ileto, Kanok Wongtrangan, Chandra Muzaffar, and Somboon Suksamran.  The group met periodically, a few days at a time, ending with two intensive weeks in October 1985, at the memorable Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy.

Teck Ghee focused on developmental NGOs— genuine ones of course, not fakes like those recently exposed as pork barrel thieves.  NGOs “see their work as explicitly situated in the context of a wider concern for progressive social development and change in the society.  … [T]heir main concern really is with all the various groups and classes found in the society and with wider social processes. … Among the severest critics of bureaucracy have been the NGOs but to what extent they can actually persuade the power holders to decentralize authority to community structures (including NGOs) or establish public control systems that ensure adequate social accountability is an open question that depends as much on the wisdom of the present power holders as on the skill of the NGOs to walk the tightrope between permissible and ‘subversive’ or ‘anti-national’ dissent.”

Teck Ghee’s perspective of the Philippines was a revelation to me.  He recognized that many Filipino NGOs had been forged from the heat of the struggle against the Marcos autocracy.  One evening in Penang, when our research group was at dinner, and I requested the Filipina vocalist to sing “Bayan ko,” the non-Filipinos were struck as she sang it sobbingly.

Upon returning from Bellagio, I learned that the Securities and Exchange Commission had approved, on Aug. 8, the papers of SWS as a non-stock, nonprofit scientific organization.  After 28 years, SWS continues to provide the public with alternative statistics on meaningful development.

Lim Teck Ghee is now CEO of Centre for Policy Initiatives, a nonprofit policy reform organization established in 2007, which provides the public, academia, private sector, government and other key stakeholders in Malaysia with accurate information, data and analysis on vital national issues affecting the country’s economy and society, and acts as an independent watchdog on democratization, good governance and public policy reform.

He is a personal affirmation of his study’s conclusion that NGOs “have persisted in working for social reform and change through peaceful means and open approaches that cut across traditional racial, religious and other social and class lines.  They have also articulated the important view that if society is to survive, it must take a long-term and more holistic view… and place equity and justice considerations in the forefront of development.  These views differ considerably from the short-term, fragmented view of development indulged in by politicians and other vested interest groups in the society.”


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Telling genuine NGOs from fakes is easy.  For instance, the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), covering over 1,600 NGOs, people’s organizations and cooperatives, is the country’s largest coalition working for social development.  Its executive director Sixto Macasaet complains: “Why is it that legitimate NGOs find it very difficult to avail of government funding support for their worthy projects, yet dubious individuals are able to use bogus NGOs to run rings around government financial rules?”

The Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) is a private, nonprofit body that certifies NGOs that meet established minimum criteria for financial management and accountability.  SWS is proud of being repeatedly certified by PCNC.

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Pan Xenia 90th Anniversary, Sept. 23, 2013: To my brods in the second oldest fraternity of UP, see you at the anniversary dinner, at 6:30 p.m., Champagne Room, Manila Hotel.

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Contact SWS: or [email protected]

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TAGS: Asean, NGO, nongovernment organizations
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