Archive for the ‘Leadership’ category

Nestor Pestelos and the Poetry of Development

June 27, 2015

NMP Book cover

Yesterday, I was invited to introduce the book of Nestor M. Pestelos at its launch in the Quezon National High School.

While waiting for him to arrive, some students of QNHS interviewed me. One question which I sought to answer is how poetry relates to development work. Nestor is better know as a development worker, with international agencies, the province of Bohol, and now with his NGO. But listening to yesterday’s stories about him, his schoolmates and teachers knew him as a poet, with a “magical realist” style and sensibility.

Listening to him tell the story of his move from Quezon to Bohol, I realise better why he calls himself an “old warrior.” He was part of our Dekada 70 generation. He was hunted, eventually captured and detained, many of his closest friends tortured and killed.

Yesterday, I reflected aloud on how poetry is important for development work. But after knowing more about Nestor’s life, I want to rewrite what I said.

In the meantime, let me post the short essay I contributed to his book:

Nestor Pestelos and the Poetry of Development

Prose is the default language of development.

His lifetime commitment has given Nestor Pestelos a rich development vocabulary, including key words like logical frameworks and SWOT analysis, performance indicators and means of verification, benchmarks and baselines, milestones and timelines, impacts, assumptions and risks.

Nestor is also familiar with the math and algorithms of development. He even spent his retirement funds developing software for mapping and measuring poverty, the Poverty Database Monitoring System.

Now, late in his life, he has published 33 poems.

Are these poems his escape from the prose of development? A way to set his spirit free from the limits of development discourse?

Nestor explains: “I was writing these poems as therapy. As I approached and turned 70 I became increasingly self-critical of the road I had taken. I felt that all my hard work in development, which claimed most of a lifetime, had not amounted to anything significant at all…

“I needed again to believe in something – to gain optimism despite moral setbacks everywhere. In writing the poems, snatching time in- between meetings or worrying about them, I gained emotional distance from events or personalities which frustrated me.”

Two successive events jolted Nestor and his wife Jojie. His father in-law died a day before the magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Bohol in October 2013: “We realized much more how fragile life was. Images of corpses on the streets in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in Samar and Leyte reinforced this feeling.”

He stopped writing poems.

Nestor and Jojie plunged into distributing relief goods, raising funds and soliciting construction materials to build transition core houses so that families could move from their tents and makeshift shelter.

There was overwhelming response from within and outside Bohol. The earthquake victims and communities moved as one to help build their houses.

Nestor writes: “The disaster galvanized whole communities again towards a common goal. Indeed, the earthquake restored our waning faith in local communities. We were surprised by their capacity to fight off dependency and hopelessness.”

Did Nestor give up poetry when he decided to focus on relief, reconstruction, and development? Not really, if we believe Juan Galman, an Argentinian poet:

Poetry is a way of living.
Look at the people at your side. Do they eat? Suffer? Sing? Cry?

Help them fight for their hands, their eyes, their mouth, for the kiss to kiss and the kiss to give away, for their table, their bread, their letter a and their letter h, for their past — were they not children? — for their present, for the piece of peace, of history and happiness that belongs to them, for the piece of love, big, small, sad, joy, that belongs to them and is taken away in the name of what, of what?

Your life will then be an innumerable river to be called pedro, juan, ana, maria, bird, lung, the air, my shirt, violin, sunset, stone, that handkerchief, old waltz, wooden horse.

Poetry is this. Afterward, write it.

In his introduction, Nestor links his initial “dimly-perceived need to publish a collection of poems” to his advocacy to build more core houses for those rendered homeless by the earthquake: “We will then go beyond therapy if we again venture to write and publish another set of poems.”

As he pours his energy into reconstruction and development work, Nestor is doing poetry.

We hope he will write it, soon.

Coco Hubs

February 22, 2015

Coco Hubs is the “nickname” for Integrated Coconut Agro-Industrial Hubs.

It is a program of government that seeks to address the problem of small coconut farmers whose only income from coconuts are from their sale of copra or nuts to traders who aggregate them and in turn sell them to large mills that are far from the farms.

By supporting the setting up of small and medium size processing plants, the Coco Hubs program seeks to make the small coconut farmers go beyond being raw material producers to being participants in the higher value-adding part of the coconut value chain.

Last Friday, I was asked to speak on the Coco Hubs at a forum sponsored by SOAP, the group whose mission is to Spread Organic Agriculture in the Philippines.

Am posting the slides I prepared.

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3 Lessons about Popular Education from Johnny Flavier

November 1, 2014


Juan Flavier RIPIn death, as in his life, Juan Flavier, or Johnny, as he preferred to be called, is deservedly hailed for his many achievements in public service,  as Secretary of Health and as a two-term Senator.

Let me add to the tributes, and give special thanks to him for these lessons about popular education.

The Power of Parables

The two volumes of his Parables of the Barrio continue to be best sellers.

According to Jimmy Tan, when Secretary Flavier had to give a speech without time to prepare, all he needed was a list of the main points. Then he would develop them by telling stories, usually spiced with humour.

I first got to know about Johnny Flavier through his use of metaphors from agriculture to explain issues of reproductive health. A parable is like a metaphor, expanded as a story.

We can apply to his parables the description of UP historians about history – sanaysay na may saysay. In more contemporary Pilipino – kwentong may kwenta.

Laugh and Learn

His sense of humor is legendary. And it was never malicious. At most, it was mischievous. Given his size, it can be described as “elfin.”

The absence of malice reflects his persona. Boy Morales once told me that Johnny Flavier’s advantage is that he comes across as non-threatening.

His humour combined with his use of metaphors and parables, enabled him to explain difficult and sensitive topics.

Although his quips and jokes came across as spontaneous and effortless, he said that he would repeatedly rehearse any fresh material before a full length mirror.

You can’t please everyone

Despite his efforts and skill at communication, he did not persuade or convince everyone. This was particularly true of his advocacy on reproductive health. Many conservative church and lay leaders mounted a negative campaign against him during the elections.

Did they refuse his explanations and advocacy because they did not understand him? They did understand him only too well.

Their hostile reaction is not due to Johnny Flavier’s lack of skill and persistence. It is proof of the aphorism of Aristotle adopted by Thomas Aquinas: “Quidquid recipitur, recipitur secundum modum recipients.” 

Kailash and the Global Campaign for Education

October 12, 2014

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala and to Kailash is welcomed by education campaigners as a recognition of our campaigning work. I am reposting my reflections in 2007 after listening to Kailash in Phnom Penh.

Campaigning Inside and Outside

At the Asia-Pacific conference of GCE members in Phnom Penh, the speeches of Kailash Satyarthi the president of GCE offered useful perspectives on advocacy work by civil society organizations or CSOs.

In 1990 at Jomtien, Thailand, where the first Declaration on Education for All, or EFA, was signed by governments, he said that there was no civil society participation; though Aloysius, the Education International representative said EI was there. But in the run up to the 2000 conference in Dakar, Senegal, the two international organizations, Global March against Child labor and Education International, decided to actively get engaged, together with other INGOs who are both funding and campaigning agencies.

The first GCE included national campaign coalitions notably CAMPE, the Campaign for Popular Education in Bangladesh which had been set up in response to Jomtien. According to Kailash, it was through CSO advocacy that “education as a fundamental human right” was included in the preamble in the Dakar declaration, unlike in Jomtien. They also insisted on establishing an international monitoring group that would insure that governments fulfilled the commitments they signed; this is now called the High Level Group which is meeting tomorrow in Dakar.Later, GCE also played a crucial role in establishing the Fast Track Initiative (FTI), a funding facility specific for EFA.

From service delivery to policy advocacy

Kailash emphasized that GCE represents a successful example of the changing role of NGOs and civil society from service delivery to policy advocacy. For CSOs this means going beyond previous roles of delivering services to the people, either autonomously (usually funded from abroad) or subcontracted by governments, though this continues to be needed and valid. To create impact on a wider scale, CSOs need to engage in advocacy campaigns to hold governments accountable and fulfill their responsibilities to their citizens.

Development jargon has picked this up as a “rights-based approach” to development. The “3 Rs” campaign of Enet Philippines is in the same spirit – Rights, Responsibilities, Resources.

Since I am posting this on December 10, Human Rights Day, I recall the additional perspective that Kailash presented. He said that the right to education was included in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, but until Jomtien or 40 years later, the United national did not hold any high level conference, much less a summit, on education.

Without an organized campaign and constituency, declarations will not be followed up by action and funding. The lesson is that rights, like freedom, will not be given motu proprio, even by those who have pledged to deliver them.

But we cannot simply take care of ourselves in the name of self-reliance, and let governments go scot free of their responsibility. CSOs have arrived at the same conclusion in their respective national contexts. What is more difficult and which makes GCE’s achievement remarkable, is doing this globally.

The level of frustration that we experience in dealing with individual governments is multiplied when dealing with intergovernmental institutions. And the level of resources needed – not just funds, but time and skills – is much greater. No wonder international NGOs who are both funders and campaigners play a more dominant role, even if most members of the global network are based in individual countries.

Acknowledging the limits of campaigning

Despite the specific successes that Kailash asked us to celebrate, he also acknowledged the sobering limits of CSO campaigning.

At the High Level Group meetings, few “high level’ heads of agencies and states attend. The funds committed to the FTI are less than what is needed. The role of UNESCO as convenor leaves much to be desired. But compared to where we started, and would surely have much less achievement, there is more hope than frustration.

There is of course the problem of attribution. How much of the results can we claim is due to CSO campaigning? Would governments have done them anyway even if we didn’t pressure them? Proving causality is a tricky challenge. Perhaps we can borrow from an unlikely source – Mao Zedong’s aphorism that the reason for change is internal, but for it to operate it may need external conditions, like the egg that won’t hatch unless there is enough heat from outside. Sol Alinsky has a different and slightly more cynical comment: “People in high places can be made to do the right thing, usually for the wrong reason.”

The mid-term external evaluation of GCE adds another caution. Its effective engagement with the global institutions may eventually brand it as just another “insider,” the latest in international power players who meet and debate and issue declarations. This is an important agenda in the run up to the GCE World Assembly in Sao Paolo. How does GCE insure that its “outside” campaigning is given its due emphasis?

Claiming space inside, maintaining pressure outside

Enet Philippines is facing similar challenges. We have been designated as the CSO co-chair of the National EFA Committee. From a comparative international perspective, this is quite an achievement, and the Philippine government has used this and other forms of CSO engagement to claim “pogi points.”

When this happened, I wondered aloud if we should claim it as a success or worry that it is a way of being coopted. Does being co-chair mean that we are co-responsible for the poor performance of the education system? After all the mid-decade Philippine EFA report (2000-2005) admits that we have fallen short of almost all targets.

What about our role as citizens demanding government to fufill its responsibilities? There is need to put pressure from the outside. After all the “partnership” of CSOs with government does not make us co-equal or co-responsible. It is still government that has the main responsibility to deliver on its EFA commitments. It is our responsibility as citizens to claim our rights and call on government to fulfill its obligations.

Those who have managed to claim space for inside campaigning need the voices and numbers of outside campaigners. This is not easy. The annual GCE global action week has mobilized over 5 million in hundreds of countries this April 2007. But what about the rest of the year? The same challenge faces Enet within the Philippines. In addition to taking part in the annual April global action week, we have a second campaign in September on adult learning and lifelong learning. They take a lot of time and energy, and we have limited funds.

And there is always the nagging question – to what extent have our activities not only created public awareness, but have brought about policy or program changes?


Paris 2011


Remembering Jesse Robredo

August 19, 2014


Jesse Robredo and CO

The Local Government Code she signed into law toward the end of her term is a less acknowledged legacy of Cory Aquino’s presidency. But for those who have persisted in the work of organizing people for power at the basic community level, this provided a framework for new possibilities. But also new challenges to classical organizing.

After EDSA 1986, the focus of those who wanted more than a mere restoration of pre-martial law democracy was on new spaces at the national level – constitutional provisions on more direct democracy, like initiative, referendum, and recall. Later, the provision for special party lists.

Coming from the years of struggle for national issues, against the central government, most activists especially those in Metro Manila did not give as much attention to engaging local governments.

My own experience is illustrative. When I visited my hometown of Naujan after my informal exile in Europe, my high school classmate Nelson Melgar, who was the town mayor, challenged me: “When will you help your own hometown?”

We decided to work together to train the devolved agricultural extension workers in community organizing. After that, we scanned the barangays for national NGOs working in the area. We found a number of them, but they were not in touch with the local government.

Participatory Local Governance

The more systematic introduction I got to PLG – participatory local governance, came from Gerry Bulatao who headed a consortium with two key partners, Balay Mindanaw in Misamis Oriental, with Kaloy Manlupig and Ayi Hernandez, and Teody Pena of Quidan Kaisahan and Paginupdanay in Negros Occidental.

Although they were a national consortium, their focus was on local governance and development, in mainly rural communities. Hence the contentious issue of agrarian reform remained a central concern. But what interested me most was their organizing innovation to form sectoral people’s organizations and to forge their partnership with the local government at the barangay-bayan level.

Their field staff would train leaders of people’s organizations in CO-CD (community organizing for community development). The barangay officials would be given a separate training on provisions of the local government code on people’s participation. Then the two groups would come together to do joint participatory rural appraisal, followed by drawing up a barangay development plan, whose results were presented to a pledging session with government and non-government agencies.

The new approach had uneven results, especially on issues like agrarian reform that could not be resolved only at the local level. The organizers had to develop additional skills, especially in alliance work.

PLG had the perspective of SIAD (sustainable integrated area development). That’s why Kaloy called the community organizers SIADO – sustainable integrated area development organizers. It also communicated the orientation that the organizers should have, to be unobstrusive like shadows and focus on the growth of the PO leaders and barangay officials.

A similar orientation and approach was used in the programs of ANIAD in Antique, with Arnold Vandenbroek and Goldie Chan. They asked Oca Francisco and COPE to train their field staff in the classical organizing methods.

What about conflict-confrontation?

The challenge of PLG was how to balance the emphasis on helping mobilize people to act independently on their issues, and helping them and the barangay officials to work together on agreed upon priorities. There were still confrontations and negotiations, not so much with barangay officials but higher officials.

The default mode of classical organizing is to treat officals as unwilling to respond except under democratic pressure. As the people experience positive partnership with some local officials, they had to adjust their understanding of people power, as not just for resistance but also for engagement.

Jesse Robredo’s has said that “Good local governance can be the conclusion of our unfinished revolution.” He followed this up with words that could be, but should not be misread, as discouraging militancy: “This revolution can also be anchored on people like you, who serve rather than criticize, collaborate rather than divide, build up rather than tear down. People who engage to understand.”

Institutionalizing People Power: The Naga City People’s Council

Those of us who advocated popular democracy, to include principled partnership with reformers in government, still prefered to look for ways to institutionalize people power outside the existing power institutions.

We were pleasantly suprised at Cory Aquino’s call to make people power permanent in the form of people’s councils, and held consultations at the national level on how to implement it.

It took the NagaPopdem activists to establish this on the ground in Naga City. It helped that the city mayor was Jesse Robredo, open to engagement with the citizenry. But the bigger factor was the strong presence of NGOs and people’s organizations in the city. They set up the Naga City People’s Council, and used this as the platform for engaging the elected city officials.

They went one step further. With the encouragement of Mayor Jesse, they successfully lobbied for the passage of a city ordinance that recognized the Naga City People’s Council and formalized its access to the processes and structures of the city council.

The NCPC experience deserves a more in depth study, since it is still a work in progress, with its share of success and challenges. But it poses an important question to those who are committed to organizing people for power. As we build strong people’s organizations through issue-based mobilization, conflict-confrontation, and negotiations, is our perspective to use this power only to elect or be elected as officials?

Or is a people’s council the way to institutionalize people power independently while also seeking to enter the established institutions of power?

The challenge is how to insure that the members of the people’s council maintain their initiative, and not let the secretariat do the work. And for the people’s council itself to pursue independent action and not limit itself to joint work with government.

This reminds me of an idea from the revolutionary movement on alliances – “Independence and initiative within the united front.”

New wineskins and new wine

Naga City had another innovation called “reengineering the local school board.” Jesse Robredo opened the local school board to citizens’ participation beyond its traditional members. Legal constraints did not allow the new participants to vote, but they had full rights to take part in the scrutiny of how the special education fund would be spent.

In this case there was greater initative from the government compared to the citizens. Ideally, a reengineered school board should have a counterpart base in an independent coalition of education advocates and stakeholders, similar to the Naga City People’s Council.

In rural barangays, some NGOs pursued the idea of a council of people’s organizations independent of the elected barangay council. But as PLG programs developed, instead of setting up these people’s council, organizers chose to use the mandated Barangay Development Council as the structure for institutionalizing people’s participation.

The Barangay Development Council is mandated to have at least 20% of its members from community leaders other than the elected officials. And the BDC has the power to allocate the barangay development funds for priority projects which are identified in the process of developing the barangay development plan..

These structures are like new wineskins. But they also need new wine. Otherwise, the danger is that they will be new ways of coopting and taming the people’s energies, rather than new ways of tempering them in these new sites of struggle.

Beyond Islands of Hope: Toward an Archipelago of Hope

Participatory local governance and good local governance are a welcome source of hope for organizers of people for power. They offer useful lessons. And their numbers continue to increase, symbolized by the Galing Pook award winners for excellence in local governance.

The award gives much weight to the leadership of the elected officials and the impact of their projects. The criteria include people’s participation, but this is not as well measured. I am glad to hear from Eddie Dorotan of the Galing Pook foundation that they are developing an award for citizens’ participation.

Although we celebrate and value these local “islands of hope,” we ask ourselves: What about the national level? How do we work toward a whole “archipelago of hope?”

At a workshop organized by Synergeia, I heard this question posed to Jesse Robredo, a multiple Galing Pook awardee. He didn’t know then that he would have the chance to do something about it.

As Secretary of the DILG, one of his innovations was initially called BUB, “bottoms up budgeting” based on local poverty reduction action plans, LPRAP. This was meant to make the local government involve the people’s organizations in making their local development plan. Another is his full support for the option of “people’s proposals” for resettling urban poor settlers from endangered sites.

What more could Jesse have accomplished had he not died?


Resilient Partners

August 10, 2014

Last August 6, NEA and the electric coops celebrated the 45ht anniversary of rural electrification int he Philippines.

We launched three books about rural electrification, including one I wrote – Resilient Partners. I am posting the introductory chapter;

The story of a resilient partnership

 In 2009, the Philippine rural electrification program celebrated its 40th anniversary. That was also the year when the program reached a major milestone – the energization of all but a few barangays in the countryside. To tell the story of what has been called the most successful development program in our country, I wrote a book, Electric Dreams.

Many leaders of the electric cooperatives and advocates of rural electrification have expressed appreciation for Electric Dreams. They have recommended it as a useful introduction for those who want to know more about rural electrification and electric cooperatives.

Stories for a sequel

Last year, NEA Administrator Edith Bueno suggested: “You should consider writing a sequel for our 45th anniversary in 2014.”

I took up her suggestion, but not only to celebrate the 45th anniversary. There is at least one important story worth telling in a sequel – President Aquino’s commitment to rural electrification, and his goal of achieving the next milestone of energizing all remaining sitios by the end of his term. It is the logical next milestone after barangay electrification.

There is a second story worth telling in a sequel – the recent rapid response of the electric cooperatives and NEA to restore the electricity distribution systems in all the places that were hard hit by supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan), especially on the island of Leyte.

To accomplish this formidable task, they drew on their previous experiences of organizing various Task Force Kapatid in responding to other disasters.

 Beyond sitios and supertyphoons

As I was doing my research into sitio electrification and the work of Task Force Kapatid, I realized that there is a third and even more important story worth telling: The partnership itself of NEA, the National Electrification Administration, and the 119 electric cooperatives.

This is the partnership that has delivered electricity to all the barangays, and is now delivering electricity to the sitios. It is the partnership that has restored electricity to communities devastated by Yolanda and other calamities.

The recent achievements of this partnership are the more immediately interesting stories. But I think that the story of the partnership itself is even more interesting. Its 45-year history offers valuable lessons related to larger contemporary themes – rural development and inclusive growth, governance and public-private partnership, and the hypothesis of building a “democratic developmental state.”

The history of this partnership is not a straight path of smooth and steady progress. There have been many dramatic achievements, but also setbacks, with various twists and turns.

Separately, NEA and individual electric coops have gone through a number of crisis moments. Together, their partnership has weathered many challenges.

They have survived, separately and together. And they have learned. The partnership is more mature, better prepared for new challenges. That is why I call them resilient partners.

Change and resilience

The idea of resilience has become central in our current development discourse. Climate change, or “climate crisis” as Atty. Antonio Oposa prefers to call it, is definitely upon us, and the “new normal” includes many hitherto abnormal and rare events. There is no room for complacency, and what was good enough in the past, is not good enough for the future.

But climate change is not the only reason for needing to be resilient. There are also market changes whose impact on programs like rural electrification are both immediate and long-term. In addition, there are political and policy changes that have affected and will affect the partners and their shared mission.

When I first got involved in rural electrification in 2001 through the invitation of Fr. Francisco Silva, the electric power industry reform act or EPIRA was just about to be implemented.

A dozen years have passed, and the electric coops and NEA are still dealing with its impact. Various voices are calling to amend EPIRA or scrap it. The debates continue to escalate, and can only reinforce the need for the partnership to be resilient.

Recently, a law was passed amending the charter of NEA. It is an expression of the administration’s trust in NEA’s capacity to perform both its developmental role and its regulatory role ín relation to the electric coops. Again, both partners need to adjust. One sensitive issue is how to relate to those electric coops who have registered with the CDA or Cooperative Development Authority.

Clearly, these are chapters of a story that continues to unfold as we move toward the 50th anniversary of the rural electrification program. As they say at the end of an episode in a TV series, “Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.”

Partnership for resilience

The tandem of NEA and the ECs offers useful lessons on public-private partnership as a way to achieve inclusive growth, which is the declared goal of the Aquino administration.

Given the challenges of climate change, market changes, and policy changes, it must aim to become also a partnership for resilience.

I did not immediately appreciate the issue of resilience when I was asked to be part of the program. Fr. Paking Silva pitched rural electrification to me mainly as an issue of social justice and rural development.

His point was that social justice, which he knew was my main concern, is not only about the redistribution of assets, as in agrarian reform. It is also about providing essential public goods to all, especially to the unreached and underserved.

Electricity is as basic an infrastructure as the roads and bridges. Rural communities need to be electrified so that they are not left behind by urban communities.

NEA and the ECs have the mandate and the mission to implement rural electrification. But since the passage of EPIRA, they had to do this in the changed environment brought about by major policy changes.

The over-all intent of EPIRA is to promote competition and use market mechanisms to attract private investments, to improve efficiency, and to lower the cost of power. Even the non-stock non-profit electric cooperatives are subjected to the same policies.

And yet they are supposed to work with NEA to fulfill their original mission of total rural electrification. This means that they must electrify barangays and sitios even if they are not yet viable economically. And with calamities increasing in frequency and intensity, their plans and budgets need to include the quick rebuilding of the distribution systems destroyed by calamities.

How will they do these and still become competitive in a post-EPIRA system? They need to become resilient, but also advocate the necessary role of public investments.

Resilience and the developmental state

In the course of my research, I was invited to a meeting at the Development Academy of the Philippines, to inform me that I have been nominated to be an eminent fellow in the field of rural development.

I shared with them my insights into the role of rural electrification in rural development, and the work of NEA and the ECs as a useful example of public-private partnership. As we pursued our conversation, I brought up another topic for us to explore – the concept of a “developmental state.”

The idea of a developmental state is a useful counterfoil to the premise of EPIRA which seeks to minimize the role of the public sector and public investments, and maximize the role of the markets and the private sector.

In countries where the private sector, both domestic and foreign, is not able or willing to provide essential goods, the state has to exercise not only its regulatory role, but also a proactive developmental role. Hence the term “developmental state.”

At a lecture he gave at the University of the Philippines, James Putzel observed that in Asia, the developmental states that have succeeded are authoritarian, as in Korea. That led someone to ask him: “Are you proposing that for the Philippine state to be developmental, it must be authoritarian?”

His diplomatic answer drew laughter: “If the Philippine state does succeed, it will be the first democratic developmental state in Asia.”

This started out as an anniversary book about the rural electrification program. It has developed into a story of public-private partnership and governance, and poses the question:

What does the story of NEA and the ECs tell us about the limits and possibilities of a democratic developmental state?

Fortunately, I found some initial answers from the early years of the partnership.

Learning from the pioneers

While writing the early draft of this book, I was able to read an advance copy of a book, The Philippine Rural Electrification Program: The Early Years. In it, General Pedro Dumol narrates the strategic choices they made in laying the foundations and over-all structure of the rural electrification program.

He provides instructive information about the travails and triumphs of the NEA-ECs partnership which he led from 1969 to 1986. Without directly addressing the theme, he offers valuable insights into the issue of a developmental state.

The book also spells out his ideas on management and leadership. As I read the passages, I appreciate what is meant by those who call themselves proudly “Dumol boys and girls.” I have heard many of his ideas and seen them practiced in my encounters with Fr. Paking Silva, Edith Bueno, Ed Piamonte, Naning Cuenco, Bert Bassig, Diana San Luis and other NEA and EC leaders.

It is also from General Dumol that I got the idea for the closing chapter of this book. He wrote that policies may be there, together with the organizational structures, but at the heart of them we need people who share a commitment to the mandate and mission, and who are prepared to acquire and upgrade their competencies to match the needs of the changing industry.

Resilient Partners ends with a chapter on how the people of the rural electrification movement can respond to the need to be resilient, by becoming lifelong learners.

I offer this book as a learning resource for people in the rural electrification movement, past, present and future – board members, general managers, department heads, the workforce and leader-advocates of the electric cooperatives, and especially the people of NEA.

General Dumol



Wanted: Community Organizers

July 6, 2014

On July 11 at the PRRM, we are launching the third edition of Organizing People for Power.

Two-thirds of the book is a slightly edited reprint of Felipe Maglaya’s 1974 Manual for Organizers. The remainder are short comments on the text and short reflections on organising in the Philippines since 1974.

One of the sections of the Manual lists the desired qualities of an organiser – irreverence, a sense of humor, creativity, flexibility, tenacity, and a deep respect and love for people.

I made a simple poster of these qualities for easier recall. But added other qualities mentioned in an unpublished manual written by Francia Clavecillas for AFON, which was partly based on the Felipe Maglaya Manual.

Qualities of Organizer


A Trinitarian Look at CO

July 3, 2014

Fourth excerpt from the Manual for Organizers.

CO PopEd

This manual focuses on organizing people and communities, but I want to unbundle the concept. Instead of what may be called a unitarian understanding of organizing people for power, I prefer a trinitarian interplay of organizing, education, and leadership.

Of course, the process of organizing includes education and learning, and also the identification and development of leaders. But its primary indicator is of people acting together on common issues, and after a series of mobilizations, setting up structures that represent their collective power.

In addition to the learning that happens while preparing for mobilization and reflecting after, organizing programs include more purposive education activities. And if there are competing theories and methods of organizing, there are also competing theories and methods of education.

In the classical organizing tradition in the Philippines, Saul Alinsky and Paolo Freire represent the key ideas that have exerted explicit influence on our understanding and practice of community organizing (CO) and popular education (pop-ed).

Although there is an organic interplay between organizing and education, there is often a disconnect. Organizers may focus mainly on actions and numbers, quality of issues and mobilization, and results of negotiations. Educators may focus mainly on individual learning and the change in consciousness.

The late Odette Alcantara had this quotable quip about the disconnect between organizing and education, parallel to body and spirit: “Ang katawang walang kaluluwa ay bangkay. Ang kaluluwang walang katawan ay multo.”

In the trinity of community organizing, popular education and grassroots leadership, I identify most closely with the third. That’s why my institutional base continues to be the Education for Life Foundation, whose core program is “grassroots leadership formation for grassroots community empowerment.”

Like organizing and education, there are also competing theories and methods of leadership formation. But as Fr. Paking Silva declares: “Our bigger problem is not poverty, but lack of leadership.”

birds fish

This metaphor of birds and fish has been a continuing source of insights into the relationship between the committed professional, as organizer, educator or formator, and the grassroots communities and leaders.

Birds that fly can change change course quickly, almost as fast as our minds. From their vantage point, they look down on the fish below the surface waters and ask “Why are they not moving?”

The fish could answer: “Come down into the water, and you’ll realize it is harder to move in it. It is thicker than air, and polluted. But come close enough and you will also see that we are moving, though not so visibly to those flying far above.”

The bird must do more than a flying visit. Learn to swim with the fish. In organizing, we call it immersion. Swimming with the fish, the bird will understand the structures and culture that make them reluctant to change. But also appreciate that the fish are trying to change as much as they can in the given circumstances.

An educator from the Carribean said that we should not be too hard on birds asking questions from the outside. There is value in an outsider asking, “How is the water?” The fish may very well answer, “What water?”

The bird, having swam with the fish, can then talk with great credibility about swimming with the fish. But is that all? Be an advocate for them, even a sympathetic scholar? Could the bird not teach some of the fish to fly, to also theorize and not just to give personal testimony?

I dream of a learning community that is a partnership of birds who have learned to swim and fish who have learned to fly. The name of that dream is Komunibersidad.

Another story of birds and fish

There is the story of a bird who saw a fish struggling in the water. Thinking that the fish was drowning, the bird dove into the water, plucked the fish and brought it to the safety of its nest.

Will the fish die, or will it adapt and become a bird?

This one made we wince, because of my background in TESDA: “If fish were assessed according to their competency to climb a tree, no one would be certified.”


From Mount Pinatubo to Typhoon Yolanda

May 5, 2014


Aetas in Basey

There is a 20-year story behind this picture.

On April 28, at Barangay Iba in Basey, Samar, two Aeta leaders from Zambales turned over to their host community an organic demo farm and seed bank that they helped set up in one week.

How did two Aetas, Carling and Tubag, end up in Samar? It’s an interesting story.

Sometime in December 2013, a month after Typhoon Yolanda devastated communities in Samar and Leyte, Carling relayed to us a request from the Aeta elders in their hometown of Botolan Zambales. Could ELF help two of them travel to Samar and stay there for 2 weeks?

The elders had decided to offer whatever help they could – some rice from their harvest, root crops, seeds for planting. But especially, they wanted to share lessons from their experience when they were displaced from their mountain communities by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

Lessons from Mount Pinatubo

“We want to help them prepare for the time when the aid agencies have gone away,” Carling added.

His words reminded me of our first conversations 20 years ago. When ELF invited them to our grassroots leadership formation course, they told us this story. After the eruption, many agencies and much aid poured into their areas. But by the time we met, almost all had gone away. “The agencies have gone on to another disaster area,” they said.

Still, they remained grateful for the aid they had received at their time of need. Hence their decision to offer whatever they can to the communities affected by Yolanda.

Giriie and I were inspired by their spirit of solidarity, and promised to look for funds to support their travel. But we also suggested that we ask our friends and contacts to identify the specific community (barangay) that would host the Aetas. That way, they can focus their assistance, and have a community that they could help long-term and not just through one visit.

Global-local connections

Cha Cala and Chuchi Antonio live and work in Calgary, Canada. Before they migrated there, we worked together in ELF, and they know Carling and our Aeta partners.

They posted news about a fund-raising effort by the Filipino community in Canada together with former Vietnamese refugees who wanted to reciprocate the assistance they got during their transit in the Philippines.

Girlie and I wrote them about the Aetas’ plans, and asked if they could support it. They got back quickly and asked us to send a brief project write up. Happily, the fund-raising committee agreed to help. Thank you, Philippine Emergency Response TaskForce (PERT)!

Boi Nicolasora is from Samar and also worked with us in ELF. We asked him to help identify an affected community that would welcome the Aetas’ offer.

He asked the help of Fr. Cesar, the social action director of Samar. They decided on Barangay Iba in Basey.

The first time I heard the name of Barangay Iba, I had to ask if it is really in Samar. Iba happens to be also the name of the capital town of Zambales.

I wonder what new episodes will be added to this 20-year story. Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.

Aetas in Basey 2




What Can Adult Educators Learn from Rak of Aegis?

February 1, 2014

Rak of Aegis

When Girlie and I arrived at the PETA theatre for the premier of Rak of Aegis, we were surprised to see the editorial board of the DVV International journal, Adult Education and Development. I was thrilled to meet them because I had a discussion with them earlier in the day. But then I felt a little anxious.

“Did you know that the musical is in Pilipino?” I asked the group whose members are from Europe (Germany, Norway and Denmark), Latin America, Middle East and South Asia. They did, but they were prepared to understand as much, or as little, as they could. At least they had read the synopsis from the printed program.

I couldn’t shake off my anxiety, but I told myself that the music of Aegis would make their evening, even if they don’t understand the lyrics. Girlie and I offered to do some whispered translations for them. For starters, we shared with them what we know of Aegis and their songs, which Maribel Legarda, the director, aptly described as “rockified kundiman.”

I hadn’t read the synopsis, and did not know what to expect other than the music. But Rak of Aegis delivered the PETA brand of theatre which Girlie and I have enjoyed in their past productions – a multilayered story driven by energy, full of invention, weaving poignant moments with sly and good-natured humor, conflict and feel-good inspiration.

How to explain Pinoy humor?

During the break and after the show, our foreign friends’ gave very positive feedback. Like us, they were especially swept up by the enthusiasm of the audience which erupted  in cheers and sang-along when the Aegis band gave a mini-concert of their hit songs.

Still, our friends had some questions, like: “Why did the audience laugh during scenes that appeared to be serious and sad?” I tried my best to explain the Pinoy sense of humor, and laughter as our default reaction, with a range of nuances from knowing titters and guffaws to self-mocking laughter.

What about the casual line, was it an ad lib ?, by a girl character to a boy: “Do you want visit to me in my condo?”  I didn’t want to  tell the convoluted telenovela about Vhong Navarro and Deniece, just to explain one brief burst of mischievous laughter.

Love in the time of calamity

Yesterday, my immediate appreciation of Rak of Aegis was how it recontextualized the hit songs of Aegis beyond the original personal “love and loss.” The songs acquired a wider and deeper meaning, about the loss of community resources and livelihoods, and about competing hopes and dreams.

Today I read the notes of Lisa Magtoto, the writer of this rock musical. She tells how she found Aegis lyrics that are not only about being “sawi” but also about gumption, that applies to many levels – personal love, individual and family dreams, community hopes.

In particular, the hit song Basang-basa sa Ulan has well-known lines of loss and helplessness:  Heto ako / Basang-basa sa ulan / Walang masisilungan / Walang malalapitan. But that same song also has these lines: Ngunit heto / Bumabangon pa rin.

Although the social and community context is integral to the musical, Lisa explains that true to the original Aegis songs, the spine of the story is still about losing, and possibly finding, love in  the time of calamity.

Different ways of decoding Rak of Agies

Following Paolo Freire’s methods, adult/popular educators like myself can look at Rak of Agies as a “code” which can yield many meanings through a process of “dialogical decoding.”

Using this approach, we can decode the messages of Rak of Agies about losing and finding love, with calamity as a context.  There are many lessons about love in the rock-musical –  from the triangle of Kenny and Tolits competing for Aileen’s affection,  a father and daughter’s love and conflict between Kiel and Aileen, a son and mother’s love and conflict between Kenny and Mary Jane, unresolved hurt from past love between Mary Jane and Kiel, Jewel’s hope that Kenny could reciprocate gay love.

The many love stories add a richer texture to the Aegis songs. But they also stretch the musical. Can they be tightened without sacrificing the message about the complexity of personal and family relationships in a community under stress?

Given the tradition of adult/popular education, we will most probably decode Rak of Agies by focusing on its messages about a community losing and finding hope after a calamity.

Rak of Agies as a mirror of competing hopes

Last night, I wished aloud that sponsors can bring PETA’s rock musical to the communities in the Visayas who have been affected by Yolanda.

First of all, it is entertaining – the songs, the stories, especially the humor, but also the conflicts and the sadness. Watching Rak of Agies can be a communal therapeutic experience. Relating to the songs and stories about losing and finding love can offer welcome relief, no matter how fleeting.

But beyond the relief, Rak of Agies offers more – a mirror to their competing hopes: Looking individually for hope outside the community, or even outside the country, like Kenny thinking of being an OFW, or Aileen hoping to be discovered through You Tube. Or like Kiel, hoping to revive previous livelihoods that were already hurting from competition before being further destroyed by disaster. Or like Mary Jane, looking to donors like Fernan for relief or compensation from guilty parties.

Like a good adult/popular education “code” Rak of Agies does not deliver its message didactically. It simply offers the community various options which they can discuss with their “remembering selves” after their “experiencing selves” have enjoyed the songs and stories.

Its central message is about two competing perspectives on hope:  Do they focus on exploiting the immediate opportunities of post-disaster relief and reconstruction, including “disaster tourism” and “disaster philanthropy”?  Or do they focus on finding ways to use the remaining assets of the community for sustainable livelihoods?

Symbolic of these competing options is the generative metaphor of relying on temporary flood waters versus standing on solid ground.

Bubbles of fragile hopes

My most memorable take away image from Rak of Aegis is from a fantasy scene of Aileen and Tolits singing about their still unexpressed love and their hopes.

As they sang, other cast members appeared, each one holding two sticks joined by strings. I thought they looked like the instruments used to stun fish. I wondered what they were meant to symbolize.

To our unexpected delight, their instruments produced soap bubbles that floated above and around the love pair. The effect was magical, for a while.

Thank you PETA. Thank you Aegis. Catch the Rak of Aegis at the PETA theatre every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, until March 9.