Pinoy creativity and community empowerment at Civicus
Text and photos by Gina Mission

CTRD’s bonsai and organically-grown fruits and vegetables:
Improving farmers’ and consumers’ economic well-being.

It was his fourth day at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), venue of the recently-concluded 3rd Civicus World Assembly, but Efren Jabian – Ka Efren to his friends – still found it hard to believe that he could be there, along with hundreds of other participants from all over the world. The magnitude of the event, he said, is just so overwhelming, he had to slap his face a number of times to make sure he was not dreaming. For despite his lowly sixth-grade education, there he was at the assembly, dining and dancing with those he considered to be "great people."

___Ka Efren was one of the people manning the booth of the Center for Rural Technology Development (CRTD), one of the exhibitors, who sold bonsai plants and organically grown vegetables and fruits, at the Civicus conference. Ka Efren is one of the farmers trained by the CRTD, a project of the corporate NGO, Philippine Business for Social Progress, to work on its pilot lowland-farming project in Calauan, Laguna.

___CRTD serves as a laboratory for testing, validating and disseminating technologies appropriate for lowland farming. Since its establishment in 1979, CTRD has developed farming systems and agricultural technologies designed to optimize the use of land and provide ample yield so that farmers' economic wellbeing can be improved.

___CTRD's programs and services include technology development and sourcing; technology testing and verification; technology packaging and manualization; technical assistance and consultancy services, and; technology training course management and administration.

SIBOL People’s Specialty Store: Alternative trading and marketing of goods.

___Having succeeded in its programs, CTRD now wants to spread its technologies to other places. What better way than by participating in the trade fair and exhibits?

___Even Ka Efren's natural modesty did not stop him from "wanting to help" his fellow farmers improve their lot like he has since joining the CTRD.

___A ribbon-cutting ceremony and a walk-through by members of the Philippine Host Committee, headed by Agrarian Reform Secretary Horacio "Boy" Morales, and the Civicus Board of Directors, opened the World Assembly Exhibits and Trade Fair early last week.

___The exhibit showcased the work being done by major Philippine civil society coalitions and social foundations, and members and international partners of the Civicus, with photographic and product displays, a running video corner, and a long table to disseminate informational materials not necessarily related to the Assembly.

___Recognizing the importance of empowering indigenous communities, the trade fair also featured the sale of their products and a display of community-based livelihood and production units by partner community-based organizations of the major Philippine civil society coalitions and business foundations. And in each booth was a story of community development and empowerment.

___One such story is of Mountain Fresh Jams, Jellies and Spreads, a product of the Ikalahan people of Nueva Vizcaya and Pangasinan.. The tribal elders of the Ikalahan organized the Kalahan Educational Foundation in 1973 to protect their ancestral forests and their culture. Since then, they have pioneered in communal forest protection and several other concepts, which are now being copied throughout the Philippines and in other parts of Southeast Asia. The Kalahan Reserve also serves as a sanctuary for more than 40 endangered species.

___The production, processing and packaging of Mountain Fresh products are done by the Ikalahan people themselves, from naturally grown fruits, using no preservatives. This is a community project using natural resources from the Caraballo Mountains of Luzon, which their ancestors have been protecting since ancient times. By organic farming, the Ikalahan protect the area from the detrimental effects of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants and ensures that the resources will always be there to benefit their children's children and the total nation.

___The income from the sale of Mountain Fresh products is used to support the tribe's high school, Kalahan Academy, and for community health, welfare and education.

___Another exhibitor, Preda Trade Fair, offered a wide selection of rare Philippine handicraft products, dried fruits, gift items, fashion accessories, household and kitchen items, baskets, furniture, hand painted jars and many more. Their Tropical Dried Fruits and Juices were chemical-free and environmentally beneficial. According to Preda, an NGO based in Olongapo, its products are a combination of "social responsibility, fair wages and community development with efficient and effective business practices."

___Preda envisions a just, free, peaceful and prosperous society that serves the common good and respects human rights, especially the rights of children.

___The Preda project benefits the suppliers composed of farmers' cooperatives and community development organizations. Preda stands by its products and takes pride in its ability to help both its producer groups and its buyers prosper and thrive.

___Yet another exhibitor, the SIBOL People's Specialty Store, a project of Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT), which aims to promote the alternative trading and marketing of organically-produced goods, created by the "toil of small producers, people's organizations and self-help groups." By marketing the products of local communities, Sibol hopes to provide a better deal for the small producers in the Philippine local market as well as recognize the socially intricate issues around economic production, especially in the rural areas. Sibol also hopes to fill in the need for local producers to enhance their management and technical expertise in order to empower them in the world of both the "conventional" and "alternative" markets.

___Sibol's marketing strategy is aimed at creating a proactive, dynamic and integrative approach to market development. It recognizes the importance of a "conscienticized" and "progressive" band of consumers who will patronize the products of small producers and self-help groups.

Manila hosts Civicus assembly

___Civicus is a global alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen participation and civil society throughout the world. Starting in 1995, Civicus has convened a World Assembly every two years to give an opportunity for its members to come together, interact on contemporary issues, and enrich the organization's mission and program of action with what needs to be done as the situation unfolds. The first Civicus World Assembly was held in Mexico City in 1995, and the second in Budapest in 1997.

___It was no coincidence that the Civicus secretariat chose the Philippines to host its third World Assembly. The rich history of citizen participation in the Philippines, according to Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General and CEO of Civicus, provides an inspiring background for the discussions and outcomes of the affair.

___"Civic movements and civil society organizations have a long tradition in the Philippines. Long before a Philippine government was established, cooperative societies and other citizen associations worked together to solve common problems," said Naidoo in his introductory speech.

___Recent changes in the socio-political landscape of the Philippines, Naidoo added, have catalyzed citizen participation. In addition, legislation has provided an atmosphere conducive to people's participation in governance, as well as the monitoring of government's performance.

___Among these legal measures are the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which guarantees the freedoms of speech, assembly and association to all its citizens, and the Local Government Code of 1991, which institutionalizes people's participation in local development councils and other local governing boards. Executive issuances, Naidoo observed, have also reinforced the legal environment for citizen participation through the creation of interface mechanisms in policy formulation as well as program/project implementation.

___Not to be outdone, Philippine civil society organizations (CSOs) have joined together to form movements and social coalitions to influence public policy, shape government practice, and hold government institutions accountable, when appropriate.

___And recently, the trend has been that the corporate sector is getting involved in partnership formations with NGOs in the Philippine development landscape. Local corporations are building their own foundations or social development arms, which, as Naidoo confirmed, is in itself a "unique feature of the Philippines in this part of the world."

___For its third World Assembly, Civicus aimed at encouraging various citizen groups, CSOs, business and government leaders to come together and work out a "Global Citizen Commitment" that should inspire all sectors to work together for the public good. Two things, according to Civicus, influenced this goal: "globalization is calling forth a massive shift in human behavior" and "relationships between the non-governmental and non-profit sector, government and business are changing."

___According to Naidoo, these changing relationships present many challenges, and offer many opportunities to develop a new charter of action for the promotion of the public good and the enhancement of humanitarian values.

CyberDyaryo | 1999.09.30