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Features

Wednesday, 29 February 2000
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A milestone achievement:

Civil society, business and government
break barriers of fear and mistrust

By Gina Mission
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Soliman, Luz and Songco:
Achieving a "balance of engaging and opposing"

In a milestone achievement, civil society, business, and government sectors have forged a partnership to empower the Filipino. And to get it done, they have the support of the World Bank and other donor agencies.

..."A few years from now, people will realize and look back to this day as the day that started it all," declared Guillermo Luz, executive director of the Makati Business Club.

...Luz was referring to the multi-sectoral conference on "Partnerships for Governance and Dvelopment," held at the Shangri-la Makati last Saturday, February 26. The event marked the birth of the partnership between civil society, business, and government. President Joseph Estrada, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and "stakeholders" from all three sectors attended the event.

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President Estrada and the World Bank’s Wolfensohn:
Double exposure

...Dinky Soliman, convenor of the civil society sector, agreed with Luz, saying that the event was very "significant and unique" to civil society groups. This is because, she said, the partnership came about at a time of massive corruption in government and mutual distrust among the three sectors.

...Indeed, civil society, which includes non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs), has almost always taken an adversarial position against the business sector and government. More often than not, NGOs and POs oppose government legislation and policies, on the belief that most government acts are designed to protect the interests of the business sector.

...Business and civil society too, have had a long history of differences, especially in policy positions. Their clashing stands on the liberalization of retail trade is a case in point. Most NGOs oppose the move, while the business sector, at least according to Luz, supports it. Both sectors also took opposite positions on the deregulation of the oil industry.

...But, as the newly formed partnership shows, even differences can breed unity. As Soliman said, even "opposing" can be changed to "engaging." At the end of the day, she said, such engagement can turn into "commitment, " and finally, "action.’’

...Engaged—that’s what the three sectors seem to be at the moment. While on paper a partnership has been formed, it still has to be translated into concrete terms.

...It all started in December, Soliman said, when government moves to change the Constitution were at fever pitch and government corruption was becoming more blatant every day. Add to that the worsening poverty situation and increasing industrial disharmony.

...On several occasions, concerned NGO leaders met and started discussing what they could do without their actions being dismissed as just "another (manifestation of) middle class angst." As soon as they reached a consensus, their next objective was to try to establish linkages with the business sector. One thing led to another, and on February 24, a workshop participated by civil society, business, and government representatives, was conducted, paving the way for the conference two days later.

...Ramon del Rosario, president and CEO of Asian Bank, described the subsequent events as a manifestation of a "consensus on important issues," which he said is a must among market mechanisms, government regulation, and citizen action."

..."Creativity and synergy arise from the togetherness of business, civil society, and government," he said.

...Del Rosario noted that the Philippines is one of the few countries that take pride in having an active civil society that participates in decision-making. Its business sector, he continued, has a rich tradition of social responsibility, while government extends its best effort to drive and sustain macroeconomic growth while trying to ensure its benefits to the people.

...Given such conditions, a partnership, while tough to organize, is really not impossible to do, del Rosario said.

...Danilo Songco, national secretary of Code-NGO, said the good thing about this partnership between the three sectors is that it directly involves the "stakeholders."

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WB’s James Wolfensohn: $1.9 billion
exposure for 22 projects in the Philippines

...In addition, it has the support of the World Bank, as affirmed by the Bank’s president, James Wolfensohn, in his speech before the conference. Since 1998, the Bank has been engaging civil society groups, government, business groups, and academic institutions across the country in planning its country assistance strategy.

...As of January 2000, the World Bank's net exposure in the Philippines for 22 projects amounted to $1.9 billion, of which $0.8 billion had already been disbursed. Financed programs and projects, according to WB country representative Vinay Bhargava, have benefited nearly all sectors of the economy, particularly in the areas of poverty reduction, human development, rural and urban development, environment, infrastructure and energy.

...When you have the right people moving, there’s a great chance of success, Songco said.

...The February workshop produced a 10-point action agenda, which the three sectors presented to the President at Saturday’s conference. Leading the workshop participants in drawing up the agenda were Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Felipe Medalla, Trade and Industry Secretary Manuel Roxas III, Ayala Corporation president and chief executive officer Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Guillermo Luz, and economist Solita Monsod of the Philippine Human Development Network.

...In a nutshell, the agenda contains proposals to improve governance and the life of the Filipino. It urges the government to adopt "The Citizen as Customer" approach. Among the critical areas of concern identified in the agenda are improvement of the educational system, asset reform, and better regulatory mechanisms.

...In keeping with the spirit of unity forged among the sectors, President Estrada said in his speech that economic development, within the framework of globalization, could be achieved only through "our competitiveness, our competence, our productivity, and finally, our ability to collaborate with each other and act together as one."

...But the work doesn’t stop there. As Luz put it: "We won’t go back to work on Monday and expect change."

..."How we spin off from here," he said, "is the greatest challenge." This involves implementing the action agenda and duplicating it in the provinces.

...Soliman, Songco, Luz and Wolfensohn, representing NGOs, big business and the World Bank, agreed that perhaps, the ultimate challenge is sustaining the "balance of engaging and opposing"-- the guiding principle that appears to unite the three disparate sectors.

..."Sustainability is trickier than it sounds," Luz said. But he stressed that for as long as "we can get the government to initiate reforms" and the three sectors "learn from each other’s experience," it will only be a matter of time before the stakeholders can say: "This is it!"

Photos by Emil Mijares, Jr.