Today I invite you all to celebrate.
Let’s celebrate PRRM. Let’s celebrate 50 years of work in the community. Let’s celebrate half a century of strivings to show that a different pathway to human development is possible and worth taking.
Today we also begin to write a new story –our next 50 years of perhaps even a more challenging journey.
Thank God PRRM has lasted this long. Not so many NGOs would have been so privileged. I’ve seen some give up early in the game or succumb at some point to development fatigue for a struggle that seems endless.
I take this celebration with a deep sense of personal connection. I saw PRRM at birth and now I see it live to be 50. I’m sure, though, I won’t see it live to be a hundred! But for those present and those in our PRRM communities, let us resolve to plan wisely and continue our avowed mission with dedication and faith in the rural Filipino.
Fifty years ago, it was my father Dean Conrado Benitez at the helm, in the company of Dr. Yen, the father of rural reconstruction and mass education movement, together with some of the most outstanding and committed Filipinos of their time. Now in this golden year, I see me in that position in the company of equally outstanding and committed men and women of our time. (Was it Gani who once said PRRM has come full circle with me?)
I remember well the pioneering years.
As a young woman, I did my small part of passing the hat around for donations from the rich. Mind you, that’s long before corporate giving became fashionable. Our small endowment fund and this, our own building, are tangible fruits of corporate giving, personalized by no less than our own Trustee Luis Garcia. It was Luis as president of Wrigley’s Philippines who caused the donation of a precious piece of real property to PRRM. The list of distinguished Trustees, Governors and Chairmen and Presidents like Manuel Manahan and Horacio Boy Morales who served longer than most is available in our anniversary publications.
To their own credit. those rich sponsors some of whom were later involved in forming their own foundations, like the PBSP in 1970, had set the example of sharing and caring which our world desperately needs, especially these days.
I remember well our pioneering community volunteers. We called them our rural reconstruction workers (RRWs). They left the safety of their homes and the comforts of city life, with hardly any material remuneration befitting their profession. Those men and women of PRRM dared to enter the Huk territories, the lion’s den so-called, and literally dipped themselves in the mud to bring PRRM to the Filipino peasant.
I remember well the generations of PRRM leaders and field workers who came after and found common cause with the rural people. They too lived, fought and created a new life with the small and landless farmers, the small fishers, the indigenous peoples, the protectors of our common property heritage.
So many people and deeds to remember, so many people and deeds to account for and to thank for what and where PRRM stands today. You have to forgive me for not mentioning every one of them here. Please take time to talk to those among us who have all those stories stored in their memories for telling other people.
But let’s note a few which people tend to remember because they somehow stood out. But I should hasten to advise you to be mindful of countless quiet episodes and deeds that don’t get media mileage but in fact make up the big part of the whole story. Read Pete Alejandrino’s painstaking compilation of “Memories and Legacies” and add your own.
Let’s remember what these PRRM activists and advocates have done for the common tao, in villages so far way. Let’s remember that by doing a good deed for the poor and alienated, these courageous and enterprising workers of PRRM were doing a good deed for our country, for all of us, rich and poor alike.
They have helped build democracy from below. Testimonies to this contribution were many and pretty well recognized.
Let me quote, for example, a more recent reference to PRRM in chapter 8 of an upcoming book on civil society in the Philippines written by Dean Ledivina V. Carino of the University of the Philippines. “PRRM has inspired the formation of the following institutions: barrio council, barrio charter, the Presidential Assistant on Community Development, the barangay health center, botika sa baryo (village pharmacy) and the Samahang Nayong (village pre-cooperative). Organized or tried for the first time by PRRM, these institutions became the prototype of later government programs or agencies.”
PRRM workers highly value the building of people’s institutions, especially at the grassroots, in making democracy and development work. Those workers have organized hundreds of associations of men, women, youth, small farmers and fishers, indigenous peoples. These primary institutions have been federating and forming coalitions to leverage their voice and influence in decision-making and public policy.
In step with the times, or even well ahead of commonplace practice, our PRRM workers had introduced new ways of doing development. They have broadened the fourfold of education, livelihood, health and self-government to include the dimensions of gender, environment and habitat. They have been trying out new modes of governance, like co-management systems of natural resource bases, to restore damaged ecosystems and enable communities to have a greater say in creating livelihoods and governing the commons.
Our workers have engaged in many areas where people’s issues were debated and decided. You would find PRRM workers in the town hall one day and in UN conferences the next. In so doing, they have helped heighten the profile and visibility of voices from below and earn a name and high respect for PRRM locally and internationally.
We have made mistakes, too. But I’d rather pass up the discussion on these to other occasions so as not to spoil the party. But I must say here that we are not afraid to err on the side of daring and learning or to answer for the consequences of our action. We have learned our lessons well through our own deep reflections and self-criticisms. Indeed development is such a difficult and complex process that cannot be taken for granted.
That’s our past, as briefly as I could sum it up, though only in some form of artist’s sketch you might say.
Here we are now, looking to a new future. For this part, I invite you to look hard at what’s before us.
When our founders and pioneers started they had to face widespread ignorance, poverty, disease, bad governance, civic inertia. In their time, neither democracy nor development was inclusive enough to give everyone a dignified place on the table. And our people in the boondocks, in the barrios, along the seacoasts were the most neglected and excluded of all.
Sad to say, the problems addressed by our predecessors in 1952 were still the same problems confronting succeeding generations of PRRMers 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years later. The only difference though, is that those same problems had gone worse and new ones have emerged and made the situation much more complicated.
So what has changed after all? Well, five decades of postwar development changed things in different directions, some for better, others for the worse.
Let me take stock of progress, say, from 1972. I like this reference point because that’s the UN Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm, the predecessor conference of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where I headed the Philippine delegation. This was the conference that placed environment on the development map for the first time. We saw then that, on top of poverty, an environmental crisis was looming large on a planetary scale. This was a completely new twist in development as we have known it.
Is the world better off 30 years after Stockholm or after 10 years since Rio?
It’s hard to be optimistic when you see that most key indicators are pointing downwards. Except in a few rare cases, poverty overall has grown and deepened, the inequality gap has widened even more. Loss of biodiversity continues and the ratio for the Philippines is critical and requires urgent intervention. Our climate system is heating up and producing, for example, strange episodes of El Niño and La Niña that hamper agriculture and threaten our food security.
Things are bound to get worse if nothing dramatic happens soon enough. I’m not talking here of September 11 or the now all-too-familiar coups and regime changes that I think we’ve had enough of in recent years. I’m thinking of some big action along the line of partnerships.
I want to see partnerships of various actors from different sectors. I want to see such partnerships advance to reduce poverty and restore the health of our environment in a big way. I would like to see these partnerships formed at the local level to address interlocking poverty issues on site. And I want to see PRRM and its partners taking a big piece of the action.
I’m happy with the outcomes of our year-long strategic planning exercise undertaken in a broadly participatory way under the leadership of PRRM president Bobby Tañada and professional services of Rose Yenko and Conrado Navarro. We reflected on our 50 years of history as well as the experiences of others. We revisited our vision, mission, goals, strategies and programs and reformulated them in light of new challenges. I believe we’re ready for the next 50 years.
PRRM intends to stick it out in the rural. Why, some of you might ask, why rural when half the world would be living in cities less than a generation from now? The shorthand to a long explanation is PRRM is PRRM and “rural” is worth dedicating our efforts to.
Rural won’t disappear with urbanization and rural will have its positive place despite and because of modernization. Cities cannot sustain without the rural. As we recognize what’s positive in cities –like density of integration and services, optimal use of space, technology — we likewise see clearly the positive in rural — bayanihan and community spirit, culture of conservation, and so on. We intend to recover and sustain what’s good in the rural.
Our new slogan “Building rural capacities for sustainability” captures what we want to do. In a sense, the past 50 years was also about building rural capacities. We intend to build on that and train our guns, so to say, on the most fundamental challenge of our time — sustainability of development and life itself. We have already started to address this challenge during the last decade and we want to push the momentum further.
PRRM will continue to be remembered for its rootedness in the community, in the rural villages, in micro situations and local environments. We will strive to maintain such rootedness while aiming to make a difference on the big picture. By organizing local movements, the ProRRMs, as our strategic plan puts it, PRRM will be able to deepen its roots in any locality it chooses to operate or sustain presence. The partnerships I want to see should start here.
PRRM is right on target to focus on education for sustainability. I believe that the one big reason why the world is as what we find it today is because we have yet to learn our way out of our unsustainable condition. This is not only about helping the “uneducated” or “mis-educated” poor to help themselves, it also or probably even more so, about helping the so-called “highly educated or “mis-educated” or “mis-educating” non-poor change their unsustainable ways. Around this education theme PRRM can also take the initiative to form partnerships with many others, especially big decision makers.
That said, I should commend PRRM management and staff for putting the Conrado Benitez Institute for Sustainability (CBIS) at the center of our new strategic plan. I’m personally honored both as an educator and as daughter of our educator-founder. This envisioned institute should and can be a means to changing mindsets, values, institutions, and practices in ways that promote truly sustainable development.
We would not have gone this far without our partners. At the local level we have the community and people’s organizations, the local governments, among others. At the national level, we have our allies and friends in the coalitions of NGO’s and social movements. in government, media, the churches, the academe, and the corporate community.
Over the years. PRRM has developed a global outreach. We have considered the UN and other multilateral and bilateral systems as platforms for espousing worthy causes. We have formed strategic partnerships with international NGOs to promote social and environmental justice.
I must specially mention that the support of organizations and kindred spirits. like NOVIB. GM, IPADE, People-to-People Aid Movement, among many others, have enabled us to run our programs in the field. Our solidarity around common causes keeps PRRM going. Likewise, through our partnerships with such international organizations like CIVICUS, Social Watch, and many others, we have done our share in strengthening the voice of civil society worldwide.
Such partnerships are worth keeping. PRRM values them highly and we intend to keep and nurture them for as long as there’s a reason to come and work together .
And we all know there’s more than enough reason.
Our nation is adrift. The world we live in is in deep trouble.” And things will not change with the heroic action of a few do-gooders. We need to hang on together, draw inspiration from each other’s ideas and energies as we strive to make a difference.
It is still along way to go from here. A world that’s free of poverty and exclusion, a world that’s more safe, more fair, more caring, more peaceful is still far out in the horizon. But it will come one day if people work together and try hard enough to build it.
In closing, let me share with you this motto of the Australian Commission for the Future which I find so apt and fascinating. “The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating; the paths to it are not found but made; and the making of those pathways changes both the maker and the destination.”
We in the Philippines should be able soonest to coin our own motto; with PRRM aided by its partners doing and living to the fullest its mission for our people in the rural communities.
Speech delivered at PRRM 50th Anniversary, 19 July 2002, PRRM Headquarters, Quezon City
March 8, 2014, Cocoon Boutique Hotel
Quezon City, Philippines