Fifty years ago, a group of civic-minded citizens in education, government, and business headed by Dean Conrado Benitez inspired by the success of the pioneering work in China of the “father of mass education and rural reconstruction,” Dr. Y.C. James Yen organized what was to become one of the biggest and most significant nongovernmental development organizations in the country: the PHILIPPINE RURAL RECONSTRUCTION MOVEMENT, or PRRM.
PRRM was born in the midst of political unrest in the Philippine countryside, with the Hukbalahap rebellion going on when it was founded in 1952. In its 50-year history, it would see three major political upheavals: the proclamation of martial law in 1972, the EDSA I-People Power Revolt of 1986, and the EDSA II-People Power Revolt of 2001. It was also witness to the failed “EDSA III” of May 1, 2001.
Throughout all of these undulations on the Philippine political scene, PRRM had its own ups and downs, particularly in terms of financial resources. Owing to the withdrawal of support by many donors to Philippine development programs as a protest against the imposition of martial law in 1972, many NGOs, including PRRM, were severely affected. Its finances almost hit rock bottom in the early Eighties, towards the end of martial rule, resulting in a severe curtailment of its program operations. However, just like the country itself, it rebounded in 1986 when democracy returned to the Philippines, and the donors came back and poured financial assistance to the government and to the NGO sector. PRRM was one of the beneficiaries of this renewed generosity of the development assistance organizations.
Over the past 50 years, PRRM made a number of major contributions to Philippine rural development. It was the first national development organization to send its workers to the villages. Starting out as a small organization of volunteers-young college graduates who were paid allowances that hardly covered their basic needs nor compensated them for the hard, and sometimes perilous, work they did in the remote, dusty rural villages they were assigned to-PRRM gradually grew into a professional organization staffed by highly trained and experienced experts in its “fourfold program” of education, health, livelihood, and self-governance.
These experts supported the work of rural reconstruction workers, or RRWs, who were trained for several months in the rudiments of the fourfold program before they were fielded to the villages, to serve as change agents. The main task of these multi-purpose RRWs-who predated today’s community organizers by several decades-was to help their “adoptive” villages (every RRW was invariably made an “adopted son or daughter” of his or her village of assignment) to rise from poverty and become model communities. In these model communities, most if not all of the residents knew how to read and write, had access to primary health care, were engaged in livelihood activities that increased food production and generated additional income for their families, and were actively involved in their community’s political and developmental affairs.
In the arena of community organizing, long before the terms people’s organization (PO) and community-based organization (CBO) gained currency, PRRM was already organizing village men, women, and youth into Rural Reconstruction Men’s Associations (RRMAs), Rural Reconstruction Women’s Associations (RRWAs), and Rural Reconstruction Youth Associations (RRYAs).
Moreover, PRRM demonstrated, through its self-governance experiments in a few villages, that the Filipino villagers can intelligently and judiciously select their own village officials, and need not just accept those that their municipal officials imposed on them, which was the system of local governance in the Philippines until the mid 50’s. This demonstration prompted the Congress of the Philippines to enact two laws that led to the establishment and strengthening of elective village councils throughout the country. Today’s Barangay Council can truly be claimed by PRRM as its contribution to the blossoming of Philippine grassroots democracy and one of its many legacies to the Filipino people.
It was also PRRM that, in the wake of the EDSA I-People Power Revolt of 1986, pushed the concept of active and meaningful civil-society participation in national and local development efforts. Development in the hands of the people became both its slogan and its goal; and sustainable area development, which added the aspects of environment and habitat to the original fourfold program of rural reconstruction, became its main strategy for realizing that goal. PRRM was also responsible for popularizing the “triadic paradigm,” in which authentic development is the product of collaboration among civil society (citizens and their associations), the state (government), and the market (business sector).
Today, fifty years since its founding, PRRM has become one of the most significant NGOs in the country. Its field programs span 15 provinces throughout the country, from Ifugao in the north to Cotabato in the south, where its “sustainable area development” and “sustainable rural district development” models are being tested and refined in over 600 communities, in partnership with organizations of farmers, fishers, women, and the youth. These models incorporate the traditional fourfold rural reconstruction program of education, livelihood, health, and self-governance, enhanced by the inclusion of environment and habitat as the over-arching “fold,” all within an integrated area development framework.
In the field of policy advocacy, PRRM has taken the leadership in a number of areas, including, among many others: protection of the rights of small fishers; opposition to the onerous provisions of the GATT-WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA); promotion of fair trade; support for progressive local governance policies; abolition of child labor; promotion of new and renewable energy sources; and opposition to destructive mining practices.
This policy advocacy is carried out not only by its own staff, but by its partner people’s organizations, which have organized themselves into national federations of rice farmers, coconut farmers, fishers, and women. Each of these federations has its own policy-advocacy activities, geared towards the promotion of the welfare of its members. For instance, the national federation of rice farmers is advocating the adoption of regulations that promote and support sustainable agriculture; the federation of fishers is pushing for the implementation of the law which reserves 15 kilometers of coastal waters for their exclusive use; and the coconut farmers are advocating the release of the coco levy fund for the development of the coconut industry.
Organizationally, PRRM has grown from a movement of a few members to one that now counts over 600 members, organized into 18 chapters throughout the country. The members of these chapters include professionals, academicians, businessmen, government personnel, and local government officials. Their role: to support PRRM’s advocacy and field programs in their respective provinces, cities, and municipalities, and to initiate their own local development programs and advocacy campaigns.
Financially, PRRM has become stable, with an endowment fund that yields enough interest income to support the majority of its institutional expenses. It now also has its own headquarters building, which not only enables PRRM to save on office rentals but also provides it with a modest income, derived from the rental of conference facilities. More importantly, the new headquarters building has provided its staff with adequate and appropriate working spaces, which has improved their efficiency and productivity.
Indeed, PRRM has come a long way since its founders signed its incorporation papers fifty years ago. Yet, the challenges that it faced at that time seem not to have changed much over the years.
While the Government’s agrarian-reform program has accomplished much since the Huks demanded its implementation in the 1950s, there is still agrarian unrest in many parts of the country because of what is perceived as the slow implementation of the program.
While the national income and human development indicators have improved, poverty is still widespread. It is estimated that more than 31 million Filipinos, or more than a third of the population, live below the poverty line. More than two-thirds of this number-about 20 million-live in the rural areas.
While the country’s medical profession and facilities have kept pace with the best of the world, many Filipinos still suffer life-threatening but curable diseases, simply because medicines and professional health services are priced beyond their reach.
While the Government continues to improve the educational system and increase the budgetary allocation for education each year, almost a third of schoolchildren drop out before completing grade school, mainly due to poverty.
While basic social services, such as housing, electricity, and water, are more available now than they were fifty years ago, the poor do not have sufficient access to them.
While there is no shortage of legislation on sustainable development, the country continues to face environmental problems involving urban air and water pollution, natural-resource degradation, and the declining quality of coastal and marine resources.
While democratic restoration has brought about greater citizen participation in the running of society, it seems our brand of democracy still needs a lot of democratizing to be a means of sustainability.
All this because more than 80 percent of the national income, and the goods and services that it represents, go to less than half of the population. The other half-the “other Philippines”-have to make do with less than 20 percent of the national wealth.
In other words, while the country as a whole may have progressed economically over the past fifty years, the gap between the rich and the poor has remained as wide as ever.
These are the challenges that PRRM is faced with as it winds up its first corporate life and enters its second fifty years.
To prepare itself to meet these challenges, PRRM engaged in a Strategic Planning Process that would set its agenda for the next fifty years. As part of this process, it looked back to those fifty challenging years between 1952 and 2002 in order to mark its memories and legacies, while culling lessons from its achievements, as well as its failures. It also scanned the future, through a series of Dialogues on Development Scenarios, during which it listened to, discussed, and analyzed the expert prognosis of economists, environmentalists, scientists, sociologists, political analysts, cultural leaders, and others, on what the Philippines is going to be like over the next 15 to 50 years, given the experience of the last fifty.
The Strategic Planning Process, which spanned more than eighteen months, from November 2001 to June 2002, also included workshops and “strategic conversations” with a wide cross-section of PRRM’s stakeholders and partners: from its Board of Trustees to its central office and field staff throughout the country; from the leaders of its chapters to those of its partner people’s organizations; from its partner NGOs to its donors.
The planning process examined the past and the present, and attempted to predict the future. It looked inside PRRM, as well as at the physical, political, social, and cultural environment that envelops and affects the Movement.
In reviewing its past, PRRM saw that its main strength and appeal lies in its “rootedness” in the community, i.e., in its work at the grassroots level of development. From 1952 to the present, its most successful attempts at “model-building” have been those at the village or multi-village level-whether it be in self-governance or in sustainable agriculture or in natural-resource management. Even in its advocacy work, where it participated in discussions and debates on critical development issues in local, national, and international forums, its experiences at ground level provided solid backing to its arguments, whether for or against a particular issue.
And when it looked at the future, PRRM saw that its goal of putting development in the hands of the people through a sustainable area development strategy could best be achieved by continuing its focus on local development efforts.
This is especially true in the face of the globalization of trade brought about by the GATT-WTO agreements. For the country to be able to compete globally, and benefit from those agreements, rather than suffer because of them, it is important that we strengthen ourselves at the local level, so that the country as a whole can be strong enough to compete with other countries. The stronger we are at the local level, the stronger we would be nationally.
This was also the shared sentiment of the various stakeholders of the Movement, from its Board of Trustees and staff, to the leaders of its chapters and partner people’s organizations, who articulated a common suggestion that PRRM should “localize” its programs. They expressed the belief that this would enable PRRM to be even more relevant and responsive to the situation and needs of the people.
This was confirmed by the expert resource persons who participated in PRRM’s Dialogues on Development Scenarios. Each one offered the same proposition, albeit from varying perspectives: that the key to sustainable development is the effective participation by, and cooperation among, the local people, the local government unit, and the local business sector, in local development. In other words, the “localization” of development efforts.
In addition, there was consensus that PRRM’s advocacy of national and international development policies, strategies, and programs that have a bearing on local sustainable development should not only continue but should be expanded and strengthened. For local development to prosper, it is imperative that there are supportive policies and programs at the national and international levels, and PRRM could do much to promote the formulation of such policies and programs through its advocacy work, as it has, in fact, already done several times in the past.
Given all these, PRRM has adopted the following statements of …
“PRRM envisions a society of equity and sustainability. The future is one where:
society is free of ignorance, poverty, disease and powerlessness; and
development takes place within the environment’s carrying capacity.
“To enhance the capacity of rural communities in the planning, advocacy and implementation of sustainable development, through an integrated program of education, livelihood, health, habitat, environment and self-governance.”
In carrying out this Mission, PRRM will be guided by the following set of ….
These are the values we believe in and stand for. They will guide us not only in developing and implementing our programs and projects, but also in our day-to-day work and in our relating with one another and with others.
With the foregoing in mind, PRRM shall pursue over the next 50 years the following …
To enable it to undertake the aforementioned Priorities, PRRM will strengthen its …
Organizational and Human Resources
March 8, 2014, Cocoon Boutique Hotel
Quezon City, Philippines