The 2016 elections usher a leap in both form and substance of the campaign trail. There had not been so intense and dynamic participation of people in the history of Philippine electoral exercises than these.
Since the people power demonstrated in 1986 that brought down the Marcos dictatorial regime, there have been changes in the utilization of so-called democratic space created by the assumption of another elite member of the ruling class, Corazon C, Aquino to national leadership. She then became the first female President of the country.
What was the role of the Philippine NGO’s then in the entire Corazon C. Aquino administration?
Debates among the progressive left on how to maximize the democratic space proved to make a crack within that those who made Cory Aquino as an icon of democracy. The NGOs that carried her perspective of democracy and call for change sustained themselves by occupying key positions in government.
Activism within this regime took another slant as it ended with land reform issues remain unresolved for the majority peasants. This woman-led governance exhibited only how a class position carried itself to the last day of her term as she unleashed her Total War Policy against those who sustained their resistance to unjust policies- the anti-people policies manifested the direction that only fueled vibrant people’s action against the state.
While Fidel Ramos advanced the neoliberal policies in his term, he was tolerant to mass actions expressing opposition to his full support to privatization of vital industries and services, deregulation of prime utilities and liberalization of imports.
Estrada may have earned huge points when he signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law initiated during the Ramos term with the National Democratic Front. But his plunder and machismo were strong enough to cause his ouster.
Here came another chance for a woman to lead the country. Her background in neoliberal economics expectedly did not create any dent. Nothing significant in the occupation of Gloria M. Arroyo in Malacanang except enriching the Philippine score card in the global gender index as second female leader of this poverty-corruption top notch nation.
Amidst grief over the death of “democracy” icon, her son claimed victory in the presidential race in 2010 despite his anemic performance in both lower and upper houses as a legislator.
The 2013 elections rigged with the controversial PCOS machines defects and programmed cheating never been revisited for a final check.
Again, the NGOs maintain their position in government as visible as possible not anymore as independent bodies to lodge complaints and lobby for changes in state policies but as technocrats in bureaucracy.
Their numbers seemed to have multiplied since Cory Aquino’s regime. These are the NGOs identified as the combined forces of those who rejected the nationalist democratic struggle and opted to mainstream development work in the state bureaucracy and the “social democrats” as the main force behind the Aquinos ascendancy with those in the yellow bandwagon.
Sprout of NGOs seemed to be halted as funding sources withdrew with the initial assessment of return to democracy and perceived capacities towards self-reliance. The Philippine NGOs could be exhibiting post-colonial models of development- approaches to needs included a focus on the environment, women, and others participating or empowerment.
Education and organizing with mass mobilizations still the domain of the people’s organizations subscribed to the ideals of the nationalist democrats- the anti-imperialists, anti-bureaucrat capitalists and the anti-fascists.
Those NGOs which enjoy the perks within the government bureaucracy come with project cycle-orientation embracing eclectic approach to development work, the coagulation of all the approaches and a hodgepodge of favorable strategies.
Meanwhile, the Catholic church and other faith-based organizations shifted their gears in civil society roles and tasks with clear departure from what they had displayed during the Marcos dictatorial regime. The dominant church leaders dissociated themselves from cause-oriented groups believing in the changes that occurred.
After forty solid years, we found ourselves demanding again for a planned social change. Thus the 2016 national and local elections came as an opportunity for a mass movement challenged to dare the present dispensation, break the status quo. Social mobilizations – human, financial, material and logistical resources, by villages and organizations showed people’s capacity to change –spontaneity to a more conscious actions of the people’s organizations- either from the progressive left or the simply concerned groups and individuals waiting to be aroused and organized for the betterment of their lot.
The strongest mandate (35%) so far in the history of presidential elections garnered by presumptive President Rodrigo Roa Duterte only galvanized the aspirations of the masses for a better deal with corruption, criminality, peace and order.
The ascendancy to power by a known womanizer spells the level of appreciation of the people on organizational leadership. Taking up the burning issues of the masses brought this phenomenal rise to national leadership without relegating to the sideline the gender issues generated throughout the electoral campaign.
Two things surfaced: 1) gender issues lined up secondarily for the people while boosting Duterte’s solid resolve to advance the struggle against corruption and criminality; 2) Gender orientation course in the country lags behind despite claims of GAD budgets by various units of the government not to mention women NGOs gender-based projects since a good number of Duterte supporters bullied Gabriela when it made critique on Duterte’s sexist remarks.
To sum up, the civil society failed to address the root causes of the problems of the Filipino people and that electing a tested local chief executive from the South to become a national figure symbolizes a protest action, beyond imagination at the beginning, yet becoming a material for a global study in governance and social change.