Strengthening power from below in the Philippines

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16 Dec Strengthening power from below in the Philippines

The nature of risks varies. Risks may be short-term or long-term; hidden or visible; sudden or slowly unfolding. They also differ across ecosystems. The risks faced by small islands may not necessarily be the same as those confronting uplands and urban areas. New risks emerge, while present risks constantly evolve as these interact with one another. Risks affect vulnerable  communities and individuals in various ways, but the hardest hit are the most vulnerable, including indigenous communities, the marginalised urban poor and upland communities living in remote areas with distinct vulnerabilities.

The Philippines reflects the complexity of a multi-risk environment. It is exposed to multiple natural and physical hazards, as it lies just above the equator along the Pacific Ring of Fire, where many of the earth’s typhoons, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur. Systemic and internal risks also pose a threat to the development of its people. Centuries-old conflict in the southern Philippines between Moro (Muslims and indigenous people) and other faiths has marginalised the Moro and embedded feelings of resentment and isolation among them. Unfair market policies and lack of confidence have prevented small-scale Philippine producers from actively participating in the market and claiming their fair share of its benefits. The government’s push for corporate-led development of target economic investment areas and the powerlessness of indigenous communities to protect their ancestral domain jeopardise the country’s remaining farmlands and forestlands. Powerful elites continue to have a stronghold over national policies and decision-making spaces, stifling grassroots voices and limiting their opportunities to participate and influence these spaces.

The usual response of poor people to these risks revolves around survival or subsistence, especially since they have limited or no options, voice and opportunities to address the threats they are facing and reduce their vulnerability. Others have become resigned to their situation, lacking hope that their lives will improve, especially when they have been embroiled in a long history of neglect and abuse.

The uncertainties arising from past, present and future threats increase the urgency to put an end to power imbalances and transform structures, systems and internal vulnerabilities that continue to disempower poor people. Thus, ‘the question is no longer whether change is needed but what form that change must take.

Achieving such power transformation necessitates an approach that aims to help poor communities not only survive and subsist but also thrive. It involves empowering communities to be resilient to the risks brought about by a changing and challenging environment. This approach is not merely confined to building assets and diversifying income but further seeks to address external and internal causes of poverty and dynamic shocks and stress from the environment.

Christian Aid recognises that the need to pay attention to internal risks that impede the progress of poor communities is as important as addressing external risks. It believes in harnessing the ‘power within’ by strengthening the voice of poor communities to claim their rights and make duty bearers accountable to them. People must be mobilised to act collectively on critical issues affecting them and become responsible for their own development. Christian Aid helps them envision not just a life of subsistence and survival, but a life with dignity as well as personal, economic, political and social freedoms.

This report highlights case studies that demonstrate how Christian Aid partners in the Philippines have implemented this power-centred approach to building resilience in a range of contexts, communities and environments across the Philippines.