Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago
For a long time in Philippine development experience, cooperation in the development terrain was largely a market-state synergy. Only in the 1980s did the NGOs and peoples’ organizations or POs sprout in large numbers to leverage their strength and engage the state in the development game.
As a budding development professional and technocrat in the early 1980s, I encountered a context with few NGOs if ever in my area of operations (Cagayan Valley/Region II, Northern Philippines). It was Martial Law, independent NGOs/POs were regarded with suspicion as communist fronts (we have a Left insurgency here), and so it was tough looking for ‘civil society’ groups to co-partner with in the development game, most specially in development planning.
When the provincial development councils were mandated to be installed as planning & coordination platforms, I had the luck of sitting in some of them as convenor and top advisor. But alas! There were not much ‘independent’ NGOs/POs to invite as participants, save for ‘agrarian reform’ and peasant groups that were constituted by barangay officials and mayors that were not, in fact, ‘independent’ or ‘autonomous’.
Good enough for the market players, as chambers of commerce already abound then across the archipelago. So during my watch as convenor, I immediately invited the local chambers to sit along with us state officlals who came from both local and national government agencies.
So that was the arrangement I had than at the provincial council. And the experience was fulfilling so far. The market players were participative, they actively presented ideas regarding process and priority programs and projects for the province. It was not difficult engaging them, as I recall well.
Another strategy that was employed by my broader them then, led by our regional director, was to form a club of government and business executives in the region. We called it the ‘Valley Kilusan Executive Greenhouse Club’ or Valley KEG Club. In the first semester of 1983 I was luckily appointed the manager of the clubhouse (located in Ilagan, Isabela), which I executed on top of my other regular tasks.
The response to the invitation for club membership was simply very enthusiastic. During my incumbency as manager, there were over 100 members which included traders, provincial governors, regional directors & provincial heads of line agencies, and cottage industry owners.
Our sub-regional office in Ilagan (Isabela) housed the clubhouse that was specially designed and constructed for the purpose of R & R of executives in the region. We had a restaurant and some function rooms, including a games room that was under construction (it was done when I left the ministry for graduate school later).
Every now and then we invited entertainers from Manila, who were contracted to perform for about a week or so. One entertainer decided to stay for good, as he found the business opportunities in the valley so great for exploration and immersion. The restaurant alone, which was packed with exec audiences at times, was already a good venue to build goodwill and good faith among development partners.
At daytime, some business and government officials would come to take lunch, hold meetings there, or simply chat and exchange pleasantries. The warlord governor then (now deceased) of Isabela, who also chaired the Regional Development Council, would come occasionally to meet people and exchange pleasantries.
Both the formal and informal platforms for concurring synergy are effective, as far as my experience had shown. Explore all possibilities for dialogue, this is the thumb rule. If one may not work fairly well, then explore the other strategy. Should both of them work well, then indeed this would brighten your day, and this is possible.
[Writ 29 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]