|The Philippine Council for Sustainable Development
Pia C. Bennagen
The year 1992 saw the gathering of government and non-government representatives from both the developing and developed world in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit. While the official representatives of governments met to discuss various issues and concerns related to sustainable development, a parallel meeting among non-governmental organizations was being held. At the end of the Rio affair, one of the key documents which the participants came up with was the Agenda 21. Two of the main proposals that came out of the Rio Summit were the formulation of a national Agenda 21 and a national sustainable development council in each of the participating countries. Responding to this challenge, the Ramos administration immediately went to work. Within a span of three months from the conclusion of the Rio Summit, the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) was set up. The Philippines was one of the first countries to have established its own national sustainable development council. And in September 1996, the Philippine Agenda 21 (PA 21) was launched in response to the call to formulate a national Agenda 21. These are the two mechanisms by which the Philippine commitments made during the Rio Summit are being operationalized and implemented.
The presence of civil society organizations in all these initiatives was very much evident — in the preparations for the Earth Summit, during the Summit proceedings, in the preparations for the PCSD and PA 21, and in various other sustainable development-related activities. Even before the Earth Summit, civil society organizations in the Philippines have already been involved in natural resource and environmental management. Hence, to say that the civil society community was actively involved would be an understatement. In fact, to a certain extent, one could say that in certain initiatives, the civil society organizations were the pivotal actors in the sense that they pushed government to do its sustainable development work effectively and efficiently.
This case study’s main focus is the participation of civil society organizations in the PCSD. More particularly, it deals with the following questions:
In general, what is the niche of the PCSD within the Philippine political system? Within in the PCSD, what roles are performed by civil society organizations?
What has been the impact of civil society participation in the PCSD --- in terms of government decision-making procedures, of policy substance, and on civil society itself?
From the perspective of civil society, what have been the gains and the costs arising from engaging with government? From the perspective of government, what have been the gains and the costs resulting from engaging with civil society?
What factors contribute to smooth working relations between the government and civil society within the context of the PCSD? What factors hinder good working relations? What steps need to be taken in order to strengthen the relations between government and civil society?
What lessons about civil society-government relations can be drawn from the PCSD experience? And what are the prospects as far as civil society-government relations within the PCSD are concerned?
To address these questions, data were gathered from primary and secondary sources. Published materials from the government and from civil society organizations were utilized. A main source of information were the interviews with government and non-government individuals who are (or were) involved in the PCSD. The key informants for this case study came from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the NEDA-Agriculture Staff and various non-governmental and people’s organizations (NGOs and POs) such as the CODE-NGO, National Peace Conference (NPC), Center for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI), Earth Savers Movement (ESM), Lingkod Tao Kalikasan (LTK), Miriam PEACE, and Women’s Action Network for Development (WAND).
On balance, the PCSD can be said to be a relatively successful experiment in civil society participation in governance and in government-civil society partnerships, that is, compared to other multisectoral bodies of the same nature. But while the PCSD exercise has promoted the principle of multistakeholdership or counterparting, it should be pointed out that success has been more evident at the procedural than at the substantive level. In addition, civil society’s involvement in the PCSD has also revealed its strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis the government. As such, civil society has come to recognize that before it can maximize its participation in the PCSD in particular and in governance in general, it has to get its act together.
The Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD)
The PCSD was created by former President Fidel V. Ramos through the issuance of Executive Order No. 15 on 15 September 1992 in order “to ensure that the commitments made at Rio de Janeiro, and the implications of the Earth Summit to the Philippines are implemented, periodically monitored and coordinated at the global level”.1 Among other things, the PCSD has the following powers and responsibilities:
to review and ensure the implementation of the commitments made by the Philippines in light of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the Philippine Agenda 21 (PA 21);
to establish guidelines and mechanisms that will expand, concretize, and operationalize the sustainable development principles, as embodied in the Rio Declaration, the UNCED, Agenda 21, the National Conservation Strategy, and PA 21, and incorporate them in the preparation of the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan, both at the national and local levels, with active participation from the non-government sector and people’s organizations (underscoring supplied);
to formulate policy reforms, programs, and projects and recommend new legislations that respond to continuing and emerging issues, and chart future actions related to environment and sustainable development;
to provide policy advice to appropriate bodies on environment and sustainable development issues of national interest;
to institutionalize a mechanism that would ensure linkage among the legislative and executive branches, local government units (LGUs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), business and other concerned entities/sectors, in the formulation of policies and decision-making on sustainable development concerns;
to act as the coordinating mechanism with the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and actively solicit assistance and cooperation towards the realization of the Philippine commitment made at the UNCED;
to review and monitor plans, policies, programs, and legislations on sustainable development and recommend mechanisms/strategies for promoting efficiency and timeliness of their execution;
to establish a networking mechanism that will establish links with local and international organizations involved in sustainable development;
to call on any and all government agencies, resource persons and other groups, whenever necessary, to assist the PCSD in the performance of its role and functions; and
to catalyze the formation and institutionalization of local councils for sustainable development, in close coordination with local authorities.2
Organizationally-speaking, the PCSD has a council, an executive committee, four major committees, eight subcommittee, and a secretariat and civil society counterpart secretariat. (Please refer to Appendix A for a description of the functions of each of these units.) Since the PCSD is founded on the principle of multistakeholdership or counterparting, both government and civil society representatives sit in the PCSD.3 The NEDA Director-General serves as the Chairperson of the PCSD while the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources serves as the Vice-Chairperson. The NEDA Deputy Director-General acts as the PCSD Coordinator. The government secretariat is based at the Agriculture Staff of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) while that of civil society is called the Civil Society Counterpart Council for Sustainable Development Secretariat (CSCCSD Secretariat).4
There have been questions raised regarding the niche which the PCSD is trying to fill in the larger context of Philippine society. Basically, the main concern has to do with the distinction between the PCSD and the other multisectoral bodies that are in existence (e.g., the Social Reform Council under the Ramos administration, for example). Various views abound with respect to this matter. One is that the PCSD should be seen as a talk forum through which consensus-building among all stakeholders can be forged. It is an arena where business, government, and civil society can come together to address the pressing development issues at the national and local levels. Moreover, it is a mechanism by which information exchange in terms of programs, policies, and methodologies can be conducted. The PA 21 provides the common framework which guides such discussions and information exchanges.5 It was not established as the authoritative body that will decide on all matters related to sustainable development. The PCSD is, after all, a recommendatory body as is provided for in its mandate.6
Another view is to see the PCSD as an oversight body that will debate on whether a particular policy is consistent with or contradicts PA 21. Basically, the PCSD should be a proactive body geared towards influencing the strategic thinking of government so that conflicts among policies and programs will be avoided.7 The PCSD is also the arena for discussing cross-sectoral issues and concerns (i.e., those that are not in the area of responsibility of a single department or agency solely). However, because the niche of the PCSD not that clearly delineated, there have been some instances when the PCSD had to intervene even in issues that are purely sectoral in nature. Here, the PCSD’s role is to bridge the gap arising from, for example, mistrust among the different stakeholders and to provide a venue where conflicts can be resolved.8 From the perspective of civil society, the PCSD provides another means by which NGOs and POs can influence decision-making in government. More particularly, it is a body which the NGOs and POs can tape with the end in view of asserting the civil society concept of sustainable development. The PCSD can also be seen as an add-on to the efforts of LGUs and Local Development Councils (LDCs) in the area of sustainable development.9 The myriad views regarding the PCSD’s role in Philippine society, while not necessarily conflicting, reflects the lack of clear definition and operationalization of the PCSD’s niche. As a consequence, there are questions regarding the utility of the PCSD in the long-run.10
On Civil Society Participation in the PCSD
Philippine civil society has had a long history of involvement in activities related to environment and natural resource management. Even before the concept of sustainable development came to be in vogue, NGOs, POs, and other community-based organizations were already participating in or initiating their own programs, particularly at the grassroots level. Aside from having a long history of involvement, environmental and sustainable development organizations come from varying backgrounds and viewpoints. It has been said that the civil society organizations involved in environment and sustainable development activities can be likened to a Philippine dessert called halo-halo (i.e., a mix of various sweets, ice cream ice, fruits, gelatin, beans, corn, and milk). This mix which may be called the environmental and sustainable development movement is composed of four main ingredients: (1) large, mass-based POs set up along sectoral lines; (2) NGOs working for the promotion of the interests and demands of the POs; (3) spontaneous citizens’ formations organized around local environmental issues; and (4) environmental organizations whose ranks come from POs, NGOs, and previous unorganized but concerned citizens of the middle and upper classes of society.11 Given their different histories, membership, and orientations, it is to be expected that even as these groups articulate the same primary goals --- effective and efficient environmental and natural resource management and promotion and attainment of sustainable development --- they do not necessarily subscribe to the same strategies and mechanisms by which these goals can be achieved. It is this variation in civil society’s approaches to environment and sustainable development issues, among others, that contributes to the dynamism within the PCSD.
Most of the NGOs and POs that are currently involved in the PCSD were the very same organizations that were part of the preparatory committee for the 1992 Earth Summit. Along the way, other groups joined the PCSD while some opted out. At present, there are some 50-60 civil society organizations involved in the PCSD.12 As was mentioned, civil society has its own counterpart council and secretariat. These instrumentalities serve as venues where civil society can discuss and consolidate its own agenda in preparation for consultations with its government counterpart. Since 1997, the PCSD NGO-PO counterpart council has been involved in a project geared towards the localization of PCSD mechanisms. The CSCCSD seeks to operationalize sustainable development through, among others: (1) the establishment of local councils for sustainable development as key governance mechanisms for consensus multistakeholder decision-making and (2) the formulation of local Agenda 21, guided by PA 21, which shall serve as the basis for emerging policies, legislation, and development plans, projects, and programs for both the private and public sector, with the involvement of a wide range of Philippine NGO-PO networks.13 In addition, within the PCSD, civil society representatives sit together with their counterparts from the government. While the government representatives sit in the PCSD by virtue of their positions as, for example, department secretaries, civil society representatives come from PCSD-member organizations and are elected through a process agreed upon by civil society itself. This is part of civil society’s efforts to maintain a certain degree of autonomy from government and of government’s recognition that civil society is an entity that is fundamentally distinct from government.
In the PCSD, civil society is involved in various activities and performs different roles. First, as stakeholders in the development process, the NGOs and POs are part of the agenda-setting process. They bring into the discussions the view points and interests of the people at the grassroots level which may never be raised should the process be limited to government only. Hence, they act as interest articulators for the faceless millions who are usually marginalized from the mainstream decision-making process. Second, civil society is seen as a monitor or checker of government’s performance and excesses. It is also a mechanism by which people can hold the government accountable to its promises. Third, not only does civil society link the government to the people, it also links the government to the many other NGOs and POs that are not formally part of the PCSD but are also working in sustainable development-related areas. This contributes to the task of broadening the constituency for environment and sustainable development issues in the Philippines. This also operationalizes the principles of inclusivity as opposed to exclusivity. And fourth, civil society is the main actors in the process of localizing the sustainable development agenda in the Philippines. Given its comparative advantage in engaging the people at the grassroots level and organizing and mobilizing them, they can initiate the process of localizing the Philippine Agenda 21 that will hopefully mainstream the agenda in barangays, municipalities, and cities across the archipelago.14
The Impact of Civil Society Participation: Gains and Costs
The participation of NGOs and POs in the PCSD brings with it several benefits and costs. One can also make a distinction between the substantive and procedural consequences of civil society participation. On balance, it appears that the impact of civil society participation has been more procedural than substantive. Civil society was very instrumental in designing and maintaining the multistakeholder character of the PCSD and it has consistently reminded government of the need to utilize democratic and participatory decision-making strategies.15 Furthermore, civil society’s participation in the discussions have facilitated the making of decisions through the articulation of different views early on in the process, thereby avoiding conflicts in the more crucial stages of decision-making. Civil society has likewise made it possible for government to gain access to the sentiments of the larger society and this proves useful in the process of mobilizing support behind sustainable development initiatives in the country.16 The fact that civil society participation is slowly being mainstreamed in other decision-making arenas is a testament to the positive impact that the presence and involvement of civil society organizations has had on decision-making procedures in government.17
On the other hand, procedurally, the inclusion of civil society in decision-making has made the process more time-consuming. This is particularly true for civil society which has expressed a certain degree of frustration as regards the amount of time devoted for meetings and discussions as compared to that allocated for actual projects.18 This is due, in part, to the consensual approach to decision-making which, when carried to the extreme, can be hazardous. Another factor that contributed to the lengthening of the decision-making process is the fact that civil society is not a monolithic entity (and so is government). As such, even if agreement is reached between government and certain groups, other NGOs and POs within PCSD may express disagreement.19 However, viewed from another perspective, while the consensual and multistakeholdership strategies may have prolonged the decision-making process in certain instances, if there was no participation from civil society, the process may still be time-consuming because of resistance coming from the people. It is this resistance which may be lessened or totally eradicated if the people are made part of the process.20 Still in the realm of procedures, one of the downside is that PCSD has not been able to draw the participation of the basic sectors in the same way that the Social Reform Agenda (SRA) did. One reason for this is that the basic sectors were not as concerned with cross-sectoral issues and with their respective sectoral agenda and they did not see any venue within the PCSD structure for the articulation of their interests.21
As regards the impact on substance, perhaps the most important manifestation of this is civil society’s contribution to PA 21 — the core document that provides the common framework for all sustainable development efforts. In this context, the articulation of varying views has enriched the plans that have been made. Compared to the times when decision-making was dominated by the government, and the private sector at times (i.e., business), the inclusion of civil society perceptions has led to the consideration of views that may not have been raised at all without the presence of NGOs and POs. Therefore, it can be said that civil society participation has led to outcomes that would have been different had civil society not been involved in the process.22 Some organizations were direct participants in the writing of certain sections of the document.23 Others were involved in the various consultations and information dissemination activities conducted prior to and after the drafting and publication of PA 21.24 Civil society’s failure to influence the substance of policies to as great a degree as its influence on decision-making processes can be attributed in part to its weak research capacity and lack of access to vital information compared to the government. It is in this respect that civil society cannot match the resources that government has on its hands.25 But instead of looking at this as a problem, it would be better to treat it as a possible area for cooperation where government can utilize its comparative advantage in research (arising from its more extensive technical capability and its access to data) and civil society can assist government in the translation of research into concrete projects at the local level (due to its linkages with communities and its expertise in community organizing and mobilization).
In terms of the impact of participation on civil society itself, NGO and PO representatives are of the opinion that their involvement in the PCSD has had a “unifying impact” and this is particularly evident whenever there is a need for them to negotiate with government on certain matters.26 Even during the conceptualization of the PCSD, the opportunity to participate in government affairs and to influence policy decisions forced civil society organizations to organize themselves because they had to choose their own representatives from among themselves and they had to agree on the principles that will guide decision-making and consensus-building within their sector. To a certain extent, it may be said that the creation of the PCSD and the inclusion of civil society in this body forced the latter to develop a democratic process that helped to unite them despite their diversity.27 The unifying effect, however, varies from issue to issue. Certain issues like the lobby against the appointment of Secretary Antonio Cerilles to the DENR has led to the forging of tactical cooperation among NGOs and POs but on other issues where no consensus exists, they articulate their own views and respect each other's stand (e.g., issue of charter change).28 On the whole, the PCSD has provided a venue where NGOs and POs who are working on sustainable development issues can talk to and debate each other and where consensus within civil society can be forged so that its initiatives in this area can be coordinated with government efforts.
Clearly, civil society’s participation in the PCSD has had positive and negative consequences both on decision-making processes and on the substance of plans and projects, albeit to a lesser degree. Those who have remained in the PCSD despite criticisms of the body are of the opinion that the benefits of participation far outweigh the costs. Moreover, civil society organizations view the costs that they have faced, most of which are not financial in nature, as part of the learning process. The time spent meeting with government officials, debating issues, and formulating plans has been well spent if only for the fact that this has given them a chance to become more familiar with the workings of government, the nuances of the bureaucracy, the intricacies of decision-making, and with the constraints which officials face in making policy decisions. The PCSD has also afforded them the opportunity to touch base with other civil society organizations and with local communities. In the final analysis, both the government and civil society have benefited from the participation of the latter in the PCSD thus far.
On Government-Civil Society Relations in the PCSD
The PCSD provides several venues for interface between the government and civil society organizations. Interaction can take place at all levels of the PCSD — from the subcommittees to the Council itself. While meetings and discussions take place at all levels, the nature of interaction varies from level to level. For instance, in some subcommittees, there is a tendency for government to dominate the discussions (due in part to the fact that the chairpersons of subcommittees are undersecretaries or assistant secretaries of the different government departments involved in the PCSD). Also, within subcommittees, there is a tendency for work to be done not as a single body (i.e., as PCSD) but on their own.29 Within the Council, discussions usually revolve around the general framework of action, the paradigm of sustainable development, and the general direction that the PCSD should take. Interaction also takes place on a more regular basis given that Council meetings are scheduled more often than those at the lower levels of the PCSD. This affords the government and civil society representatives who sit in the Council more opportunity to become familiar with one another and to establish personal networks that facilitate future interaction between both sectors. These personal networks between particular individuals in the government and NGOs and POs have helped sustain the multistakeholder orientation of the PCSD. As regards the nature of the discussions at particular levels, substantive deliberations occur primarily at the level of the committees, after which issues are brought to the attention of the Council members. As for the Executive Committee, its members are tasked to handle cross-cutting issues which do not require decision-making by the full Council.30
It has not, however, been smooth sailing for government-civil society relations in the PCSD. Former NEDA Director-General and PCSD Chairperson Cielito Habito recounts the early years of the PCSD:
The initial years were not easy. The road we took was a tortuous, sometimes frustrating, one that seemed overly dominated by organizational and operational concerns. We took time to achieve a leveling of perspectives, paradigms, expectations, and mindsets among the governmental members and the civil society members of the Council ... Our first order was to instill trust in each other and, in turn, to work to merit the other’s trust. We spent time agreeing on protocols for agenda setting and decision-making, until we finally agreed to be guided by principles of counterparting and consensus-building in all that we work on. We gave time to forging mechanisms for funding our sustainable development efforts ... It turned out to have been time well spent. Through it all, we — Philippine government and civil society together — pursued a common advocacy for sustainable development in both international and domestic fronts.31
During the initial years of the PCSD, there was a need to embark on confidence and trust-building measures to deal with the tensions that existed between government and civil society. Differences had to be threshed out because if these were swept under the rug, they may have rendered the PCSD unstable and eventually, useless. In order not to rock the boat during the first three years of the PCSD, the government and civil society avoided discussing the more controversial issues. This practice, according to Dr. Habito, allowed them to get used to the workings of one another and to gradually build confidence and trust in each other.32 On the other hand, since some government officials and NGO and PO representatives already had the chance to work with each other even before the PCSD was created, they did not need that much time to get used to each other. The personal networks that have been established prior to the PCSD proved to be useful in some instances. To a certain extent, the government-civil society partnership that was established in the PCSD was anchored on such personal contacts and networks.
One source of problem in terms of furthering government-civil society relations in the PCSD is the practice of some government officials to keep sending their representatives to meetings instead of personally attending the meetings themselves. This is one manifestation of the early difficulty of getting “consistent and sufficiently senior representation in Council meetings from government agencies that are part of the PCSD”.33 This practice made it frustrating to ensure continuity in the discussions and coordination in the decision-making process because sometimes representatives did not pass on the information to their superiors or to whoever is attending the next meeting. Also, this created the impression on civil society that the government was not serious about sustainable development and the PCSD. Changes in administrations, which imply changes in the people occupying certain positions in government also created this problem of discontinuity. Thus, compared to the NGOs and POs involved in the PCSD, the government representatives had “shorter terms of office”.34 This proved problematic especially in relation to the confidence-building efforts because just when confidence and trust between the government and civil society are being strengthened, a new administration steps in and the entire government contingent (or part of it) to the PCSD is replaced by new people.35
This leads to one of the important factors that affect the nature of government-civil society relations in the PCSD — the personalities at the top of the structure, both from the government and civil society. There is the observation that had there been different people in government in the 1990s, it may have taken longer for the Philippines to create its own national sustainable development council. Also, due to the change in the administration, there have been changes in the leadership in the NEDA. There are initial observations that the current leadership is not as involved as the previous one in the PCSD (i.e., less hands-on in terms of the approach to the PCSD). While the new leadership continues to be open to civil society participation, it is not as heavily engaged as the previous leadership. Personality clashes also result due to the different backgrounds of the government and civil society representatives to the PCSD. Such clashes usually occur when representatives from both sectors take on a hardline stance on certain issues. In such instances, it becomes virtually impossible to arrive at a consensus and as such, no PCSD decision is arrived at.
Perhaps another factor that has facilitated the forging of good working relations between the government and civil society is that fact that from the start, there was an outright decision on the part of government to welcome and encourage civil society participation in the PCSD because it was, after all, civil society which pushed for the creation of the body. The government saw civil society as its partner in development. Moreover, it was also agreed upon that civil society will choose their own representatives to the PCSD through procedures that will also be developed by themselves.36 This non-intervention principle somehow lessened the tension between the government and civil society organizations as the latter saw that the government was willing to work with them while at the same time recognizing and respecting their autonomy. On the whole, this policy of promoting popular participation in governance was part of the 5 D’s of the Ramos administration — democratization, decentralization, devolution, deregulation, and development.
On a more substantive level, differences as regards the paradigms of sustainable development and the strategies on how to achieve it continue to exist between government and civil society and within civil society itself. There are observations that some civil society organizations that are involved in the PCSD do no truly understand the concept and are just in it due to the bandwagon effect (i.e., in order to create the image of being pro-environment). They also lack the ability to comprehend the more technical, economic, and scientific aspects of sustainable development issues.37 The different sustainable development paradigms to which government and civil society subscribe affect the manner by which they operationalize the concept and determine the strategies to attain sustainable development. Hence, it is vital that government and civil society agree on a common framework. To a certain extent, this was attained through the formulation of PA 21 to which both government and civil society representatives contributed. Nevertheless, even with the existence of PA 21, there continues to be a debate regarding some of the particulars of that document. And as long as differences continue, this may create the perception among the people that there is no unity among the PCSD members as regards sustainable development and how it can be attained.
Several mechanisms for conflict resolution within the PCSD have evolved through the years of its existence. Aside from the formal process which involves issues being raised at the lowest levels first before they are brought to the Council (or the President if necessary), informal mechanisms have also been used. In the early years of the PCSD, when then was still minimal trust and confidence between the government and civil society, the latter would write strongly-worded letters addressed to the concerned government officials criticizing the actions or decisions made by the government. The government would respond by issuing its own strongly-worded statement. Words would be exchanged but in the end, nothing would be resolved. However, through the years, a more personal approach towards conflict resolution has been used. For instance, the government and civil society would hold sessions specifically for the purpose of airing grievances. Or sometimes, civil society representatives would have personal conversations with Dr. Habito or NEDA Secretary Felipe Medalla in order to discuss areas of conflict. This sort of “backroom-type” approach to conflict resolution has been more effective compared to the earlier approaches which tended to further worsen the situation.38 But if the conflict is between groups within civil society, they attempt to resolve it among themselves and government does not intervene unless requested to by civil society.
Despite these problems, government and civil society continue to work towards the attainment of sustainable development in the Philippines. Gradually, they are ironing out the differences that have slowed the pace of work. Consultations and discussion through council, committee, and subcommittee meetings continue to be conducted. All these avenues for interaction between government and civil society will hopefully contribute to the ironing out of the differences between them. In the long-run, it is hoped that the principles of unity articulated in PA 21 will be put into practice so that the Philippine commitments made at the UNCED will be fulfilled.
Lessons From the PCSD Experience and Prospects for the Future
According to Dr. Habito, the PCSD experience has been quite positive even though the body has had its share of problems. While there are still negative comments coming from certain civil society organizations, there are more positive assessments than negative views and the latter are usually articulated by those who feel excluded from the process.39 If this is the case, what lessons can be learned from this experience which may be applicable to other multistakeholder and inter-agency bodies as the PCSD?
First, for any successful partnership to work, there must be trust and confidence among the actors involved. These are, of course, not achievable overnight but are something that evolved through years of working together. However, a minimum level of trust and confidence is necessary for any engagement between the government and civil society to take off. As the PCSD experience has shown, focusing on confidence-building during the early years of a partnership will have its trade-offs. In the case of the PCSD, the main trade-off was that the body avoided dealing with the more controversial policy issues which led to the criticism that the PCSD was nothing more than a talk shop. But the time spent building trust between the government and civil society was necessary “because the building of strong partnerships among the actors involved now puts the body in a stronger position to address the substantive issues at hand”.40 One may thus look at confidence-building measures as a much needed investment in human resource.
Second, the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of civil society that was adopted by the government appears to have facilitated the forging of relations between them. For civil society, this was a sign that the government respects their independence and recognizes that they are capable of handling their own affairs. This hands-off policy also allows for flexibility in the way civil society manages its structures and procedures as they can determine how they want to do things without government imposing certain regulations or models on them.
Third, having a common policy framework and action agenda also contributes to good working relations between the government and civil society. It would also be good if civil society is part of the formulation of such decisions. As a stakeholder, civil society should be involved in decision-making at all levels of the process. In this way, conflicts at the later, and more crucial, stages of decision-making will be avoided because various sentiments and opinions have already been articulated and possibly reconciled at the early phases. Of course, even if there is agreement on the general framework, it is unavoidable that certain problems will arise especially with regard to how this framework is to be operationalized. In the PCSD, varied interpretations are accommodated as long as these do not negate each other and they do not conflict with the overriding concern of the body — sustainable development.
And fourth, the mix of personalities, both from the government and civil society, is another significant factor to consider. If the government leadership is acceptable to civil society and is perceived to be sincere and committed to popular participation, then it would be easier for civil society to engage government. And if civil society is seen as serious about getting involved in governmental affairs and that they mean business, then government will be open to them. The people involved must be willing to negotiate and compromise. Hardliners on both sides will make decision-making more difficult and consensus-building virtually impossible. As has been observed in the PCSD, there are people from civil society who are difficult to deal with and those who are open to compromise. On the other hand, there are people from the government who are well-liked by civil society because they are seen as being true to their words and those who are viewed as being distant and unprepared or unwilling to discuss with civil society.41 A related factor is the manner in which each sector views the other. The multistakeholder approach of the PCSD mandates that each stakeholder is on equal footing as the other — whether one is a department secretary, an NGO worker, a businessman, a fisherfolk, and so on. However, there are some government officials who feel that they are superior in rank that their civil society counterparts and these are the people who have been hampering the efforts towards fully and effectively implementing the counterparting policy. Therefore, the different personalities that are involved in the PCSD do matter.
In order to build on what has been done so far in the PCSD, the government and civil society have to overcome certain challenges and these include:
Strengthening the partnership further by improving the coordination between the PCSD Secretariat based in NEDA and the CSCCSD Counterpart Secretariat.42 This will facilitate the conduct of joint or cooperative endeavors between the two sectors. As things stand now, actual implementation of programs, especially at the local level, are usually done by each sector acting on its own. Thus, there are few programs which have been done by PCSD as PCSD. In preparation for this, the CSCCSD Counterpart Secretariat has to strengthen itself first. The Secretariat is a one-person affair and as such, it is unable to provide the technical assistance needed by the civil society organizations involved in the PCSD. The challenge, therefore, is for the CSCCSD (and government if necessary) to allocate resources towards the hiring of additional staff members who can assist the NGOs and POs in preparation for meetings, conduct consultations, drafting of position papers and proposals, and implementation of projects.
Enhancing the capacity of civil society to comprehend and act on the more technical and economic issues related to sustainable development matters. The weakness of civil society in this area prevents it from actively participating in discussions and from maximizing its ability to influence the policy decisions made within the PCSD. Unless civil society is able to improve in this area, it will remain a passive observer when it comes to making decisions regarding technical and economic matters.
With respect to the PCSD per se, there is a move on the part of some sectors to push for a legislation that will further institutionalize the PCSD. Should this materialize, the existence of the PCSD will no longer be subject to the whims of a particular administration. It will give the body more permanence since now its mandate will be based on a law and not simply a presidential issuance. Consequently, this will ensure that sustainable development work done within the PCSD can be continued.43
Despite the adoption of a common framework as articulated in PA 21, there are still debates as regards the paradigm of sustainable development. As a consequence, there have been different interpretations of PA 21 and the concept of sustainable development between the government and civil society and within civil society itself.44 For instance, there is a perception that for the government, sustainable development is still largely an environmental concept while for civil society, it has a broader meaning (e.g., sustainable development has environmental and economic dimensions as well as cultural and spiritual elements). While these debates may never be resolved, steps may be undertaken to ensure that these do not relegate the PCSD to being simply a venue for discussion without anything ever being resolved.
As regards the multistakeholdership or counterparting policy, there continues to be some difficulty on the part of several government officials in accepting civil society as equal partners. On the whole, it appears that the government as a whole is not yet used to the multistakeholder approach but, on the positive note, the NEDA, where the PCSD Secretariat is based, is perceived to be sincere in its efforts to pursue and make use of this approach.45 The challenge, therefore, for both the government and civil society is to continuously work on and sustain the PCSD partnership that has lasted for eight years now. The fact that the multistakeholder partnership that has evolved in the PCSD has spilled-over to other arenas is a proof that this new approach to governance is slowly being accepted in other arenas.
The general political environment at present appears to be one of the biggest challenges that civil society, in particular, needs to deal with. There is a perception among civil society representatives that there has been retrogression under the current leadership.46 The gains of the past have been eroded due to the perceived closure of certain arenas for participation that are open to civil society. As such, civil society is now asking itself whether it has the resources necessary to continue the struggle even under a leadership that is seen as being less sympathetic to its cause that its predecessors.
Those who have opted to stick it out with the PCSD remain hopeful that they will be able to continue the sustainable development initiatives that the PCSD has already put in place. The PCSD has, thus far, proven to be a successful enterprise — relative to the experiences of other multisectoral and inter-agency bodies such as the Social Reform Council (SRC) and the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). Be that as it may, the PCSD is not perfect. It continues to different challenges and problems. But these challenges notwithstanding, the prospects for the government-civil society relations in the PCSD and for the PCSD itself are positive. Perhaps the succeeding quotation taken from the National Councils for Sustainable Development's (NCSD) best sums it up:
The outlook for PCSD is very bright, especially if the ... action agenda is successfully implemented. PCSD has built a reputation that is recognized nationally and globally. It has proven its potency and effectiveness in the SD arena. It has overcome numerous internal and external problems and trials that have made it even stronger and wiser. It has continued to enjoy the trust and confidence of government despite the change in administration. More importantly, it has maintained the trust and confidence of the Filipino people that it is serving.47
Broad, Robin and Cavanagh, John. Plundering Paradise: The Struggle for the Environment in the Philippines. Berkely: University of California Press, 1993.
Habito, Cielito. Speech delivered during the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly for the “Overall Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of Agenda 21,” New York, 23-27 June 1997.
National Councils for Sustainable Development Network. ”The NCSD Sustainable Development Report: Republic of the Philippines.” Document downloaded from http://www.ncsdnetwork.org/global/reports/ncsd1999/phi.htm on 1 March 2000.
National Economic and Development Authority-Agriculture Staff. “Philippine Council for Sustainable Development,” March 1997.
Philippine Council for Sustainable Development. Philippine Agenda 21. Pasig City: PCSD, 1996.
__________. Rio in Retrospect: Philippine and Global Agenda 21, 1992-1996. Pasig City: PCSD, 1997.
Ramos, President Fidel V. Speech delivered during a conference on “The Philippine
Agenda 21: Reaffirming Our Commitments to the Earth Summit,” Manila, 15 September 1992.
Interview with Prof. Roger Birosel, Earthsavers Movement, Quezon City, 22 November 1999.
Interview with Mr. Liberty Guinto, PCSD Secretariat, NEDA, Pasig City, 15 September 1999.
Interview with Dr. Cielito Habito, Metrobank Plaza, Makati City, 25 November 1999.
Interview with Atty. Raphael Lotilla, NEDA, Pasig City, 4 October 1999.
Interview with Ms. Teresita Quintos-Deles, GZO Peace Institute, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, 4 November 1999.
Interview with Prof. Donna Reyes, Miriam PEACE, Quezon City, 27 September 1999.
Interview with Mr. Jim Sharman, Center for Alternative and Development Initiatives, Quezon City, 26 October 1999.
Interview with Mr. Dan Songco, CODE-NGO, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, 14 October 1999.
Interview with Ms. Karen Tañada, Women’s Action for Development Network, Quezon City, 21 December 1999.
Interview with Sister Aida Velasquez, Lingkod Tao Kalikasan, St. Scholastica’s, Manila, 13 November 1999.