NGO Conference Notes | Development for and by the People: Community Organizing and Development in Negros Occidental in the Face of Shrinking Civic Spaces

September 27, 2023

by MASIPAG National Office

MASIPAG recently held its three-day National NGO Conference with the theme “Cultivating Synergy: Strengthening Farmers’ Organizations and Their Communities for Genuine Rural Development” in the University of the Philippines Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. MASIPAG owes its success and continuous strength in further forwarding the network’s vision and mission to its partner NGOs, working hand-in-hand with its member farmers and scientists. With farmers already equipped with knowledge and experience in agriculture and scientists with their academic experimentation and research skills, MASIPAG partner NGOs in return further elevate it through their expertise in organizing skills–becoming united to collectively and holistically confront the challenges of the failure of the Green Revolution and its lasting impact which hinders farmer empowerment up until today.

The conference was attended by 17 member and partner non-government organizations of MASIPAG from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, where one of which, namely the Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG) Inc., shared about the situation and development work done by communities in Negros Occidental in the Visayas Region, Philippines.

The Negros island is known as the hacienda capital of the Philippines. Numerous massive haciendas owned by notorious landlords such as the Cojuangcos, Angs, and Benedictos are spread out in different parts of the island. Negros is also known as the sugar bowl of the Philippines or the “land of sweatiest sugar” as it is one of the top producers of sugar in the country. But behind the “sweetness” lie the bitter social, political and economic realities of communities.

According to PDG, as of 2019, more than 98,000 hectares of lands remain undistributed; more than 385,000 farmworkers are living on slave-like wages (i.e. Php 150 down to 50 a day); and illegal land conversions through land-grabbing remain rampant. Moreover, more than 30 mining companies covering almost 190,000 hectares of land continue to operate in the island causing irreversible environmental damages and reinforcing massive extraction of natural resources at the expense of the people’s welfare.

The proliferation of agribusinesses also facilitated the aggressive promotion and massive use of agrochemicals, especially in plantations. This has resulted in the worsening of the environmental conditions and even indebtedness among farmers. In turn, farmers resort to selling their lands just to pay off unpaid debts. Moreover, big commercial fishing present nearby continues to encroach municipal waters through the entry of big fishing vessels. These result in the depletion of fishing grounds and negative impacts to the income of local fisherfolk.

On top of the intense crises faced by various communities. Despite being a fertile ground for farmer-led advocacies and campaigns for genuine agrarian reform and just living conditions for the agricultural workers of sugar plantations, Negros has  became a hotbed of human rights violations due to rampant militarization under the pre-text of counter-insurgency. Communities  and civilians were subjected to unnecessary monitoring, terrorist-tagging, various forms of harassment and, in some, brutal murders which include the murder of Atty. Benjamin Ramos, PDG’s former executive director and a human rights lawyer providing free legal support to peasant farmers.   

These are the conditions that motivated PDG Inc. to intensify its interventions and conduct community-based and -led actions. In order to address these issues, local communities should take the lead in implementing actions and programs. PDG Inc. is a Negros-based non-government organization working with the people and mass organizing with the basic sectors in Central to Southern Negros Occidental.

PDG’s Vision

A just Philippine society free from foreign domination, where natural resources are effectively controlled and equitably benefiting all the people, undertaking national industrialization, and local communities actively participating in building international solidarity among all the people

Empowered and self-reliant communities actively participating and sustaining generative and climate-resilient ecosystems that serve their aspirations and of the future generation.

PDG’s Mission

A service institution and instrumental of the people. PDG will support local initiatives of people’s organizations in Negros Island.

Despite the shrinking of democratic spaces and the chronic economic crises experienced by communities, they find hope in the programs and services provided and facilitated by PDG Inc. PDG Inc. has programs which (1) strengthens socio-economic projects and sustainable agricultural activities of people’s organizations (POs), which they develop with MASIPAG, (2) strengthens the capacity of POs and its community in building sustainable food systems and climate change resilience, (3) provides community food relief, (4) develops and levels-up institutional capacity and efficiency, (5) facilitates the expansion of collaborations with other institutions and organizations, (6) and organizing the masses.

“The development challenges are big, but PDG’s institutional commitment to serve the people is much bigger.”

In the face of various problems and challenges, PDG Inc. was still able to support its partner and member people’s organizations harassed by various agents through information, education and other forms of advocacy work, particularly on capacitation of community members on paralegal work and developmental legal advocacies which serves as an immediate response to harassments. They also remain steadfast in uplifting the livelihoods of small farmers by facilitating the development of their farms with the help of MASIPAG and continue to promote agroecology and expand organic farming efforts in the island. PDG Inc. is currently working with 37 people’s organizations in 2 cities and 6 municipalities. Their institution has been in service to communities for more than three decades now and have positively and meaningfully changed and empowered the lives of thousands of peoples in the island.