KASAMA Vol. 15 No. 3 / July-August-September 2001 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
International Solidarity Conference 2001
Philippine Civil Society and International Solidarity Partners:
Strengthening Local & Global Advocacy Initiatives
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 24-26 August 2001
Philippine Solidarity Work in Europe: Trends and Perspectives
The following are extracts from the paper presented by CARLO BUTALID, director of the Philippine-European Solidarity Centre-Komite ng Sambayanang Pilipino (PESC-KSP), Utrecht, Netherlands
Philippine solidarity work in Europe is now (at least) 26 years old, and PESC-KSP is 21 years old. Through the years, it has gone thru its "ups and downs", and a lot has changed. What started as a network mainly of returned development workers, church people, refugees, etc. who supported the struggle for human rights during the period of the Marcos dictatorship; has now become one in which a small number of "Philippine specialists" work together with a broad and dynamic range of organizations in the various host countries of Europe. Where before almost all members… were European, there are now a lot of Filipinos active in solidarity. And in contrast to the "ibagsak" frame of mind of the '70s and early '80s, we now link up with groups which cooperate with government (and even some people who are in government).
The solidarity network now … is just as widely distributed as during the early '80s … an achievement - given the context of decreased interest for third world causes among the European population. Today, solidarity activities for the Philippines are undertaken by groups in eleven European countries; although there are solidarity groups in only seven of these - Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Finland, Belgium - and of these, only four have national coordinating "nodes". And, while many of the specific causes that we support have changed over the years, many are still the same as before e.g. human rights, agrarian reform and women. In addition, there is also work on newer issues such as the foreign debt, mining, indigenous peoples, children's rights.
Solidarity work for the Philippines is remarkable because it has survived through the years, and now - 15 years after the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship - we are still around. We would attribute this to factors such as: the breadth and depth of civil society in the Philippines, the committed core of solidarity activists throughout Europe, the participation of Overseas Filipinos, and perhaps also to certain particular characteristics of the Philippines and its people.
Philippine peoples organizations and NGOs cover a wide range of causes, geographical locations, and political "tendencies". This is positive, especially in the context of the present trend of "single-issue international campaigns" e.g. against landmines, child trafficking, international debt….
We believe that there are many opportunities which are not maximized by Philippine organizations, probably because they have not fully grasped the change from "country-specific" solidarity to "single-issue campaigns". When the general framework was "country-specific", in the sense that there were groups of people who supported civil society (usually led by a liberation movement) in a specific country, the method was mainly to get support to the national cause, and then to concretize this by offering concrete campaigns or projects per sector. With single-issue campaigns, we need to maximize all opportunities to insert the Philippines' specific case into a campaign.…
And, while the diversity of issues and political tendencies in the Philippines is, on the whole, a positive thing, since this means that there are going to be more close matches with partners in Europe; we need to emphasize the need to avoid presenting a divisive front to these partners. If the disagreements and conflicts among Philippine partners get to the level where it hinders the work, partners in Europe will avoid the Philippines altogether. After all, there are enough countries with similar problems.
Since the late 1980s, European governments and societies have shifted from an "ideology" (or paradigm) of solidarity … to one of "no nonsense". This shift comes together with the intensified pace of European integration and the global neo-liberal drive. This shift has persisted even in the 1990s, despite the coming to power of the social democrats in most of Europe. European integration was fuelled by the drive to compete with the US and Japan, and also to absorb Eastern Europe. This process was coupled with the reduction of social services, with the raising of taxes, and with the drive to "harmonize" laws on the environment, consumer protection, workers rights, etc. to the "lowest common denominator" …. This process was met by social unrest, and people in Europe shifted their attention to protecting aspects of their welfare states.
Globalization (as "filtered" through the process of European integration) also affected solidarity work in other ways, such as:
Another related development was that people do not readily support "big" projects (e.g. liberation of a third world country). Instead, they now prefer to take on smaller scale projects, where the impact of their support is felt immediately. And this, in turn, has increased the shift to "pocketbook" solidarity, in which people donate money for projects with immediate effect (even without having a deep understanding of their long-term effects or context).
The Overseas Filipino struggle for their rights and welfare (as well as the overall migrant and anti-racism struggles) is getting more and more linked to what has traditionally [been] considered … solidarity work. In a sense … overseas Filipino work and solidarity work is becoming more and more intertwined - with Filipinos taking on issues such as human rights, or supporting particular projects in the Philippines; and with the solidarity groups getting more involved in support for anti-racist or migrant rights.
A significant part of the solidarity network is O.F. - Overseas Filipinos. O.F. communities in Europe are also more mature now, with second and third generation Filipinos starting to take their place, and with the first generation migrants becoming more established. These people are no longer only concerned with earning money or protecting their rights, but are also concerned in Philippine development projects, as well as issues of the host country.
With the prospect of Overseas Filipinos getting the right to vote in the immediate future, we can expect an intensification of O.F. involvement in Philippine politics and economics.
In the last few years, we see an increase in the number of Europe-wide, or even global, mobilizations. While this started as early as 1990-91, with the opposition to the Maastricht Treaty, it was only in 1997-98 (the Amsterdam Treaty negotiations), when Europe-wide mobilizations and Europe-wide (or global) campaigns were launched regularly. Philippine groups and Overseas Filipino organizations participated in these campaigns as part of their respective national delegations. And while these mobilizations or campaigns are focused on global or European campaigns, our participation in them also provide a natural link between Philippine civil society and the national campaign platforms.
While there are very few members of Philippine solidarity groups these days, we see that many former solidarity group members are well positioned in a whole range of organizations (trade unions, NGOs, specific-issue platforms, government agencies, etc.). This is a big boost to our networking and campaign work, as these people are quite willing (and quite active) in finding ways to link their work with Philippine causes.
The remaining Philippine-specific "nodes" or "intermediaries" have the role of linking this network of Philippine advocates with Philippine partners. Their task has shifted from that of launching campaigns themselves, to one of facilitating linkages and of forming and servicing coalitions in support of specific issues. But it is not absolutely necessary to have one central "node" in a country. As we observed in the last European solidarity conference on the Philippines, held in September 1999 in Reading, UK; it is was possible to hold such activities even without having a (central) Philippine Support Group in that country.
The Internet, in the form of e-mail and websites, is only now starting to play a role in the solidarity work by groups in Europe. And while e-mail is quite important to our networking and information dissemination efforts; the role of websites in our work is still relatively small. PESC-KSP has had a website since 1998, and other groups also have their own sites; and these have been useful especially in our work of information dissemination. We also see the role of the web in enhancing our campaign work and networking - for one, we are able to reach out to new audiences (in Europe and elsewhere in the world).
The many changes in the world that affect the way Philippine solidarity work is done in Europe should also be seen in reference to the essentials of solidarity work - solidarity partners, a shared cause or concern, and a network. Solidarity work is building links between peoples, and we will continue to do so in the future. With the aid of the Internet, and with the potential role of Overseas Filipinos in this, it is possible for us to reach out to an even wider audience than before.
Linking up with global campaigns will not only enhance our links with global civil society as a whole, but it will also help us link with partners all over the world in very concrete and mutually beneficial bonds of cooperation.