The Dangers of Development Work

October 20, 2019

by Dr. Judy Taguiwalo

This was presented by Dr. Judy Taguiwalo at the forum “UNJUST: Second Year of Detention of Development Workers Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinosa for Siding with the Poor”organized by the Assert Socio-Ecoonomic Initiatives Network (ASCENT)

Mayaman ang Pilipinas pero naghihirap ang mamamayan.

The Philippines is a rich country but the people are poor.

Given this, many good people wanting to change this ironic situation become activists and/or development workers. You ask, is there a difference? No and yes. There is no difference because both act to change situations of injustice and inequality at the macro, meso and micro level. Both activists and development workers address poverty: at the immediate level, to provide relief to people and communities such as assistance during disasters; and at the strategic level, addressing the roots of poverty in the Philippines by presenting the historical and systemic causes of poverty as well as alternatives to bring about genuine and sustainable development.

But yes, there is a difference as activists are usually involved in consciousness raising, mobilization and organizing while development workers are usually involved in building and supporting development projects at the grassroots level.

Who are the development workers?

The literature on development describes the various roles of development workers. Some are technical experts with high-level expertise in a particular field such as infrastructure, irrigation, water and sanitation, public health, food distribution and assessment, judicial reform. Others perform administrative functions such as preparing expense reports, invoicing and paperwork of all kinds, as well as coordinating and preparing activities such as field visits and workshops.

As development workers, their work includes:

  • Working with community groups providing a range of activities
  • Identifying assets and capacities that are latent within communities
  • Building capacity that allows the community to share knowledge and resources effectively
  • Setting up new services by liaison with interested groups
  • Recruiting and training paid and voluntary staff
  • Attending meetings and presenting verbal and written reports
  • Managing finance, payroll
  • Making funding applications for relevant organisations
  • Acting as a facilitator to promote self-help in the community.

Whether as technical experts or as administrative personnel, development workers especially in the Philippines working with grassroots organizations need to have a deep sense of solidarity with the poor and a strong commitment to supporting the efforts of grassroots communities and organizations to change their situation. The emphasis on solidarity and commitment highlights the truth that unlike international development workers or even those in the Philippines working with international development agencies, grassroots development workers receive salaries that are not high. This is to ensure that the bulk of development project funds go to the communities rather than to pay for overhead and personnel costs.

Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinosa are two of these committed development workers and their office, Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT), is such a development organization in the service of grassroots communities. Ben, a Sugar Technology major from UP Los Banos, has provided agricultural technical support to farmer’s organizations to ensure higher productivity and environmental protection. Rita has worked with progressive development organizations for decades ensuring efficient and people-responsive administrative support for development projects.

In a society which puts a premium on volunteerism, commitment and solidarity with the poor, Ben and Rita would have been recognized for their service and sacrifices. But the Philippines is not such society and we have seen how good people, such as Ben and Rita and hundreds of other political prisoners, are unjustly incarcerated under the guise of war against insurgency – a war which has targeted unarmed activists and development workers who are mostly poor.

There has always been danger in being a development worker espousing a progressive stand on the roots of underdevelopment and criticizing the development aggression perpetuated by multilateral agencies, mining and other corporations, and government agencies. But the danger has intensified since Rodrigo Duterte came into office. From his so-called war against drugs – which has turned out to be a war against the poor and a war exploited by military and police personnel, including Albayalde’s ninjas, to enrich themselves –the war has expanded to include activists, development workers, professionals such as lawyers and medical doctors and teachers, and even government officials such as Bernardo “Toto” Patigas a sitting city councilor of Escalante.

The latest news is that the Philippines is now the most dangerous country for environmentalists. The Guardian reported:

“The Philippines has replaced Brazil as the most murderous country in the world for people defending their land and environment, according to research that puts a spotlight on the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

For the first time since the annual toll began in 2012, Brazil did not top the list. The number of defenders murdered in South America’s biggest nation fell in 2018 by almost two-thirds, from 57 to 20. This was partly due to an overall decline in homicide rates across the country, but also came ahead of a transition of power and rising international attention.

In the Philippines, 30 defenders were killed last year, following 48 in 2017, which was the highest ever recorded in an Asian country. A third of the deaths were on the island of Mindanao, which is at the centre of the Duterte administration’s plans to allocate 1.6 million hectares of land to industrial plantations. Half of the deaths in the Philippines were related to agribusiness.”

The imprisonment of Duterte’s critics and the killings of environmentalists are part of the overall intensified human rights violation in the country.

The Guardian:Philippines is deadliest country for defenders of environment

Ben and Rita have been in prison for two years today. Their imprisonment on trumped-up charges, as is the case of the over 500 political prisoners in the country, is obviously unjust. Ben and Rita have spent practically their whole life serving the rural poor and pursuing a development vision that addresses the root cause of poverty.

Our gathering this afternoon is to reiterate the injustice being perpetrated on them. This gathering is also a salute to their dedication, empathy and solidarity with our people. We demand Ben and Rita’s freedom as soon as possible through the dropping of charges which are patently false.

Palayain si Ben at Rita! Palayain ang lahat ng bilanggong pulitikal!