The United Nations declared the 1960s “the Decade of Development”, development being understood mainly in economic terms. The 1970s were declared “the Second Decade of Development”, because, it was clear, the development sought in the 1960s had not happened as hoped for. In 1967 Pope Paul VI went beyond the two decades’ understanding of development in his landmark encyclical Populorum Progressio (the Development of Peoples). In it he laid out his ideas on total and integral human development—the development “of the whole man and of all men”. The encyclical and its definition of development as not only economic but holistic, touching all other areas of human living as well, has been the lodestar for the Philippine Church’s work in social development since then.
In those two decades, scientific journals (in sociology and anthropology especially) devoted much space to development studies and projects. Going over them, one was hard put to find instances of successful attempts. It did seem they were mostly about what not to do in development work!
Since development, purely economic or total and integral as Populorum Progressio would have it, is part of the broader subject of social change, the question those of us in social action work were forced to confront was simply this: how to bring about change in society, in a whole people, as widely as possible. All kinds of books and articles were being put out on the theoretical aspects of development in the sixties and seventies, but the study I found most useful was a book titled “Cooperation in Change” by Mr. Ward Hunt Goodenough, a cultural anthropologist. I liked it for its firm theoretical basis, but more so for its imminent practicability.
His idea was the soul of simplicity itself: Since in social change, it is people who are the targets of change, for change to occur on a broad basis and with some firm assurance that it will take, the very people who are to change (or to be changed!) have to be brought in into every phase of the change process: accepting the necessity itself of change, planning for it, setting goals, deciding on means and the use of available resources, evaluating each stage of the process, changing directions if previously selected ones were not producing the desired results, etc., etc. Simply put, the people to be developed have to be in on the process from the very beginning, own it, assume responsibility for every phase of it. Hardly a revolutionary idea—and a most common-sensical one—it is actually the principle behind what I discussed once in these columns, the AsIPA or Asian Integral Pastoral Approach which has been operative in many dioceses of the country today. Yet, for all its simplicity, it is a principle that is sinned against again and again by governments and technocrats or professed change agents.
Within our own experience in the Philippines, if we are to give one main reason for the utter failure of President Marcos’ “New Society”, it is precisely because it went against this basic principle: It was totally his idea and project, not the people’s; worse, it was going to be brought about by force—martial law was declared, he claimed, for the very purpose.
More recently: The same mistake is at the base of the widespread rejection of the MOA-AD, the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain, that the government proposed to enter into with the MILF as the final solution to the age-old Muslim Mindanao question. No consultation was held on it among the people most affected, the Muslim and non-Muslim peoples of Mindanao in particular, the whole nation in general (although one of the main authors of the memorandum claims something along these lines had been done on the Muslim side). Consultation—getting the people concerned to have their say on the subject of the Memorandum—this was the least one would look for in the participation in change that we are talking of here. It defies reason how (and why) the principals in the making and promoting of the Memorandum could overlook such a fundamental requirement for its success.
When one comes down to the ultimate reason why participation in matters like the New Society or the MOA-AD is of utmost importance, it is simply that bringing it to play in questions of the public good is a real recognition of the human dignity of each citizen, no matter how lowly or insignificant they may seem to those who hold power. The dishonoring of the human dignity of ordinary citizens—that to my mind is the greatest sin in the two cases I’ve been citing here. In their total disregard of us citizens, the message they put across too painfully to us is that we did not—and still do not—matter, even though the ostensible reason for thinking them up was our common good, our common peace.
The New Society and the MOA-AD may be dead, but the problems they tried to solve still are with us, their solutions as pressing as ever. The problems continue, and if there’s anything clear about them, it is that they cannot be solved in the way they have been approached so far. What is needed is the concerned and active participation of all of us in looking for solutions that work. We begin by confronting the issues honestly and forthrightly, and discerning deeply on them with the help of the Spirit of Wisdom. Real participation in decisions for the common good—its actualization is why we’ve been speaking all along in these columns of the urgent need of forming circles of discernment and, in the Church, basic ecclesial communities, people of genuine faith-discernment and –action.