The history of community organizing in the Philippines is quite interesting. Since its inception in the early 70s, community organizing in the country has evolved over the years of experience. The book of Felipe Maglaya III (Ed dela Torre) entitled Organizing People for Power: A Manual for Organizers is a good introduction to the study community organizing. In its third edition, the book offers fresh ideas to suit the demands of contemporary times and at the same remain faithful to most of its philosophies since its first edition written in 1974. Although it never had a wider circulation due to political instability that time, the book became a household name in the community organizing circle.
The book is divided into four parts. Part 1: Organizing People for Power – introduces the importance of organizing people for power; discusses the concept of Oppressed and the Oppressor as well as the Conflict-Confrontation as a method of action; and shares the basic organizing principles. Part 2: The Organizer and the Organizing Process – talks about the basic qualities of an organizer; points some common weaknesses of Organizers; and introduces the organizational process and methods, and its organizational structure. Part 3: Training the Organizers – highlights the importance of Action-Reflection method. Lastly, Part 4: Between Honesty and Hope – is a short reflection concerning on organizing people for power.
The book’s concept is clearly derived from the book of Paolo Freire (The Pedagogy of the Oppressed) and Saul Alinksy (Rules for Radicals). Its core message is people’s empowerment. It also helps community organizers to be smart and creative in formulating strategies and tactics. It also discourages Community Organizers not to be manipulative in the decision process of the oppressed. The book also gives importance in the “action-reflection cycle” of community organizing. It also highlights the “theory and application” concept of it. As the mantra goes - “Theory without practice is sterile” and “Practice without theory is blind” say it all. It also teaches the community organizers to be tenacious in their goal(s); to have a genuine respect and love for the oppressed in the sense that they would not shield the oppressed from hardship. It emphasizes that the oppressed should not be dependent on the community organizers. Instead they should help the oppressed to become independent.
What’s good about this book is that it is easy to read and based on real events. I can relate mostly of its content since I have friends who are community organizers and youth leaders. More importantly, I volunteered in community organizing activities in support with them. I have witness how they work in the grassroots and help the marginalized sectors realize their power as citizens. For example, without my exposure in the case of the Citra Mina workers, I cannot understand the concepts that the book is telling. I discovered lots of Labor Rights violations and injustices when I got the chance to talk to them. Another case is the Blaans in the mining areas of Tampakan, South Cotabato. I visited the area to know not only their true condition but also to witness how mining degrades the environment in the area. These two examples practice most of the teachings stated on the book, with the help of genuine community organizers who have heart to help their fellow countrymen.
I describe myself as an observer than Community Organizer. Why? Because the responsibilities those community organizers do is not a joke. If you are a community organizer, you have to immerse yourself not only to the people and communities but also to the issue itself. It takes months or even years to empower them. It’s a serious task and you have to be committed in order to materialize your strategies.
To help my friends in this field, I document my observations using social media as a platform for communication. I publish articles telling these injustices and other issues for the public to know. I converse with different people, document stories and research about the issues. I also uplift the spirits of my CO friends when they feel down. And because of this, it becomes one of my advocacies in life. The book inspires me to continue my advocacy, not just to help the oppressed but also to empower them. It helps me realize that you should be tough and smart if you want to help enrich your country. It motivates you to make the right action and to inspire others to do the same.
It is sad to know that if you help the oppressed, you are labeled as leftist because of your “anti-establishment” ideas. These people who are fond of labeling this act cannot relate to it because they do not immerse themselves in the issue or in the marginalize sector. These people are enjoying the “good life” they are experiencing and become apathetic in their surroundings. Instead of explaining myself to them, I only continue my advocacy with a clean and genuine intention to help. Time will tell that they are wrong and my good intention will speak for itself.
I salute the community organizers in our country. It’s a tough responsibility and a serious task. But the reward in helping the oppressed is worthy and cannot be measured. As what the book says, “It’s a call – a commitment of a lifetime.”
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