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The Philippines: Strengthening climate resilience and civil society

Published on 18 May 2021

Written by Kate Newman

After working with partners in the Philippines for around 60 years, Christian Aid’s programme closed in 2020 as part of a wider organisational restructure. Our new report by Kate Newman captures learning from our time working with local organisations in the country.

News from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) that the Taal Volcano Network has seen an "overall seismic energy release” increase since March 23, reminded me of my visit to the Philippines in 2020. The day I was supposed to land in the Philippines to carry out interviews for this review, the Taal Volcano erupted, forcing over 500,000 people to flee their homes. Some have never returned.  

Two days later, when I arrived in the Christian Aid Philippines (CAPHL) office, staff were looking at the Facebook pages of other international nongovernmental organisations (INGOs). They critiqued the way the disaster was being communicated, with INGO brands placed front and centre, something that ran counter to CAPHL’s approach, which was described as sitting ‘backstage and a connector’. Given CAPHL’s imminent closure, it didn’t become involved in the response; but it was hard to sit by in the face of such a disaster.

Amplifying the voice of partners

Christian Aid had been supporting work in the Philippines since the late 1960s, but didn’t open an office in the Philippines until 2000 after agreeing a country programme strategy in 1996, which laid the foundations for CAPHL’s next decade of work. Although the programme has evolved, strengthening the capacity and amplifying the voice of national and local civil society partners, and protecting civil society space has always been at its core.

However, this did not mean that the programme only worked with civil society actors. Early analysis of the challenge of climate change meant that staff recognised the importance of adopting a ‘whole-of-society’ approach.  This meant working with a wide number of actors within the country, including local organisations, academics and scientists and the private sector, to ensure that policy makers and actors with considerable power nationally, such as leading figures in the private sector, were encouraged to play their role in building climate resilience.  Equally important was to draw on the expert analysis and in-depth scientific understanding provided by climate scientists and which was grounded in the local knowledge and insights provided by grassroots communities and civil society actors working at the local level.  

The programme worked with local organisations to strengthen their capacity in the face of climate change and to convene national platforms to influence for policy change. The programme connected across diverse local and national actors including civil society, the government, private sector and scientists to strengthen climate resilience and mitigation. Due to the frequency, extent and range of natural disasters, this evolved into a focus on strengthening the ability of local organisations to respond to humanitarian disasters and developing the coordination capacity of the sector to enable a ‘locally-led’ humanitarian response, by which we mean a humanitarian response that was shaped and coordinated by national civil actors, not imposed from above.

The learning review aims to answer three questions:

1. How did CAPHL’s resilience work evolve and adapt in different contexts, with what types of impact?

2. How and why has CAPHL evolved its work on localisation, what did it achieve, and what lessons can be learned?

3. How has CAPHL contributed to strengthening civil society in the Philippines, and what can be learned about partnership approaches? These three questions only cover part of CAPHL’s long and proud history of work.

The review found that the work of CAPHL had considerable impact on the lives and livelihoods of those living in poverty, through the creation of stronger networks for action, locally across sectors, and between local and national and global levels, passing of specific legislation which opened up further space for advocacy and resource mobilisation, and through providing support to enable local actors to take risks and innovate, enabling the generation of new knowledge, understanding and transformation of practice.

Our legacy

During my interviews for this review I was saddened to hear activists talk of their fears that freedoms they had enjoyed might be curtailed under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June 2016 and launched a murderous “war on drugs”. They were concerned that an atmosphere reminiscent of the Marcos dictatorship might return and, months later, the government took on new powers under the Covid-19 lockdown, which may further curtail future freedoms.

Despite the challenging context in which the Philippines finds itself, CAPHL’s work with their partners has left an important legacy. It can be seen in terms of increased levels of organisation and activity within the country’s climate justice space, and within individual organisations whose own institutional capacity, technical know-how and ability to implement their own agendas for change was strengthened through engagement with Christian Aid.

Although national and local partners will need to be agile and learn from successful strategies employed in the past, this long history of collaboration and investment will support these organisations to survive and thrive and continue their work to achieve climate resilience and social justice.

Read the report.

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