55 years ain’t no laughing matter. Especially for an NGO.
So when PRRM commemorated its 55th year in rural development work, it was fittingly held at the historic Club Filipino. More so because it is having a new president and a new chair, and dear Sen. Helena Benitez who have nurtured PRRM over the years has passed on the daunting task of carrying on the tradition. A mixture of important and controversial people, all of them somehow associated with being against the illegitimacy of the GMA presidency, came to show their solidarity.
For me, however, the most heartwarming commemoration was that at PRRM’s National Training Institute in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija 3 days before Club Filipino. Those who paved the way for us came to relive the past, share their stories, and thank God for being together again. In many ways, it reminded me of the ties that bond the Nueva Ecija Branch together.
The most ominous is the Alumni Homecoming a day after Club Filipino. Comrades and friends came to celebrate and renew ties --- something which has not happened in a long time. I know some who promised (literally and figuratively) not to set foot on PRRM again but were there. It’s a homecoming for all of us, and somehow bodes of the good things ahead for PRRM. That is, if the call for building a cathedral will be led well and heeded.
PRRM has gone through a lot since July 17, 1952 when it was established with only a table and a chair in a corner for an office. It is the Philippines’ first rural development NGO, and the first to deploy its personnel in the rural areas and reach out to the poorest of the poor. In 1954, PRRM braved the Huk insurgency to initiate a governance project in the war torn and abandoned town of San Luis, Pampanga --- the lair of Huk supremo Luis Taruc. A simple attempt of gathering people together to ask them what they want and how to do it become the basis for the recognition of the barrio or barangay as the basic unit of governance in the Philippines. PRRM’s pioneering work in community health and livelihood creation has spawned the inspiration for today’s rural health units and farmers’ cooperatives, respectively. And its education work was a pioneering attempt in adult education.
That was the glorious past. What about us? What have we done?
Not as great but outstanding I must say. PRRM’s work in sustainable agriculture, coastal resource management, and renewable energy are recognized best practices in the realm of sustainable development. It is among the few NGOs who first tinkered with micro-finance, engaging the millennium development goals, sustainable mining, critically working with the government, and international advocacy when these things were not yet cute and sexy. There are a lot more: stories that PRRM must tell, and some that will just be part of its folklore.
Yes, PRRM has its faults. Plenty of it. But these are for us to learn and move on, and not a baggage that that will condemn us in a rut.
As for me, I have long found my cathedral. It is a church where I was allowed to attend despite being different. The parishioners can celebrate the mass, and have the chance of becoming bishops, cardinals and popes if they work hard. More than that, the church believed and gave us the winds to fly on.
PRRM is not just a job for us. It is our home.
PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) PRRM marker at its National Training Institute in San Leonrado, Nueva Ecija; (2) PRRM’s new prexy is former DAR Undersecretary Conrado S. Navarro on the left side with outgoing chair and Chairperson Emeritus Sen. Helena Z. Benitez in the center, and new PRRM chair Sen. Wigberto E. Tanada on the right side; (3) the names of saints engraved in San Leonardo as a tribute to PRRM volunteers; (4) NE Branch alumni singing their theme (i.e. Buklod’s “Buhay at Bukid”) during the alumni homecoming.
(5) SAN LUIS, PAMPANGA. Cabagsa or Cabagsac was probably founded in 1740. Its name is a contraction of the Kapampangan words cabag and bagsac that means “the place where plenty of fruit bats are caught”. It was said to be renamed after Dona Luisa --- the wife of a lawyer who represented the town during a land dispute with the town of Pinpin. Construction on the present church of San Luis Gonzaga was finished in the late 18th century but there are no records who had it built. Fr. Francisco Diaz (OSA) supervised the improvement of the convent in 1877. Fr. Isidro Bernardo (OSA) had the church restored in 1883. It is one of the few remaining Spanish-built Philippine churches that had retained an aura of authenticity.
(6) A workshop on participatory technology development for sustainable agriculture in San Jose; (7) relief operation is Carranglan in the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake; (8) a safe water project in Pantabangan; and (9) a light moment with PRRM partners in Guimba.