Karl M. Gaspar, C.Ss.R.
1989 has come to symbolize the death certificate of modernity and the confirmation of the transition to so-called postmodernity—a cultural phase that claims various birthdays, ranging from as early as Nietzsche’s philosophy to the social and political upheavals of the year 1968. During modernity, we expressed our commitments according to one or another ideological stance. With postmodernity we entered into a phase of unknowing, no longer sure of how to define ourselves, or whether it is even possible (Gallagher 1997: 2).
In various circles today, there is a lot of buzz words around that start with the word post and a hyphen. Many academic circles, especially those in the social sciences, arts and literature, are into postmodernity and post-structuralism. Arts and culture circles are debating about the merits of postmodernism. Feminist circles are wondering how they’ll deal with post-feminism. Third World scholars and practitioners tackling the development discourse assume the reality of post-colonialism. While their discussions are still in the periphery, there are those in the Church who believe that we are into the post-Christian era.
A parish priest in the boondocks of Mindanao, along with the lay pastoral workers who assist him in strengthening the local Base Ecclesial Communities (BECs) might spontaneously remark: “We are too far away from the world of ivory-tower scholars, academics with esoteric theories of no value to the grassroots, weird and high-brow artists, development workers with imported management tools that only confuse the poor, and cynical Catholics whose faith are suspect. What do we care about all these post-things? They are of no relevance to us and our people.”
If this parish is so deep into the interior as to be quite isolated from the unfolding global realities, then he is right. But which parish in the Philippines is beyond the reach of the impact of globalization? Whether he accepts it or not, the bad news is that he could be wrong. If any of these realities are present in his parish-battery-run TVs, video-cinema charging a peso, a sari-sari store displaying ads of global conglomerates’ products, a family with overseas Filipino workers (OFW), a midwife distributing pills for free, news that someone is interested in looking into the local area’s resources, and young people acting like their MTV idols, he may have to review his position on the relevance of these post-things.
A clarification of terms may be useful at this stage. Just what is postmodernity? The following are some of the important features that characterize postmodernity (Abercrombie 1994):
One can see the consequences once our society inevitably enters more and more into the postmodern era.
First, there is the need to understand better the working of globalization. In an age when information and communication technology have penetrated even the most isolated villages in the country, we can expect that the periphery will be affected by the rapid changes taking place in the urbanized centers. The impact of the Asian economic crisis has been felt everywhere even among the indigenous peoples in the hinterlands. As it worsens, given the prognosis that the crisis will deepen further, there will be more poverty, unemployment and displacements.
The view that society’s differentiation is no longer only due to class contradiction but also because of other realities—gender, race, ethnicity, age, etc.—have given rise to new and evoking approaches and methodologies of doing social analysis as well as responding to the demands for change. The tools of analysis, which were in vogue in the 1970-1980s, have been critiqued as having given too much emphasis on economic and political structures rather than culture and agency; being too macro-oriented to lose sight of the micro reality; and providing no room for the subjective, the affective and the personal given its pre-occupation with the objective, the rational and the societal. In short, these “frameworks of analysis, assumptions and discourse are incapable of explaining the complexities of the changing times” (Ty 1997: 50). In the postmodern era, these tools have become more varied and pluralistic. So also the praxis, as struggles no longer are confined to class, but also encompassing those involving race, gender, religion, ideology, language, age, civilization (Falk 1992: 6). Today there exists an ongoing “search outside the dominant discourse of knowledge, of politics, discovering the cosmologies of those who have been on the edges; to find fresh spaces, to generate new imaginations, to invent new political patterns, to create... possibilities of change for our times” (D’Souza quoted in Ty 1997: 50).
This brings us to the discourse on civil society. Civil society’s importance has arisen with the intensive transformation of the world in our contemporary times as well as the ongoing globalization process (Giner 1995: 303). Considering contemporary global challenges there has arisen the need for a greater interaction between State and society, which needs to go beyond the traditional state system (Garcia 1997: 7). This is the arena of civil society. It is a concept that is closely tied to liberal democracy “encompassing not only political representation and participation, privacy and the autonomy of association and private institutions, but also the free formation of all sorts of movements and parties, whether socialist, liberal, conservative, feminist, environmentalist, or of any other kind” (Giner 1995: 302). Various classical theorists from Lock to Hegel, Marx to Gramsci theorized on civil society, sharing one thing in common, namely, that this refers to the sphere of social life which falls outside the state, though not necessarily free from state interference (304). Giner refers to civil society as “a historically evolved sphere of individual rights, freedom and voluntary associations whose politically undisturbed private concerns, interests, preferences and intensions is guaranteed by a public institution, called the state” (304). He adds that it is the “sphere of that which is relatively but autonomously private within a modern polity” (322).
In the concrete, civil society is made up of a complex set of agents including voluntary organizations, autonomous social movements, altruistic and non-profit associations, all sorts of organizations that are neither entrepreneurial nor governmental, non-governmental organization and people’s organizations that assume that the polity is a creation for the preservation of the freedom of actions of the citizenry. The reality of civil society is at the international, national and local levels wherever those in media, the academe, churches, trade unions, NGO’s, POs, cooperatives, civic organizations, volunteer groups and others engage the State on various issues through advocacy and other actions.
They are everywhere: “in the setting up of nuclear power plants, on behalf of environmental protection, in opposition to specific weapons and deployments, on behalf of women, on behalf of sexually deviant groups, on behalf of indigenous peoples...[w]hich originated in normative grievances or fears, as well as in a sense of skepticism about the character of conventional political mechanisms of change and control” (Falk 1992: 20). They attack violence, bureaucracy, centralizing technology, hierarchy and ecological carelessness, while promoting new modes of action including: non-violent practices, participatory organizations, soft energy paths and gentle technology, democratizing politics, feminizing leadership and tactics, spiritualized nature, green consciousness. They are engaged in making democracies sustainable through the setting up of “the institutional framework that promotes normatively desirable and politically desired objectives, such as freedom from arbitrary violence, material security, equality or justice” (Przeworski 1995:106).
The buzzwords of the 1970-1980s remain relevant: from oppression and subjugation there is need to work towards transformation and liberation. There is still need to demand a just world order, to struggle for justice and peace, to promote human rights and total human development. This time, however, these need to incorporate crucial dimensions: there is need for new cosmologies, multiculturalism, a new and inclusive universalism of human rights, community-level or grassroots sustainable development, social ecology and the deconstruction of security and peace (Ty 1997: 50). The forms of struggles consequently are decentralized: people at the grassroots level representing different sex, color, religion, culture and status become active participants in the process of social transformation. What used to be unheard voices are now manifesting their positions on various issues. Consequently, the dominant political forces at work in society (the state and a defiant rebel group or splintered liberation movements) will find themselves surrounded by other competing forces.
Acknowledging the role of civil society is recognizing not only the power of the state “to hold the reins of society but more importantly, the power of society to guarantee and restore the right to a humane and secure existence which at times is denied by the state” (Garcia 1997: 7). The state’s framework no longer has the power to dictate on all who are concerned with the national agenda; the people—collectively asserting their capacity to control their destiny while consciously manifesting a will to protect their rights and responding to the call for action in an organized manner—want a say in that agenda. As the song goes, “ang katawhan ang tigmugna sa kasaysayan(the people create their own history). But a vibrant civil society demands a new ethic of civil responsibility, the empowerment of the key actors, and their interiorization of the appropriate values (Garcia 1997: 7).
This also demands the review of our existing cosmologies towards the construction of new cosmologies. Ty defines cosmologies as “the principles, perceptions and beliefs which determine both the courses of action and the attitudes of a person, group, class or society towards a social reality. How we view the world affect our value orientation, our praxis and commitments at the individual and collective levels. All these point to the need to look into the cultural dimension of the challenge at hand” (Ty 1997:49).
The Primacy of Culture
Today, the most extensive discussion of postmodernism appears in literary and cultural circles. It is, therefore, not surprising that culture registers prominently in postmodernity; it holds a new centrality in the postmodern era. Gallagher indicates that it is not only in the field of global analysis that culture has emerged as a key concept, but there has arisen a new discipline called cultural studies (1997:4). Various aspects of culture are pursued in this discipline including: culture as a moral activity and the making of meaning in society today; interaction between power, values, media and imagination; how production and consumption of cultural images is controlled, culture as hidden censor of what is socially acceptable and the like (4).
With this context, one expects a rather comprehensive definition of culture. Gallagher provides a definition by making a synthesis from various sources while identifying the different aspects that describe culture, namely:
With the above definition, one can no longer refer to culture as if it were an abstract concept. And yet, for a long while, culture was, indeed seen as such, especially by those working in the arena of development. “Development was conceived not as a cultural process (culture as a residual variable, to disappear with the advance of modernization) but instead as a system of more or less universally applicable technical interventions intended to deliver some ‘badly needed’ goods to a ‘target’ population” (Escobar 1995: 44). Historians and political analysts have also tended to diminish the role of culture in people’s struggles. But various studies have indicated that the struggles of peasant communities and/or organizations have been cultural struggles. Their resistance has reflected more than the struggle for land and living conditions; these have been, above all, struggles over symbols and meaning (167). In these struggles, the weapons of the weak have symbols from their faith and culture (Gaspar 1997).
For centuries, the Church failed to deal creatively with culture in terms of her evangelization task. It took Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes (1965) and Paul VI’sEvangelii Nuntiandi (1975) in order to acknowledge the primacy of culture. The former was a long document that can be viewed as “an essay in theological anthropology on contemporary culture,” while the latter indicated that “evangelization has to include a new and ambitious goal—the Christian transformation of culture in its many senses” (Gallagher 1997: 37, 45).
Culture—or cultures—have been embraced by the agents of civil society as integral in their analysis and praxis. They construct new cosmologies as they deal with subjugated cultures and identities (Ty 1997: 50). They are actively involved in social movements that acknowledge the importance of giving birth to cultures of space, of negotiation and conflict resolution (Garcia 1997: 10-11). They recognize various cultures: lowland and upland, majority and minority, women and men, powerful and powerless, young and the elderly, rural and urban. They insist on acknowledging the reality of cultural differences. In the words of Escobar:
Herein lies the challenge of alternatives. For those engaged in sustainable development, there are no grand alternatives. Consistent with postmodern rejection of meta-narratives and totalizing theories, there is no hunger for the over-arching theories of modernity that claim to answer all the questions. Those in development work are convinced of the need to consider the cultural dimension (Verhelst 1992: 3). Approaches to finding the alternatives will involve: looking for these among the practices of resistance grassroots groups, investigating—with the help of anthropological tools—the concrete forms that concepts and practices of development and modernity take in specific communities, organizing strategies that revolve around two principles—the defense of cultural difference and pursuing economic opportunities in terms of their own needs rather than for the market’s need for profits. These alternatives are based on the recognition that “the principal elements of collective construction” include: “the defense of the local as a prerequisite to engaging the global; the critique of the group’s own situation, values and practices as a way of clarifying and strengthening identity; the opposition to modernizing development; and the formulation of visions and concrete proposals in the context of existing constraints” (Escobar 1995: 226).
The implications of this orientation in development work can no longer be ignored. A people’s (read: people marginalized on the basis of sex, age, race, ethnicity, and the like) struggle for self-determination is a necessary point of departure in their quest for a fuller humanity. The assumption is that they have been stripped of their identity, creating the reality of underdevelopment, a state of being where they are forced to dependency owing to a gradual destruction of consciousness—a negation of their self. This cultural disintegration has arisen owing to the withering away of identity as its most internalized features—systems of representation, ancestral myths, archetypes, forms of spirituality, religious attitudes, values—are affected (Verhelst 1992: 61).
A cultural response—reawakening, revival, regeneration, rejuvenation, reconstruction—is in order. Cosmao refers to a need to have recourse to sources in order to unleash repressed, withheld energy (as quoted in 62). This, however, is not just a matter of rejecting modernity and of nostalgically returning to the past. Instead there is a need to confront the challenges of the future but without renouncing the sacredness of the past.
Indigenous cultures of peoples can no longer be neglected; there has to be a full recognition of the enduring quality and vitality of indigenous cultures. These can no longer be viewed as obstacles to development efforts. They are to be seen as economic, social and political sources of life; they can serve as matrices of endogenous development in every aspect of life (Cosmao 1984: 22-23). Local efforts to repossess indigenous values, institutions and technical skills should be encouraged. Grassroots-based initiatives to reanimate local knowledge and skills, to encourage resistance and revival are those that deserve close attention and concrete support, e.g. assistance to research and dissemination of indigenous cultures, development programs consistent with this orientation, and various expressions of solidarity action. This means that new criteria for development projects have to evolve on the basis of a solid critique of existing ones which are in crisis and demand new paradigms.
Acknowledging that development models have crumbled, alternatives have sprouted up in the rubble (Chambers 1997: 188). Having evolved from a culture with a specific mentality, which was anthropocentric, evolutionist and rationalist and from a socio-political model that evolved from pan-economism, consumerism, the sovereignty of the nation-state and technocratism (Verhelst 1992: 62), these models could not contribute to the liberation of the weak and powerless. A paradigm shift was in order and this arose in development circles because of the confluence of various elements including postmodern theories and praxis, e.g. the evolution of participatory approaches to learning and action, including rapid rural appraisal (RRA), participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and participatory learning and action (PLA). These “share the common new high ground, for variously they affirm and celebrate multiple realities, local diversity and personal and social potentials” (Chambers 1997: 196). Their point of departure is no longer connected to theories of universal economic growth as a unilinear means to a better life but in the following theoretical framework.
This framework has given rise to an evolving paradigm that gives value to a set of principles which critique the normal tendency as well as propose a reversal. Thus, Chambers’ matrix (199):
|decentralization||power in center: control||power to periphery: trust|
|democracy||unitary authority: dominance||dispersed: equality|
The process of reversal assures that “local knowledge is mobilized, local resources and energy are used, participation is enhanced, actions are better adapted and more sustainable, adaptation is fast and fitting to changes in local conditions, costs are reduced, central administration is reduced, and political problems and conflict are resolved locally” (199). This reversal demands a shift in the behavior of change agents as follows (204).
|Normal Tendency||Needed reversal|
Men before women
Professionals set priorities
Transfer of technology
Women before men
Poor people set priorities
Choice of technology
|Careers||Tying down (family)|
|From below (rapid, relaxed, participatory,etc)|
|Analysis and action||Professionals|
At the heart of this paradigm shift is what happens to power. As people are liberated from disempowerment, the last becomes first. As they are empowered, the first becomes last. For well-being to become sustainable and equitable, there is need to dismantle the prison of power that makes the powerful possess the powerless. For those who are used to being on top of the development process, there is need to renounce power and possessiveness (Chambers 1997: 236). This constitutes one aspect of postmodern ethics.
Religion and Postmodernity
It is interesting that, as Falk asserts, postmodernism has ancient roots in the lives and teachings of Socrates, Jesus of Nazareth, Francis of Assisi, the Buddha, “more as an embodiment in action than as an abstract precept of conduct” (1992: 14). Its ethics is defined by its identity which involves deeply-felt identification with others and nature, one’s owning freely the responsibility of his/her behavior, and constant critique of the truth claims of those in authority who monopolize power. This ethics includes the following features: reaction to the intolerable, refusal to lie or to manifest mistrust, a high regard for personal relations as models of the good society, the acknowledgement of the primacy of conscience, action as if the future is now, a readiness to journey to the future, a receptiveness to the vibrations of feminized consciousness, the development of the ideal of the citizen-pilgrim and the recognition that there are no messiahs (Falk 1995: 14-16).
Falk further points out the interactions of religion with other realities within postmodernism. He claims that a postmodern outlook rejects the secular doctrine of the separation of church and state as the religious deference of the state ceases. For him, the rise of liberation theology and all its varieties links secular goals with spiritual identity. He notes that Martin Luther King asserted that the essence of true Christianity was in dissent and nonconformity. This is a contrast to how modernity declared religious identity as irrelevant to society’s political life.
Religious self-assertion in the postmodern era has both a liberating and a fundamentalist mode as it recasts politics both in situations where Marxism fails to mobilize mass support in the cultural circumstances of various countries and as liberalism fails to effect a radical societal restructuring or normative risk-taking of any consequence. This constitutes a religious awakening where this scenario is unfolding:
The postmodern orientation has highlighted the role that religions have played in resisting deculturation or the total cooptation of local societies by westernization. Being the locus of the greatest coherence, religion underlies various elements—kinship, family, social organizations, celebrations, legal systems, land ownership, agricultural practices, architecture, health and nutrition, rites of passages and the like—which are not autonomous, but rather complement each other (Verhelst 192: 56). It is no wonder that our contemporary times have seen how religious traditions have become sources of the greatest resistance to all kinds of aggression; religions have served as driving forces for the struggles of the marginalized and disenfranchised. Latin America provides a clear example: “the people reappropriated the Bible and drawn from it an interpretation which is liberating both on the personal and on the social, political levels... (the) actions of basic Christian communities combined with exegetic research have given birth to the theology of liberation and the development of a Church that feels called upon by the God of Moses and the Exodus” (46). Africa and Asia have their own examples to share. The Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) has indicated that “no revolution in the Third World can be effective or lasting unless it takes into account and incorporates the religious experience of the people.”4 While the examples given here relate to Christianity, there are many examples of other faith traditions providing sources of empowerment for peoples who resist the forces of death and destruction.
Earlier, a warning was raised that religions and faith traditions in the postmodern era could move towards either liberation or fundamentalism. There is also the opinion that being a metanarrative like science, art and modernism which make absolute, universal and all-embracing claims to knowledge and truth, religion’s significance will be on the decline (Strinati 1995: 227). Postmodernity can also move towards two directions. Gallagher speaks of the two poles of postmodernity, namely, that it may “reject the excessive certainties of modernity but not the second side of groping selfhood” (1997: 93). Consequently, he believes that there is the passive or superficial lived postmodernity on one hand, and creative postmodernity on the other hand. The former is where both reason and feeling are cut off from one another, whereas the latter gropes towards forms of life that bridge “the rational and the subjective aspects of humanity,” while “groping towards forms of life that bridge these divisions” (93).
The following matrix shows how Gallagher views their differences (94-96):
|Pasive/superficial lived postmodernity||Creative Postmodernity|
|Reason and feeling are cut off|
from one another
|Bridge the rational and the subjective aspects of humanity, gropes towards forms of life that bridge the divisions|
|Fragmentation, impotence and narcissism||Different searching beyond the old certitudes, including a new willingness to visit despised zones of the spiritual and the religious as roots of our healing|
|Involved separation of worlds, apathy||Reopen doors because of humbler recognition of wounds and wants|
Note: While postmodernity is less ideologically hostile to religion than modernity, it is in fact more apathetic in its stance before possibly religious faith.
|The rise of a new isolation owing to the disappearance of old supports of a cohesive society, as anchors in religious belonging, lessen drastically, incapacity of roots, decline of social commitment concerning justice, and cultural amnesia: “It is not a question of narcissism, hedonism, postmodern post-materialism…(but) of suffering sensibility, of lostness, of a handicapped quest within a culture that offers few connections with others with or without history.”||Paradoxically, a spiritual hunger is stronger; owing to the new cultural desolation; this hunger is real but with so much religious rootlessness there is a danger of ending up with a floating Christian spirituality very far off from the definiteness of Christian faith. Post-modernity is more open to the prophetic, cosmological, mystical or participative dimensions of the religious experience. |
“A postmodern spirituality can be born that does justice both to core relationship of faith, the radical concreteness of Christ and his prophetic challenges for our broken worlds, equally values the wise shyness of a negative theology reticent to explain its mystery, or to name it too neatly, and above all suspicious of cheap words.”
Gallagher, like many theorists quoted in this essay, is optimistic that postmodernity can become a movement of resistance to a long oppression of the spirit as it forges a new language of living for today, reopens doors locked or neglected by modernity, insists that there is more to life than the rational system or the dominance of technology, hopes to find ways of healing our inherited forms of loneliness which arise from various separations: the self from society, reason from feeling, science from religion, men from women, theology from spirituality, private commitments and open solidarity actions (99). This is the new sensibility demanded by the radical global changes taking place in our day and age.
So where is the place of the base ecclesial communities (BECs) in the postmodern era and what is its role in creating new cosmologies, paradigms and sensibilities? One needs to locate this discussion in terms of the need to counterbalance globalization with localization.
It is interesting to note that the BECs arose as the world entered into an age that gave birth to the new buzz words: globalization, civil society, paradigm shifts, postmodernity, cultural awakening and the like. Undertaking a diachronic analysis of the rise of postmodernity, one can understand the birthing of the BECs in Latin America in this era and its spread across the world. It is no coincidence that the BECs appeared in the postmodern scene. It is not without irony that in an age of globalization, a counter-movement that insists on localization would thrive in the church circles.
The two terms are becoming more and more linked together as we understand the inter-dynamics of globalization and localizing processes that create new modes of economic organization and enterprises, new identities, collaborative claim-making efforts for space and power, and new cultural and knowledge systems. As agriculture and the food chain becomes more affected by globalization, there are dramatic changes in the introduction and utilization of technology, division of labor, the role of women, legal frameworks, land use and control, environmental management, status and gender relations, the workings of administrative structures and the like. As a result, local situations are swallowed up by the local arenas and processes, while global dimensions are re-appropriated to specific local conditions by local actors (Long 1996: 46-47).
So what type of responses is called for in this scenario? We are now all familiar with the adage: think globally, but act locally. A new insight has been added by moving from localization to re-localization:
...It (is) useful to reflect upon issues of ‘localization’ rather than simply ‘localization,’ since this addresses questions concerning the resurgence of local commitments and the ‘reinvention’ or creation of new local social forms that emerge as part of the process of globalization. In fact globalization can only be meaningful to actors if the new experiences it simultaneously engenders are made meaningful by reference to existing experiences and cultural understandings, but in the process new social meanings and organizing practices are generated. To argue for the reassertion of local organizational and cultural patterns, the reinvention of tradition and the creation of new types of local attachment is therefore not the same as arguing for a persisting set of local traditions (italics by the author). Rather, these re-invented patterns are generated through the ongoing encounter between different frames of meaning and action (Long 1996: 50).
Given this theoretical insight, localized groups such as BECs have a number of crucial options to make in order to contribute towards social transformation. There is need to identify the strategies that local agents should develop in dealing with interventionists so that they could appropriate or subvert such interventions. They have to decide how far they will make use of formal state or market frameworks and resources while dealing with then local knowledge, organizations and value systems. They need to do an analysis of the agrarian structures so that they can see how they are bound to global networks. They need to have new insights into social differentiation among the rural populations beyond the class dimensions to embrace issues of age, gender, ethnicity and the like and how these social differences give rise to the formation and transformation of social identities.
BECs’ Origins and Present Realities: Philippine Experience
By now everyone knows that the BEC had its origins in Latin America (De Sta. Ana 1979, Gutierrez 1983, Boff 1986). Those who are well-versed with contemporary Filipino church history know that our BEC was inspired by this Latin American experience through the efforts of the Maryknoll Missionaries working in what is now the Dioceses of Tagum and Mati. From there it spread out to the rest of the country and our BECs have developed their own identities (Claver 1983 and 1988, Kinne 1990, Gaspar 1990 and 1994, Cacayan and Apuan 1990, Picardal 1995, PCP II Acts and Decrees 1993).
Its early models were liturgical and development-oriented. Some developed a liberation orientation at the height of the Marcos dictatorship (Gaspar and Cacayan 1983). The pioneering experiences in the Diocese of Tagum in the late 1960s, replicated later on in other dioceses and have since remained, for many of them, within the same ecclesial framework, revolved around the village chapel. These evolved into the Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban GKK or Basic Christian Communities). The people were organized so that they can be encouraged to hold the Kasaulogan sa Pulong sa Dios (Celebration of the Word of God) every Sunday, have meaningful fiesta celebrations, conduct bible sharing sessions, prepare the people better for the administration of sacraments right in their own chapels, and implement other pastoral initiatives encouraged by the parish priest and his assistants.
At the GKK level, the parish team conducted pastoral seminars, trained the lay liturgical leaders so they can function better, set up a volunteer catechists’ program and organized the young people around sports activities and the like. There were attempts to establish livelihood projects. This model spread rapidly across Mindanao owing to the workings of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) and its Secretariat. It was a radical pastoral initiative then; no wonder many bishops north of Mindanao did not want to have anything to do with it. (It would take two decades before they would join the bandwagon.) This model was later on transformed with its encounter with community organizing techniques, promoted primarily by the Basic Christian Community-Community Organizing (BCC-CO) Program (Picardal 1995: 90-95). This model would prove popular to left-leaning pastoral agents.
The events of 1986 would transform the Philippine church scene. In the post-EDSA or the post Marcos dictatorship era, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) was convened and a document that came out of it was popularized. The Basic Christian Communities (BCCs) became Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). With the PCP II Acts and Decrees, the Philippine Church has been provided with a BEC framework that could guide pastoral efforts.
One may ask: has this made such a major difference in the life of the Philippine Church? In the absence of an impact evaluation of the PCP II and a comprehensive assessment of BECs throughout the country, one can only make tentative statements subject to a validation. There is no question that the number of BECs has increased. The quantitative may impress, but one is not too sure with the qualitative aspect of these BECs. Are our BECs truly responding qualitatively to the contemporary signs of the times? I have raised this question in an earlier essay (Picardal 1994: 219-246); four years after, the same question begs for an answer.
It is useful to come up with a framework that would guide us in finding out where our BECs are and if these are responding to the challenges of the postmodern era by truly becoming a “way of being Church.” Picardal (1995) provides part of this framework which I am summarizing here in a diagram:
+ JESUS AS PRIEST
^ BEC as Priestly, Worshipping Community
= Involves: liturgical celebration of the Word, celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments, celebrating the liturgical seasons, paraliturgies and rituals.
+ JESUS AS PROPHET
* The Church as a Prophetic People
^ BEC as Prophetic, Witnessing Community
+ JESUS AS KING
caring for the earth
The rest of the framework will bring in some of the elements that constitute postmodernity. Since postmodern theory has its theoretical and philosophical underpinnings in the post-structural (Strinati 1995: 222-247), it is important that this framework also includes the discursive approach, one that stems from “the recognition of the importance of the dynamics of discourse and power to any study of culture” (Escobar 1995: vii; also Foucault 1980, 1994, 1995). These elements include the following:
1. Much like a critique of the discourses of Orientalism (Said 1979), and Developmentalism (Escobar 1995) there is need to look into the discourse of BECism, for indeed, such a discourse has arisen in church circles. Taking cognizance of Foucault’s knowledge-power-truth configuration, one needs to see who determines the BEC discourse to find out if those at the base have a voice in its proceedings. Is the discourse still controlled by male, clerical, urban-based pastoral agents with very limited pastoral praxis and extended integration with the grassroots? Or have lay pastoral agents and grassroots BEC leaders representing all age groups, gender, ethnicities, become actively involved in the articulations within this discourse? Have their experiences translated into epistemological contributions that need no mediations? Have they become agents in the representation of the vitality of the Church at the base?
Given the Philippine Church’s authoritarian structures, not only at the level of the hierarchy but as it is replicated at the parish levels—and yes, even at the BEC level—there is also a need to look into patterns of decision making, control of resources and conflict-resolution. Are there positive movements taking place towards the Church truly becoming Church of the Poor? Has a true communion really risen within our ranks? Is there no monopoly of power? Are our BEC leaders able to give rise to an alternative leadership model that brings in a greater participation of women, elder people and the youth; that refrains from the use of sanctions in order to mobilize support from its members; that works at consensus and resolution of conflicts and that enables fraternal correction while maximizing affirmations.
2. We have indicated earlier the complex inter-dynamics between globalizing and localizing processes and the fact that local villages are no longer immune from the impact of globalization. Despite the diminishing entry of foreign investments brought about by the Asian economic crisis, resulting in a slowdown of the development aggression in the countryside, external developments continue to encroach into village life. The CALABARZON model of development remains the paradigm; there are efforts to duplicate it, e.g. an integrated program covering the 4 provinces and 3 cities of Davao. The ranks of the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) are increasingly from the barangays of the south, no longer monopolized by the north. The advancement of media technology has provided rural folks in the interior access to the daily TV programs, which used to be viewed only by those in Metro Manila, including those that propagated popular culture. Agricultural technology is also penetrating the boondocks transforming relations of production and land ownership and control. Even legal frameworks and the government’s social reform agenda are contributing to this development. Meanwhile in some places, there are still pockets of rebellion.
There was a time when the BCCs engaged in an analysis of the situation in the wake of the popularization of the FERES (structural analysis) and the INODEP tools in the late 1970s-early 1980s. A few have continued this practice, although the tools may have become outdated. There are BECs that do situationer updates but, by and large, doing social analysis is no longer one of the strengths. And yet the times demand ongoing reflection owing to the more complex and rapid changes taking place. There is no longer a question that tools for analysis have to become more all-embracing and not get tied up too much to the economic determinism of the Marxist-influenced ones.
3. This analysis is useful if the BECs are to be clear about their political agenda, an item integral to their being both witnessing and serving communities. During the dictatorship, BCCs in many parts of the country, especially those in Mindanao and Negros, engaged the Marcos regime in the defense of the people’s basic human rights. Today, there is a heightened need to expand this trust with BECs becoming actively involved in civil society’s move to engage the State in issues ranging from development aggression to the allocation of resources to benefit the poor. The conduct of local elections has pushed many BEC leaders to be involved in partisan politics; some have run for office. The results have not shown that BEC leaders, presumably more honest and less prone to corruption, are automatically “winnable” candidates, considering realities like political patronage. The greater challenge is how the leaders can help make civil society a reality at the base level, working their way from barangay to municipal to provincial levels. This involves a capacity to establish linkages with other potential civil society agents in their areas including Non-government organizations (NGOs), private organizations (POs), cooperatives, other church groups, local media, and others operating at the base.
Engaging the State requires a collaborative effort given how time and resource-consuming advocacy work is. Resisting the entry of mining operations and land conversion plans, stopping destructive logging operations, pushing for the declaration of agrarian reform communities, fighting to minimize corruption so that limited resources can be used for education and health purposes, being ready to face the impact of natural calamities and taking on representative roles as per local government code to have a say in the decision-making process—all these require a strong localized civil society.
Engaging other political forces is a reality for a few BECs in areas where the National democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army (NDF-CPP-NPA) forces remain intact. As has been shown in the establishment of peace zones in Negros and North Cotabato, it can be done (Escalante 1996). New initiatives are arising as other BECs see the imperative need of asserting their right not to be caught in the crossfire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and New Peoples Army (NPA).
4. Postmodernity has dismantled the prominence of a class outlook in both our analysis and praxis; it insists in giving as much attention to realities of gender, race, ethnicity, age, and various faith traditions. There is no doubt that women serve as the backbone of the BECs, echoing the reality of the Church. They do all the “dirty work;” if they ever decide to quit the BECs en masse, that will be the end of the BECs. But they continue to be marginalized in terms of official leadership roles, although this does not mean that they have no voice in their BECs. As postmodernity deepens, one imagines that this situation cannot persist; one day, the women will bring about the collapse of ecclesial hierarchical structures from the Vatican down to the base communities. It will, of course, begin at the base.
Should the initiative be in organizing the women as a sector? Many women react to them being lumped together as sector. As mandated organizations like the Legion of Mary and Catholic Women’s League (CWL)? Feminists are not too happy with this. Or support groups of militant women’s organizations? Possibly, but this could have complications in terms of political orientation. The women will have to decide for themselves; but men will have to support their quest for an empowering identity within the Church that it is truly one of communion.
Many BECs do make an effort to organize their youth. The rationale behind having youth groups vary, but the dominant one is to have a ready work-force that can be tasked with serving as choir during liturgical celebrations and as couriers to carry messages between the parish convent and their villages. Rarely are they invited to be part of decision-making processes; rarely are their voices heard in issues that affect everyone. Aging BEC leaders find it difficult to hand over important roles to younger members. Like the center parishes, BECs are better able to attract those below 15 and above 30; the 15-30 age range is not as well-represented. The question that needs to be asked: how to bring them from the periphery to the center?
A challenge for many BECs in places like Mindoro, the Cordilleras, and other places where there are significant numbers of people who are of different ethnicities and faith traditions is how to creatively deal with this reality. The late Bishop Tudtud began to challenge the Mindanao Church to be involved in a dialogue of faith with the Muslim communities in the late 1970s. This pastoral thrust has expanded with the efforts of the Episcopal Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue; recently the Commission gave birth to the Bishop-Ulama encounters. While this high profile, top-level inter-faith dialogue is important, there is need to reclaim but also re-appropriate Bishop Tudtud’s vision of this dialogue taking place at the base level among the Moro and Bisaya, the Christian and the Muslim who are neighbors in the same village. How can the BECs empower themselves to take the initiative to promote such an inter-faith dialogue? An urgent question, indeed. As pastoral agents, we, too, need to address a parallel question: how can we facilitate in the empowerment process? The 1997 Asian Synod tackled the question and some answers may be forthcoming. Still, it is best that guidelines arise from those whose everyday lives are confronted by this reality.
The challenge to have inter-faith dialogue with the Muslim is quite clear for those who have internalized the Vatican II mission orientation. This isn’t quite clear in reference to the lumad communities. Partly, we make the assumption that because of Islam, the Muslim’s faith should be respected; whereas those of the lumad (indigenous people) could just be ignored since this is “superstitious.” Also, we recognize that the Moro people are “aggressive” and armed, but we do think of most lumad as meek and mild. Whatever are the reasons, the reality is clear: most of us are not as convinced to pursue an inter-faith dialogue with them. Fortunately the Commission has facilitated such dialogue and has now encouraged more localized activities.
The need for such dialogue is also urgent considering the recent developments related to the lumad’s quest to have ownership and control of their ancestral domain. The issuance of Certificates for Ancestral Domain Claims (CADC), the passage of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act and the ensuing operationalization of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) have given rise to new dynamics restructuring Lumad-Bisaya relations. Already in some lumad communities, there is a resurgence of their bagani identity; consequently, there is a drive to reclaim their domain taken by lowland landgrabbers. There could be new armed uprisings if the root causes are not diffused. Here is where BECs could take a pro-active stance. Once more, initiatives from various sides ought to arise, but who will help to create the space for such negotiations?
5. We have referred to the primacy of culture in postmodernity, the importance of taking into consideration local cultures and their differences. Hopefully, the new horizons of our awareness in this regard have convinced us of the importance of inculturation,7 which is described by John Paul II as “the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures” (As quoted in PCP II 1992: 73). This new consciousness of the plurality of cultures and inter-culturality demands that the Gospel be inserted into the very heart of cultures as evangelization takes place within the culture being evangelized. The pastoral consequences go beyond simply adapting the people’s language, understanding the cultural context before seeking to preach, and immersion among the people; there is need to acquire a different set of sensitivities, priorities and goals of the evangelization process (Gallagher 1997: 104).
Inculturation has to be embedded in the worshipping and serving aspects of the BECs. This demands a deconstructionist reading of popular religiosity.8 There is a lot of wealth in our people’s popular religious beliefs and practices that can be reappropriated as “weapons of the weak.” Our liturgical celebrations would become more creative, participative and contextualized if they are inculturated.9 This is one arena where the energy and talent of the youth could be tapped; so also the artists among our midst. This could serve as an antidote to the uncritical embracing of popular culture.
With inculturation, our formation and education programs could be enriched as approaches and methodologies tap into the richness of local cultures. Recently, church-based mobilizations have not attracted too many participants and drawn little attention to the issues being ventilated. One reason is because these were just reproductions of the very same forms that were in vogue during the dictatorship. Where these mobilizations incorporated cultural signs and symbols that resonated with the people’s hope and dreams, such actions became more prophetic and effective, e.g. the action of the BECs in Zamboanga del Sur to stop logging operations (Midsalip), to stop the building of a dam (Mahayag) to stop the displacement of residents (lakewood) and to call the people’s attention to various issues. Like the actions of the BECs in San Fernando, Bukidnon in 1987-1989 (Gaspar 1994), these mobilizations were faith-filled (bible sharing sessions at the picket lines, processions that people’s marches led them to the sacramental level), creative (songs were composed, theater productions staged), inter-active (use of video machines and tapping local to national media). As with EDSA, the crowds will come not just for clinched fists and kapit-bisig (join arms), but also for the prayer and fun.
As BECs attempt to become serving communities, such initiatives can also benefit from being inculturated. For generations, long before the first cooperative was set up in the country, rural folks found ways of helping one another through various schemes: damayan (helping hand), hunglos or pahina (working together), tapok-tapok(together-together), ug tampohanay (open contribution). One concrete structure common in Mindanao is the katilingban alang sa kalipay o kasakit (a community for happiness and pain), where families in a village pool their resources together: whoever has a kin who is going to get married (Kalipay or happiness/joy) or a death in the family (kasakit or sadness/grief) has a right to claim the total resources accumulated. When the communal farm concept was introduced, it re-appropriated the hunglos (community working together) structure. Similar schemes abound; the thing to do is to discover how these work and to learn from the native wisdom behind these.
6. Native wisdom, however, has its limitations and needs to be supplemented. In the postmodern era, the BECs need to navigate the ocean where various streams meet in order to become serving communities, especially to the most abandoned. This ocean is the world of possibilities towards greater well-being among the people and the various streams involve development approaches and methodologies. Today one hears another set of buzz words: pro-active stance, strategic planning, threats and opportunities, vision-mission-goal, resources management, rapid rural appraisal and the like. Among those engaged in development processes various acronyms referring to management tools have erupted.
Until now, there is a diversity of options regarding the involvement of BECs in development projects, including those that respond to health and livelihood needs and promoting the integrity of creation. Some believe BECs should not be engaged in such projects for various reasons. There are those who would concede that BECs should, if the State is not doing something to respond to the people’s needs and there are no local NGOs that do so. Others believe that engaging in micro projects is essential for BECs if they are to become truly serving communities. There maybe indigenous ways in which the people serve each other’s needs, but they believe that such initiatives should be formalized into concrete projects such as cooperatives, integrated programs and the like. The worsening poverty situation and the prevalence of calamities have reinforced the need for such collective actions.
Among those who would engage in development initiatives, the postmodern era poses the following challenges: how to interiorize a strategic orientation (versus being too short-term oriented with a lot of hit-and-miss approaches) but without relying too much on management tools that evolved solely in a Western context, how to promote sustainability (versus ningas-cogon projects) and not become too capitalist-oriented as to worry only about maximizing profits, how to mobilize local resources and not rely on huge funding coming from outside, how to bring in technology that follows the “small-is-beautiful” principle (Schumacher 1975), and the like. Thus, a “hybridization” (Escobar 1997: 219) seems in order.
It will make a difference if pastoral agents, taking seriously the idea of BEC as a new way of being Church, would initiate social action or development projects at the base level and tap its localized structures. In other words, start with and mobilize the resources at the base, where the needs are most urgent. But this requires the local church to take a pro-active stance by adapting a strategic direction. The local ordinary, the parish priests, other pastoral agents and representatives from the BECs will need to undergo a comprehensive strategic planning session; articulating what is their vision-mission-goal, they would be guided to set up relevant goals. A lot of ministries could be streamlined and coordinated; a comprehensive human resource training plan could be established. And development projects could be initiated under the over-all BEC pastoral thrust, and, thereby, be more geared to actualization at the base. This may sound like a tall order, but ignoring this scheme would lead to a repetition of past mistakes—rather pitiful, considering the waste of resources.
The implementation of development projects will need to be sensitive to many of the principles already brought up in this paper. Approaches and methodologies will need to recycle the ideas of the past in the area of conscientization and community organization (Manalili 1990) while being open to those that have arisen from varied experiences in the Third World. The RRA, PRA and PLA approaches (popularized in the writings of Chambers) and adapted by local groups (PhilDHRRA 1993). These approaches are guided by the following principles: outsiders should facilitate, not dominate; the methods should shift the normal balance from closed to open, from individual to group, from verbal to visual, from measuring to comparing; and that there be a partnership and sharing of information, experiences, food and laughter between insiders and outsiders (Chambers 1997: 106).
7. Some theories claim that Nietzsche, who claimed that “God is Dead”, is the father of postmodernity. Ironically, where modernity reduced everything to external ‘religion,’ postmodernity opens up to various dimensions of religious experience, the prophetic, the cosmological, and the mystical. The postmodern person yearns for the Spiritual. Already in the recent years, there has arisen various types of spirituality which deal with methods of inner journeying, self-ecology, counter-cultural option to cultivate awareness, life-expanding and incarnational themes, liberating a flow of divine energy in each person, staying in touch with struggles of history and the like (Gallagher 1997: 137). Some see this as the conscious response to God’s call, expressed in the convergence of theology, prayer and commitments. Three of its thrusts involve the lived experience of faith, the growth in contemplation and committed love, and the practical skills to nourish a conscious relationship with God through prayer and reflection (138).
The thirst to drink from spiritual wellsprings can already be sensed among those that make up the BECs. Lay pastoral agents are searching for an appropriate lay spirituality; feminist theologians have reappropriated indigenous spirituality as women seeking to be nurtured in their faith. No wonder there are more pilgrimages to the Mt. Banahaw religious groups. BEC leaders have expressed the need for retreats and recollections. There are those who are drawn to Zen or exploring what the ashrams could offer. Like the art of postmodernism, spirituality in the postmodern era embraces influences from various sources.
What is important is that in the people’s inner journey, three converging strengths are learned, namely “the skills of interiority, supports of community, and commitment to service the wounded of the world” (144). This is one’s prayer for the BECs in the postmodern era: that they can be locus for this journey.
1. See the following readings that tackle globalization: Bello 1994; APEC: Four Adjectives in Search of a Noun (Manila: Focus on Global Youth, 1996); Moore 1996.
2. Giner 1995: 303. Other readings on civil society are included in the bibliography, especially those linked to Habermas.
3. There are 164 definitions of culture listed in Kroeber 1963. For purposes of this article, I rely on the synthesis presented by Gallagher, pages 22-23. In the Appendix of his book, Gallagher provides the definition of culture by various persons/documents including: Gaudium et Spes, Bernard Lonergan, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Willowbank Report of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, John Paul II, UNESCO and Konrad Raiser. See pp. 151-154. The Dictionary of Sociology has also a comprehensive definition, pp 98-99.
4. This is from the document that came out during the Third Congress of EATWOT held in New Delhi, as quoted in Verhelst 1992: 51.
5. The National Secretariat of Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA) convened a meeting of BEC practinioners in 1996 and 1997 for a sharing of experiences. The BCC-CO Program continues to hold its meetings. Groups like the Redemptorist Mission Teams have had their own assessment of the BECs they served, with the Redemptorist Itinerant Missions Team doing an assessment of the BECs in 6 parishes. See Lihok sa RMT sa Mindanao (Davao City: RMT Publication, 1995). Local dioceses and parishes conduct their regular evaluations of their BECs and apostolates. If someone can just sum up the data from these various sources, one might be able to have an empirical reading as to where the BECs are these days.
6. NASSA attempted to qualify the BECs in the country today and came up with a set of figures in a document released in 1996 which still needs further verification subject to an improvement in the manner that the data was collected.
7. The literature on inculturation is already quite extensive and continues to expand. Some of the more important documents that tackle this include: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Ad Gentes, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Redemptor Hominis, Redemptoris Hominis, and PCP II Acts and Decrees. John Paul II has spoken on this topic. See Gallagher 1997: 46-47. Various publications of East Asian Pastoral Institute (EAPI) have articles on inculturation.
8. See Karl Gaspar, CSsR, Popular Religiousity in the Philippine Context: From Historical and Anthropological Perspective, a paper delivered at the golden anniversary of the MOPH Novena in Baclaran, June 1997. A useful reading material for this purpose is Ileto 1987.
9. The Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team were involved in such liturgical inculturation during their missions. They’ve put these together in Mga Giya sa mga Kasaulogan sa GKK(Guide for BEC Celebrations).