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TURNING POINT: Communicating Development

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 30 October) – Senator Imee Marcos sneered at development communication (devcom) for its irrelevance to the times, calling it old-fashioned, cute and archaic. Ms Marcos remembered, perhaps, in saying that, a devcom episode in the past that affects her immediate family.

What really is development communication?

Communication is a sine qua non of development, says Nora C. Quebral, who originated the genre of development communication  in the Philippines.

Devcom as explained below is what I gathered from the great mentor, which, of course, may have  morphed, particularly in scope, as influenced by my practice of the trade.

Development communication is the application of the science and art of communication in advancing development, whose defining goal is the improvement of the quality of life of the people.

On the ground, it means people are free to unleash their potential in an affirming and rewarding environment. This translates to economic security and access to life-uplifting opportunities. Devcom envisions a community where people are conscious of their rights and are active participants in the socio and political dynamics that affect their wellbeing.

It is the philosophy of development that is biased for the people that distinguishes devcom from  traditional communication which is pragmatically inclined to those in power or to the establishment.

Devcom leans favorably on interpersonal, dialogic communication, but, nonetheless, taps the mass media, broadcast and print, in communicating, say, the advances in the sciences and other utilitarian endeavors. That’s why as a field of study devcom has science reporting, which trains students the way to communicate the outputs of scientific inquiries that a layman may understand and may find value and productive use.

Both the right and the left have adopted the philosophy and technology or approaches of devcom to advance their agenda; for the former to entrench in power over the people  and, for the latter, to acquire power through the people.

By coincidence or, perhaps, because of it, devcom sprouted, took roots and blossomed in UP Los Baños during the Marcos Martial law period. It was effectively used by the regime in promoting the Masagana 99 rice sufficiency program and other food production programs.

Government agriculture technologists and extension workers were not just taught the skills of improving  crops and livestock production but also on how to impart such knowledge and skills to the farmers, all of which  effectively binds the latter to the government. UPLB technical experts and development communicators were tapped in pushing forward the government development program in cooperative formation, farm irrigation, and access to credit.

Health and nutrition were also promoted among homemakers alongside the promotion of improved farming practices. Barangay health workers also moved around to sell the benefits and advantages of family planning.

Meanwhile, riding on the village development activities, the state security forces organized barangay brigades or local militia to check and counter grassroots resistance to the regime.

Indeed, it was during this period that the government was so conspicuous in the village. Because of its role in the government development strategy, critics and opposition of Martial Law viewed devcom as nothing but a propaganda tool – a deodorizing agent of the oppressive regime.

Meanwhile, the leftist elements were not left behind in the battle for the farmer’s mind. They would crisscross and embed themselves in rural villages  to campaign against and debunk the government efforts, decrying the government’s strategy of development as a grand deception that enriched the middlemen and the capitalists but impoverished the farmer by putting him in chain for long hours of  farm toil; sinking him deep in debts to acquire the myriad farm inputs to increase production;  and ruining  his farm, his brooks and streams with  the toxic pesticide and other chemical pollutants which were concomitant to the green revolution program.

The resistance to the onerous behavioral requirements and the heavy financial burden on government in running Masagana 99 most likely crippled and tanked the program. Thus, the rice sufficiency program was a shooting star whose grand brilliance was but a flicker that quickly disappeared as quickly as it appeared. It could not be sustained because it was not economically healthy and it enslaved rather than freed the farmer from ineffable penury.

Anyway, the relevance of devcom to the needs of times has not been lost or diminished. Devcom practitioners won’t allow it.

As a devcom practitioner, I have not ceased taking issue with the rapacious exploitation of the country’s natural resources, in standing against deforestation, irresponsible mining and the unbridled pollution of the environment.

The devcom in me has been there in teaching the fisherfolk in the care and protection of their coastal resources, in the establishment of marine protected areas to replenish dwindling fish stock and restore the integrity of the coastal ecosystem.

I have written to explain the burden and impact of a runaway population on the environment; the nitty-gritty and  deadly dynamics of pollution, global warming and climate change. Of late, my writings help all concerned in making people understand the harrowing phenomenon of the coronavirus pandemic.

Devcom takes a grip on subjects that are often skirted by traditional communication practitioners for being bland, technical, hardly of “human interest” and, do not sell. Devcom makes stale subjects interesting, entertaining and persuasive to move people to purposive action and meaningful  change.

On the other hand, true devcom practitioners are not silent on the plight of indigenous people, excesses of governance; they uphold human rights, and echo the muffled cries of the victims of injustice.

As long as there is underdevelopment, as long as people suffer from oppression, injustice, poverty and misery, the relevance of devcom is never lost or diminished.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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