Joining Voluntary Associations Boosts Citizen Participation Among Filipinos, Says Dr. Abad In a Professorial Lecture

April 13, 2017
Carlo Rivera

“Active membership in voluntary associations emerges as the strongest driver of citizen participation among Filipinos,” so reported Professor Emeritus Ricardo Abad in his well-attended professorial lecture last March 30.  His finding drew from an analysis of survey data on citizenship conducted in 2014 by the Social Weather Stations and the International Social Survey Programme.  The nationwide sample covered 1,200 Filipino adults, 18 years and over, weighted by region and province, and with a sampling error of 3 percent. 

Citizen participation referred to political participation, an index of eight indicators that included acts like joining rallies and demonstrations, contacting a political official, signing a petition, and expressing views on the internet.  While the majority did not engage in any of these activities during the past year of the survey period, a sufficient number did and more expressed the likelihood of having done so in the past or doing it in the future.

Dr. Abad’s study assessed two models of citizen participation: cognitive engagement and social capital.  In addition, Dr. Abad also examined the effect of rights and obligations as well as social location indicators like age, gender, educational attainment, household income, and region.   Included among these rights were: the right to have an adequate standard of living, health care for everyone, opportunities to participate in decision-making, and the protection of minorities. Among the obligations were the duty to vote, pay taxes, be active in associations, and help less privileged people in the country. 

The study found that among Filipinos, high approval of these rights and obligations had modest effects on citizen participation.  The pattern was, in fact, the opposite as slightly more people who got lower scores on participation strongly favored these rights and obligations. Not surprisingly, the net effect of rights and obligations on participation contributed a net impact of only 3 percent in the final analysis.
Indicators of cognitive engagement fared better with significant results found for awareness of political issues, personal interest in politics, a peer interest in politics, and media use to obtain political information.  The inclusion of these factors, notably peer interest and media use, raised the net impact on citizen participation from 3 to 14 percent.

A more substantial impact appeared for social capital indicators. While measures of Interpersonal trust and trust in government hardly mattered, organizational participation stood out as the strongest driver, swelling the net effect on citizen participation from 14 to 32 percent.  The more people joined and actively participate in voluntary associations – religious, political, sports, cultural, and professional – the higher their citizenship participation scores. This strong effect remained steadfast even when all other significant factors were taken into account in the final equation.

These factors included social location variables.  Of these, gender and region came out as significant.  Males were more likely than females to show higher levels of participation.  Moreover, those from Mindanao displayed a greater propensity to participate compared to those from the NCR, the rest of Luzon, and the Visayas.  These variables, however, only pushed the net effect up from 32 to 33 percent, indicating that organizational participation remained, in the final analysis, to be the most robust predictor of citizen participation in the Philippines.

Dr. Abad concludes that what moves Filipinos to participate has little to do with norms about rights and obligations or with personal characteristics, but more with the way they engage with others on political matters.  And while a mix of cognitive engagement and social capital factors shapes participation, social capital has the explanatory edge. The observation that males participate more than females also reflects gender divides in citizen participation. Likewise, the more active involvement of Mindanao respondents also requires a closer look at the ways people in Southern Philippines curate their political life.

The open forum that followed raised some insights about the active participation of Mindanao respondents.  Field data, for example, reveal that attendance in social rituals like weddings and funerals have also become occasions to discuss political issues.  The strong presence of basic Christian communities in the region may also contribute to a richer organizational life among residents.  Survey data, coupled with ethnographic data, will yield a fuller picture.

Dr. Abad’s lecture is the last of the professorial lectures organized this school year by the Office of Research and Creative Work headed by Dr. Emilyn Q. Espiritu and the University Research Council chaired by Dr. Mercedes Rodrigo.  For this event, Dr. Fernando Aldaba, SoSS Dean introduced the speaker while Dr. Emma Porio, incoming Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology gave a message of congratulations.  Ms. Trixie Maye Fernando read the invocation and Dr. Enrique Leviste, also of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, served as a gracious master of ceremonies.

Dr. Abad’s report will appear as part of the Occasional Paper Series released by the Social Weather Stations.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Emilyn Espiritu and Mr. Dino Manrique.