The smallest unit of the Philippine Catholic Church is the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC), a group of families who come together for worship, bible study and reflection on their social circumstances. In many dioceses BECs are encouraged to move beyond mere reflection and act as agents of change, organizing cooperatively for meaningful and peaceful development. A significant corpus of literature has developed around the concept, and it emphasizes the power of small groups to effect change, and the power of a national network of BECs.
In many respects the discourse of development through BECs resembles an ideal postdevelopment scenario but, as numerous commentators have explained, postdevelopment is unachievable due to a myriad of structural pressures pushing on any group. In the Philippines the material reality of poverty and powerlessness stands in the way of most BECs that seek development.
One field season was spent in the Diocese of San Carlos, known nationally for its vigorous development thrust. Qualitative research methods, including in-depth interviews, conversation and participant observation, were employed. The ideal picture framed by the literature on BECs is measured against the reality of development in the rural countryside. Conclusions demonstrate a micro-managed series of programs orchestrated at the Diocese-level, and little semblance of self-sustainable grassroots development at the BEC level.