Philippine Nobel Award, Social Threefolding and the Spiritual Tasks of Nations

By Nicanor Perlas[1]

For many decades, thinkers have grappled with a question. They knew that an answer to this question could provide a key foundation for a peaceful, spiritually creative and prosperous global civilization. The two world wars and dozens of other “small” wars have given stark warning of what happens when no adequate answer is found.

This question can be expressed as follows. “What is the task of smaller nations in world affairs dominated by economic and political superpowers?” Recent events in the Philippines provide a glimmer of hope that maybe, the beginnings of an answer can now be found.

On February 25, 2001, the Philippines received a very unusual global award. It is the first of its kind in the world, as well as the first award given to an entire nation. The Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Foundation (Nobel Peace Foundation) awarded the Philippines for their “wonderful gift of the spirit . . . to the world” in the form of People Power II.  The prestigious Center for Global Non-Violence also joined the Nobel Peace Foundation in giving the award as the Philippines celebrated People Power I and II.

In a certain sense, this award is higher than a Nobel Peace Prize since the citation was given by a foundation whose trustees are composed of Nobel Peace Prize winners. The award therefore represents the collective wisdom and combined judgment of global peace luminaries like Nelson Mandela of South Africa, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor and Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union.

Leadership of the Third Kind

The award shows that the world is hungering for a third kind of leadership. It is weary of the two-kinds of leadership that have dominated in the world: economic and political/military leadership.

This third kind of leadership is cultural leadership. It is demonstrating excellence in the area of culture—whether this be excellence in moral deeds, intellectual creativity, ideals, or other aspects of culture. The Philippines demonstrated in action the cultural ideal of non-violent, peaceful removal of a corrupt and unaccountable president.

This longing for a new kind of leadership, for cultural leadership, is a major clue to answering one of the most difficult questions of the 20th century. Before following this clue, let us take a closer look at the Philippine example.

People Power II and the Philippine Spirit

Pierre Marchand, chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Foundation cited the Philippines in this manner. "The world is sick and tired of war and violence. . . . You have given a gift to a world that knows only force and violence—of effecting radical change without firing a shot”. The world continues in its violent ways when only economic and political considerations dominate policy decisions.

In this award, the excellence of the Philippine Spirit has revealed itself. The Nobel Peace Foundation and its partners observed: “Your People Power II is even more amazing as it was almost a spontaneous combustion of a nation’s wrath when it felt that truth and justice were being suppressed. . . . History rarely allows a people to recreate an already singular phenomenon, but again you God-fearing and fellow Asians have shown the world that the governed must be eternally vigilant in holding elected leaders accountable.”

The Nobel Peace Foundation then further encouraged the Philippines not to stay within  “the shells of your existence. You cannot lie content upon your laurels that you have so richly won. . . . You were given a national gift. Do not keep it to yourselves. . . . The world will never be the same again . . . if the spirit of Edsa [People Power II] prevails beyond the shores of this tiny archipelago.”

Social Threefolding: A Related Philippine Contribution to the World

The Philippines is also becoming known globally as one of the pioneers and innovators of a new approach to solving, in a peaceful manner, conflict arising from development aggression. Conventional economic and political doctrines foster one-sided competition and self-interest. These spawn development aggression, leading to social conflict, and eventually to violence. In a potent way, this new approach institutionalizes the peaceful, conflict-resolving dynamics of People Power II in the development debate.

This Philippine approach is known as social threefolding. It is an innovation on related approaches proposed by social thinkers and activists in search of a better world. It also builds upon similar efforts done in Europe by Rudolf Steiner and his colleagues at the beginning of the 20th century in response to the nightmare of World War I. Social threefolding is starting to enter the highest levels of national and local government policy. Its beginnings have been introduced as practice in the United Nations (U.N.). This UN experience has then become one of the bases for a new policy of tri-sectoral approaches adopted by over 150 heads of state and governments at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. And it is intimately connected with the inner dynamics of People Power II.

In essence, social threefolding recognizes that we now live in a tri-polar world inhabited by three global powers—civil society in culture, government in politics, and large corporations in the economy. We characterize it as a tri-polar world because these three global powers are often in conflict. Social threefolding recognizes, however, that all societies, of necessity, have a cultural, political, and an economic realm. Further, there is recognition that at some point, these have to be harmonized. In the Philippine context, social threefolding offers concrete ways by which this tension can be creatively harnessed, where appropriate, to create a new Philippines.

There is another important task of social threefolding. This task is to liberate the cultural sphere of societies from being dominated by the powerful forces of the market and the state. Social threefolding allows the cultures of countries to truly express themselves and become a vital force in the overall development of nations. It enables countries to truly express what they bring to the community of humanity.

Creative Fidelity to the Spirit and Mission of One’s Country

The Philippines and other smaller and medium-sized countries of the world, with rare exceptions like Japan, can never become world economic or political powers in the sense of a United States or a Germany, or a France or any of the other large industrialized nations. However, the Philippine example shows that it is possible for smaller countries to be a source of cultural excellence that can provide inspiration for other nations of the world. Its example of moral strength can enrich the global discourse by showing that critical aspects of world civilization will never be solved on the basis of economic and political/military calculations alone.

This then could be an aspect of the mission of the smaller and medium-sized countries of the world. They can provide cultural leadership. If the smaller nations of the world are to be true to their destinies, if they are to be true to their Spirit, then they must embark on a path of societal development strongly guided by their unique cultures. They must show, in their own creative ways, how the vital moral sense for freedom of the spirit, fair play, justice, compassion, and community, together with other universal values, can find unique expression in the different parts of the world.  They must deal with economic and political challenges without sacrificing their cultural excellence. Anything less will be a betrayal of the their Spirit.

If greater numbers of countries of the world creatively express their cultural excellence without the trappings of exaggerated nationalism, then, increasingly, sterling qualities of humanity will surface as ideals of and in the world. By being truly who they are as countries, then we, as individuals, can truly be. The excellence of smaller nations can help complete our humanity.


[1] Nicanor Perlas is President of the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI) and member of the Steering Committee of Kompil II, the social movement that helped mobilize People Power II in the Philippines. He is the author of the book, Shaping Globalization: Civil Society, Cultural Power, and Threefolding, which has been translated into 7 languages. The author can be reached at

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