Nicanor Perlas

(2003, Philippines)
Joint Award with Walden Bello

...for his outstanding efforts in educating civil society about the effects of corporate globalisation, and how alternatives to it can be implemented.


Nicanor Perlas is a Filipino activist, editor and publisher of the internet-based news and analysis service TruthForce! and founder of the Centre for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI). He has being running campaigns against nuclear power plants and pesticides, becoming one of the Philippines' environmental leaders. During the late 1990s, Perlas's focus has almost exclusively been on social movements and their power to change the world, educating civil society about the effects of corporate globalisation.

Contact Details

Nicanor Perlas
Center for Alternative Development Initiatives
Unit 718 Cityland Megaplaza
Garnet rd cor. ADB Avenue
Ortigas Center, Pasig City
1605 Metro Manila


Nicanor Perlas was born in 1950, and graduated with highest honours in agriculture from Xavier University. He gave up his master's degree after being drawn into the struggle against the Marcos-promoted Baataan nuclear plant in 1978 and had to leave the Philippines after organising a conference to expose its dangers.

After the fall of Marcos Perlas was able to return to the Philippines, founding the Centre for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI).

He became a consultant to the Aquino Government on the troubled nuclear power plant, and contributed to the decision to mothball it, despite it being very near completion, and having cost $2.1 billion.

At the same time he engaged in a campaign against the abuse of pesticides, founding the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. This (and very often Perlas personally) gave training and technical assistance in 23 provinces in the Philippines. Perlas also became a member of the government's Pesticides Technical Advisory Committee, which eventually banned 32 of the most damaging pesticides and caused the government to invest P760 million in integrated pest management, which trained more than 100,000 farmers. For this work Perlas won the Global 500 Award from UNEP, and one of the TOFIL Awards to outstanding Filipinos, both in 1994. In the substantial press coverage that accompanied these awards, Perlas was often referred to as 'a farmer' and his work with CADI still helps farmers to shift away from chemical-intensive agriculture.

By this time Perlas was already one of the Philippines' environmental leaders. He had set up student environmental groups and his work on nuclear power and sustainable agriculture had given him a national profile. He was one of the Philippines' NGO delegation to the 1992 Earth Summit. He later became heavily involved in the post-Rio process in the Philippines, not least through the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), of which he has been Civil Society Co-Chair, and helped to formulate and implement at the local level Philippine Agenda 21 (PA21). Later in the 1990s he became Co-Chair of the Green Forum of environmental groups, and he has been a member of Mikael Gorbachov's Commission on Globalisation.

Perlas explicitly sought to use PA21 as a counter-weight to the trade liberalisation that was being pushed through the Uruguay Road of the GATT, in what he described as a "creative response to the challenge of élite globalisation." A major practical expression of the PA21 approach is the micro-credit initiative Lifebank, of which Perlas is a Board member. Lifebank has so far reached 15,000 families.

Perlas has evolved a 'tri-sector' approach to policy-making, which he calls 'threefolding': "In social threefolding the three global powers - government, representing political concerns, business, representing economic concerns, and civil society, representing cultural concerns, can come together, where appropriate and feasible, to join efforts in solving major world problems." This is the subject of Perlas' most recent book, Shaping Globalisation: Cultural Power and Threefolding, (2000). These ideas are said to have been important in the process that led to the toppling of President Estrada in 2000. Perlas took the book to the State of the World Forum 2000, and has co-founded two networks to take the ideas forward globally: GlobeNet 3 and the Global Institute for Responsible Leadership, which seeks to promote innovative thinking and collaboration across traditional boundaries - departments, organizations, sectors, and cultures.

During the late 1990s, Perlas's focus has almost exclusively been on social movements and their power to change the world. He counts as one of his major achievements that, with Walden Bello, he convinced the Philippine NGO scene in 1996, through major talks, the formation of networks and a big civil society conference that the issue for the future of the Philippines, is the value system underpinning globalisation. Perlas warns that the developments we are facing demand a deeper, ethical and spiritual response: we face a system not just a management crisis. Thus he asks how our sense of identity and humanity will be affected by current technological advances (in genetic engineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence) which could lead to the proliferation of half-human half-machine "silicone beings" in the near future.

He received the Global 500 Award, the UNEP's highest international award for environmental achievement, in 1994.

Perlas is the editor and publisher of TruthForce!, an internet-based news and analysis service reaching thousands of subscribers and readers in over 60 countries. In 2010, he ran for President of the Philippines. During his presidential campaign, he, together with others, founded MISSION (Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking), a cultural, spiritual, scientific movement of individuals in civil society, government, and business.


Acceptance Speech by Nicanor Perlas

December 8th, 2003

Before anything else, I would like to express my deep gratitude for having been found worthy by the jury of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation to be one of the recipients of their prestigious Right Livelihood Award for 2003. I humbly accept this great honor and distinction as it will be important in the on-going and incoming struggle to create a better world for humanity and the planet.

Inner and Outer Journey

The journey that took me from my place of work to standing here before you has been long and hard but inwardly enriching. It started 35 years ago in Manila, Philippines when I was around 18 years of age. I grew up in a relatively sheltered life of ease and leisure and educated in one of the two top elite schools of the country, a school whose students' parents determined the direction of Philippine economic and political life. This world drastically changed when I realized that such a sheltered and privileged life was totally empty and meaningless amidst the sea of poor and oppressed people that was and is the Philippines. This feeling was so strong that I chose agriculture as my career because it would give me a direct access to helping the poor.

My classmates were horrified. They thought I was crazy, wanting to give up a life of ease. They thought I was mad, giving up sure fame for winning the Athlete of the Year award and an invitation to be part of the Philippine Olympic team, a sure road to stardom in a country which adores outstanding athletes.

Ignoring this insult, I organized one mass mobilization after another to challenge oppressive structures in Philippine society and to create a more just and sustainable reality. At the same time, as I started receiving death threats, I had to develop inner strength and courage to carry through with my decision that I was willing to die for my principles.

We shut down our university and made it more relevant to the needs of the country. We prevented the Marcos dictatorship from building 12 nuclear power plants located near active volcanoes and earthquake faults. In the process, we launched the largest global protest movement at that time against nuclear plants in a so-called "Third World" country. We banned 32 pesticide formulations that were dumped on unsuspecting countries like the Philippines, harming the lives and the economic livelihood of millions of rice and other farmers. Bomb threats did not stop this work which instead triggered the large scale application of sustainable agriculture practices in the Philippines, benefiting the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmers.

We moved on and organized the largest network of civil society organizations consisting of over 5000 member organizations. This became the third power in Philippine society, counterbalancing the often unjust and harmful policies and programs of the State and the Market. With this social force, we developed Philippine Agenda 21 as the sustainable development framework of the Philippine government and blunted the radical neo-liberal agenda of the United States in APEC. In a tactical partnership with government, we introduced an innovation called social threefolding, where civil society, business and government dialogued and debated the future of world development within the Commission on Sustainable Development in the United Nations. This innovation was one of two streams of influences which enable the tri-sectoral approach to become a major policy approach adopted by the UN Millennium Summit. And recently, amidst great dangers to our lives, we ousted a corrupt Philippine President from office, using the threefolding approach to mobilize key leaders from civil society, government, and business.

Brave New World of the Future

You will note that I have given a sense of the inner process that has accompanied me all these years in the different areas of contention, an inner process that ultimately resulted in some form of good for people in a specific part of our planet and for humanity in general. I did this with a particular concern and purpose in mind. We are entering a "brave new world", totally alien to history, totally alien to our present experience of the world. This "brave new world" will require more than ever our harnessing inner resources if we are not to plunge ourselves into the abyss of destruction.

We are in the midst of elite globalization, that promises to destroy nature and wipe out most of what we traditionally hold dear, especially all the diverse identities of the world. Instead of a mutual understanding of cultures and identities, we have a "clash of civilizations" spreading like wildfire in many parts of the world, ensuring unending strife and battle. We are also seeing in our time the radical alteration of the nation state and their relationships, including, but not limited to, the increasing Atlantic divide between the U.S. and Europe, as well as the divide between the two and the rest of the world. We are also witness today to the newly emerged U.S. Empire, embodied in the Bush Doctrine, which seeks to dominate the other nations of the world as well as outer space, through its new and more deadly weapons of mass destruction.

Simultaneously while this commodification and domination of the world is taking place, the revolutions in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive technology are moving towards "technological singularity". This is the term scientists use for the convergence of these four technologies aimed at physically re-engineering the human being and creating super-intelligent machines, with capacities far exceeding the ordinary logic of humans. In short, technological singularity will dominate the very physical make-up of the human being. When this happens within the horizon of most of the lives of people gathered here tonight, then Francis Fukuyama's greatest nightmare will come true. We will experience the "end of history" not because capitalism and liberal democracy has triumphed permanently over communism, but because it will be the end of humans as we know them. For human history will have ended, because conventional humans, Homo sapiens, will have disappeared, superceded by human cyborgs and super-intelligent machines.

In our collective journey as humanity in this planet, we have clearly entered a totally unprecedented era. The problems we face are complex and extraordinary. In my forthcoming book, Spirit or Empire; Societal Revolutions of the 21st century, I have called this complex of problems the "Empire-Cyborg Matrix". I am introducing the discourse of "spirit" back in social activism because the problems we face, dear friends, cannot be solved by the same kind of mind and heart that created these problems in the first place. We are in fact faced with very deep spiritual social problems, which require spiritual responses from us. Ordinary, secular, materialistic answers will not do. The plea for human rights, for example, makes no sense if we truly believe that humans are simply complex biochemical machines that we can alter, patent, and clone. If we believe in materialistic concepts of evolution, we really can have no valid objections to the Empire Project of the United States and the technological singularity of scientists who want to transform humans into cyborgs.

This is the reason why I gave a glimpse of the inner journey that took me here from the Philippines to Sweden tonight. For behind every act of social resistance and creativity is a spiritual act. Spiritual revolution must have happened first within us before we can create the new world we all long for. Failing this act of spiritual revolution, we will face the future powerless to redeem and transform the mechanical, totalitarian world we have created out of our societies, our selves, and Nature.

In the Impossible Lies the Seed of the Future.

As I reach near the end of my Acceptance Speech, I would like to share a very brief story and a lesson which can lead us hopefully and with courage into a better future.

In January 2001 we had mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to rise up in protest against the scandalous, corrupt, and criminal government of Philippine President Ejercito Estrada. At the same time we were concerned that the 15 different scenarios would most likely lead to a civil war. To make a long story short, we in civil society made elaborate preparations, in cooperation with the top business leaders of the country, to bring the whole transportation system of the Philippines to a halt. No planes, no ships, no buses. We aimed to paralyze the national economy. We were on the verge of implementing this move, when, unexpectedly, the whole military sided with us and that signaled the end of the corrupt regime of Estrada.

This event taught me a valuable lesson which I have never forgotten. I realized, right there and then, that in the impossible is the real; in the impossible is the future waiting to be born. From the perspective of the past and the present, the future that wants to be born is "impossible", distant, and but a dream. But the future cannot be a mere continuation of the past, no matter how that past seems so familiar and rational to us. The future, of necessity, will appear in the garb of the "impossible", and only people with vision and deep spiritual creativity can know this and act on this, visionary individuals often called "crazy" by their friends, and even their loved ones. But, dear friends, the "impossible", a more human future wanting to be born, calls us all to resist and transform the Empire-Cyborg Matrix.

From Winter to the Spring of Life

We are gathered together in the depths of the darkness and cold of winter. It is a good context for our discussions and a perfect symbol of the present world and human situation. However, we know that, after Winter, comes Spring; and with it the re-birth of Nature, the blossoming of the flowers, the chirping of the birds, the re-awakening of life in a grand scale.

In this Winter of our history, we will also have a Spring. But it is a Spring that we will have to create for this kind of Spring will not come automatically. It is a Spring that we must bring forth through effort and courage. Through our free decision to suffer with and engage the world. It is a Spring we can create by so loving the world, that we bring forward the best we can be for the world and for others.

Dear Friends, we face the future confident that we have one thing in us that the Empire-Cyborg Matrix does not have and can never defeat. This is the unconquerable world of the creative Spirit. With this inner power, we can abandon our conditioned habits of mind and heart that energize the Empire-Cyborg Matrix, habits that have been so destructive of the world and of all life. With this inner power, we will unite and move together to realize the "impossible" to halt the decline of human civilization and create a new world. Nothing less is expected of us as we face this great trial of humanity. Nothing less.

For my part, I will work, to the last gasp of my breath and with others from the farthest ends of the planet, to create a different world. Then we will have truly embarked on the urgent journey to give birth to a new civilization, truly worthy of our planet and truly worthy of our dignity as human beings.


Shaping Globalization: Civil Society, Cultural Power, and Threefolding, Center for Alternative Development Initiatives, 2000

Mission Possible! Sow Courage; Harvest a New World, Center for Alternative Development Initiatives, 2011

Smart Agriculture - How Societal Partnerships that Advance Inclusive Entrepreneural Sustainable Agriculture Throughout the Value Chain will Eradicate Poverty and Achieve Food Security, 2013



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