Radio For Island Communities:Tambuli’ in Philippines

The success of Mahaweli Community Radio Project in Sri Lanka paved the way of Tambuli Community Radio in Philippines, a country made up of some 7000 islands, spread over an archipelago stretching for about 800 kilometres from the north to south. The term ‘tambuli’ is used for the traditional carabao horn or sea conch used by the chief of the baranggay (village) to call the people for an assembly. The term ‘tambuli’, as a result of this project, became an acronym in Filipino; it began to stand for ‘Voice of the Small Community for the Development of the Underprivileged’.

The first jerk
The seed of Tambuli project was planted in 1986 in a very informal way and ultimately it began to germinate in the second half of 1991. UNESCO added momentum to its growth, providing US$25,000 to cover the cost of first 10-watt Allard transmitter, the basic studio equipment and accessories for the community radio station in Batanes, a very remote area where the people could only tune to radio programmes from China and Taiwan. In 1990, Radio Ivatan in Basco, located in Batanes Island went on the air as a precursor of the Tambuli Community Media Project. The cost of running the radio station and of producing the the local newspaper were taken over by the community and the Batanes Development Foundation by the end of 1993.

To pull it on
In 1991, the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) agreed to finance the first phase of this project through UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication. The pilot programme ran from September 1991 to December 1994 and there was huge support from the communities and local government which was beyond expectation. It resulted in savings in the international project funds. For getting more experience in varied settings, another 6 community media systems were in operation by the end of 1994 including the former in Batanes.

With the fund from DANIDA again, the second phase of the project was scheduled to be started in early 1996, although, due to bureaucratic delays, it was ultimately started in mid-1996. Its planned duration was three and a half years with international financial support of US$575,000. Because of the advances it made in empowering the people through their direct involvement in decision making, this project won the UNESCO Rural Communication Prize, worth US$20,000 from among 22 other international contenders.

Directing the way
Louie N. Tabing, a rural broadcaster for over 20 years before the project, managed the Tambuli Project and was a consultant in the UNICEF effort. Tabing and his small team of three people were very cautious and methodical in selecting the sites for the operation of this project.

There were some criteria made to determine the suitable locations. The geographical area should be around 10 to 30 km2, preferably isolated by mountain, sea or difficult terrain, with 10 to 20 thousand population. It should be poor by means of media communication, but yet should have the potential for building and managing a radio station and community newspaper. It should also consist of a potential for social organisation, community consciousness and cooperative work. The community must have the will to collect the resources and offer land, building etc. for a community centre to settle the radio station and the newspaper office. There must be potential of interaction between the communities, groups of towns and islands. The project was initiated in any locality only after considering the expression of enthusiasm by the people ensuring further support for having a local communication system.

The destiny reached
From 1992 to 2001, this project of UNESCO helped set up 24 pilot community radio stations in remote areas, islands and districts of the country. With them serving as models, UNICEF also established 12 community radios aiming to promote child’s rights from 2000 to 2002. A few other initiatives in the country, mainly by schools that offer mass communication courses, followed.

After the first community radio station, Radio Ivatan, the second station was established in Laurel in Batangas Province, only about 85 kilometres south of Manila. The third station was on the island of Panay, located in the central Philippines. These 20 watt to 100 watt town or village level stations are managed and operated by volunteers from the community. The community members prepare the programmes, handle the management and assume responsibility for the stations. The stations are non-commercial, non-political and non-religious. This set up is unique in a country like the Philippines where there are over 600 radio stations, most of them are commercial and the rest are government and religious.

Tambuli project has provided a great support to the people in terms of empowerment through information so that they can be motivated to take better advantage of existing development opportunities and also to identify and pursue their own development opportunities through media-supported discussions and debates.


  • Communicating for Development by Colin Fraser and Sonia Restrepo-Estrada, I.B.Tauris Publishers, London, New York, 1998 (pp. 190-218)
  • We thank Louie N. Tabing for providing insights on this project with i4d editorial team.