Barangays are put to task, indigenous people enfranchised in monitoring health

Government Watch (G-Watch) completed two more briefing-orientation seminars to add to the growing citizens and localities involved in PRO-Health or Promoting Rights Organizing for Health.

Conducted in Siquijor on March 13-14, 2023, 40 volunteer-monitors from Dumaguete consisting of non-government organization leaders, barangay officials, youth and women movements leaders were briefed and oriented on G-Watch accountability approach, how to conduct monitoring and how to engage government. Dr. Sarah Talla, the City Health Officer of Dumaguete City, who is also a core group member of G-Watch-Dumaguete, presented the key reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, adolescent health programs of the City of Dumaguete.

PRO-Health in Dumaguete is covering all the 30 barangay health stations in Dumaguete. With barangay officials comprising most of the volunteer-monitors, PRO-Health in Dumaguete is asserting the role of barangays in accountability. In his remarks, Jerome dela Cruz, one of the core group members of G-Watch – Dumaguete, who is also a barangay official reminded the participants that “barangay officials should also participate in accountability because they are on the frontlines of government closest to the people, expected to deliver services to the people.”     

In Puerto Princesa, Palawan on June 3-4, 2023, the PRO-Health briefing-orientation was co-organized by G-Watch local partner, the Local Alliance of NGOs and Individuals for Accountable Governance (LANIAG) that is being formalized and strengthened through PRO-Health as well. The event was attended by more 40 participants from across the city, which are grouped into eight (8) multisectoral monitoring teams. 

Each PRO-Health Puerto Princesa monitoring team is assigned to monitor a specific cluster of barangays (villages), which were clustered according to the geographical areas of Puerto Princesa. LANIAG aims to cover all rural health units located in 60 barangays, including nine satellite clinics. 

The orientation began with discussion on the national situation by Francis Isaac of G-Watch who described the Philippines as a “failing republic” due to growing impunity and the deterioration of accountability institutions. The second input came from Joy Aceron who shared G-Watch's approach to accountability. She stressed that the aim of monitoring is not fault-finding but constructive accountability, where government and civil society stakeholders collectively identify gaps and devise solutions to improve governance. 

Victoria Maglanque, also of G-Watch, discussed the monitoring tool that will be used during the actual monitoring, while LANIAG's George Vasquez offered a number of tips on how to engage the government. Dr. Ralph Marco Flores of the City Health Office (CHO) also attended the event and discussed the different health programs of the city government. He also assured everyone that the CHO Office welcomes G-Watch’s monitoring since it would allow them to know the real situation of health service delivery on the ground. 

The participants had a multisectoral character, which included local government officials, barangay officers, rural health workers, youth leaders and indigenous people (IPs). With big IP communities, PRO-Health in Puerto Princesa is expected to involve IP leaders as monitors.

Evangeline Cabon of the indigenous Batak-Tagbanua appreciated the importance of the effort, since it could shed light on their health needs as IPs. She said that it could also serve as a opportunity to educate her fellow IPs on the importance of modern health practices. 

Marami sa mga kasama ko, ayaw ng gamot o vitamins. Ang katwiran nila, wala naman niyan dati pero nabuhay naman kami. Pero ang lagi kong paliwanag, iba ang panahon noon sa panahon ngayon,” she said. (A lot of our people are reluctant to take medicines and vitamins. They insist that they don't need them since they survived even though they didn't have vitamins and medicines, then they don't need them. But I always explain to them that things were different then from now.)

PRO-Health is a health organizing initiative of G-Watch and Accountability Research Center (ARC), with several local governments, G-Watch core groups like G-Watch-Dumaguete and civil society  organizations, such as LANIAG in Puerto Princesa. Briefing-orientation seminars provide volunteer-monitors the necessary information and skills to conduct monitoring, including basic knowledge on G-Watch accountability approach and health governance. The briefing-orientation seminars also serve as an opportunity for the monitoring teams to plan for their monitoring activities.