G-Watch Localization: Daring to Go Where Politics is At

Launching of G-Watch Localization (16 December 2010, Escaler Hall, Ateneo de Manila University)

“All politics is local,” as popularly quoted in the academe. This is rightly so in the Philippines, for here in our country national politics is but a mere product of the dynamics and constellations of local political forces. All politics is local—we are showing this afternoon another perspective to this idea. This afternoon, we assert that indeed all politics is local for it is at the local level where the government is closest to the people; where the interactions between the governed and the government is closer and more direct, oftentimes personal, and therefore where genuine political change could happen that will transform government and society as we know it.

The project we are launching today has started six months ago and for the short period of time we are working on what we are now realizing as a daring attempt, we already confront challenging questions.

  • Does it even matter if the local government unit or the LGU is transparent and accountable if it after all delivers what its people and its locality need?
  • Isn’t systematic performance monitoring done jointly by the citizens and their government officials too demanding and but a waste of resources for a locality with meager resources that are not even enough to cater to its constituencies’ basic survival needs?
  • Is it even possible for a locality coming from a heated electoral dynamics to build and nurture constructive engagement between the LGU and a critical mass of citizen organizations that set aside political agenda and biases to work hand-in-hand towards achieving a common objective?
  • Can a culture of accountability and claim-making be realized in localities where for decades the primary motif of engagement between citizens and government is clientelistic due primarily to economic reasons? Will citizens be capable to demand accountability and will the LGU be ready to account and to live by the principle that the people are their bosses (where all their power and authority emanate from them) in localities where people have been left with no choice but to depend on their government to provide them with their basic needs that they acquire in competition with the many in need by throwing allegiance and political support to politicians in power?
  • How can citizen involvement in governance have significant impact on governance and development outcomes if citizens are bounded by the limits of their capability, time and resources to engage their government and sustain their engagement?

These are difficult questions for they are at the heart of the prevailing political order keeping us from moving forward. These are the questions that our initiatives must grapple with to succeed. While we do not claim we hold the key, we do believe our effort, with the help of the key stakeholders, the citizens and their LGUs, can be a forward step in unlocking the answers to these questions.

G-Watch started in 2000 as a civil society response to a plethora of reports in corruption: Philippines as one of the most corrupt in Asia, billions of pesos lost in procurement- and infrastructure-related corruption, the textbook scam, ghost projects in textbook delivery and school-building projects, to name a few. From the start, it veered away from the old ways of fault-finding, blame game and pointless confrontation that characterized civil society engagement in the issue of corruption in government. Instead, G-Watch addresses the issue of abuse of discretion and the use of public resources for private ends by harnessing citizens voice and demand for government to account on the one hand and the formal recognition of the government for the need for transparency and accountability on the other hand in order to facilitate a constructive engagement in performance monitoring.

In its work at the national level with national government agencies like the Department of Education, Department of Public Works and Highways and Department of Health, to name a few, it led to the setting up of mechanisms for transparency and accountability in critical basic service deliveries like textbooks, school-building projects and disaster relief goods. This resulted in outcomes like reduction of price, reduction of procurement period and increase in compliance to standards that arguably improve the delivery of these basic services. It also paved the way to a brand of engagement of more civil society groups with the government, which is not without conflict but with emphasis on working towards common objectives and goals towards improved governance.

The G-Watch model of social accountability that we gleaned upon from our years of experience of engaging at the national level has the following features:

  • First, it is a joint citizen-government monitoring, hence by watching the government, we mean both the citizens and government officials watch or monitor a particular government process constructively or towards a common objective or goal of improving service delivery for better services received by the people.
  • Second, it is preventive and pre-emptive by clarifying the standards (processes, outputs, performance targets, etc.) of an on-going process that it monitors, hence serving as an affirmative action to ensure compliance to standards or to avoid deviations.
  • Third, it is community-based to empower the beneficiaries to ensure that the government actually does its job and delivers quality goods and services. Ensuring that monitoring is decentralized and localized also allows the initiatives to be embedded in the community life for sustainability.
  • Fourth, it builds the capacity of communities and citizens by developing easy-to-use monitoring tools with measurable performance indicators.
  • Fifth, it generates hard data and evidence that ensure objectivity in the engagement and as bases for recommendations on how to improve the service delivery monitored.

G-Watch Localization aims to engage the local level to develop a G-Watch application that is attuned to local context and realities. It takes into account the decentralized policy context, the situation and condition of citizen participation in local governance, the nature and practice of the local government unit and the backdrop of socio-cultural realities prevalent and strong at the local area like primacy of kinship, prevalence of patronage and machismo, to name a few. It situates itself in the areas of monitoring and evaluation which remains weak despite the mandated avenues for citizen participation due to sheer lack of resources for it, the lack of capability and its seeming lack of urgency in comparison to other concerns.

The initiative is a knowledge development that brings together the experience of G-Watch at engaging the national and the knowledge and experience of local stakeholders, particularly the local government units and the citizen organizations, to tackle the difficult questions of transforming local governance. This is done through the pilot-testing of the G-Watch model of constructive engagement in performance monitoring that aims to improve the efficiency of service delivery of the LGUs through transparency and accountability. It involves capacity-building to enable the pilot test and allow learning of stakeholders while in action. The G-Watch application is tailored fit to the local context through research activities and multi-stakeholder consultations. The experience is documented in order to develop a technology at the end of the pilot-testing for G-Watch application at the local level that can disseminated for replication at a wider scale through partnership with national agencies and bodies and promotional activities. (Components)

We have selected pilot sites that we believe can help us in developing this new knowledge. In a way, they are a mix of LGUs with extensive experience in citizen-government engagement and that grapple with the difficult questions of improving local governance with the participation of the citizens, of LGUs with diverse socio-linguistic background, socio-economic profiles and from different layers of government. They are the City of Naga, the Municipality of San Miguel, Bohol, the Island City of Samal, the City of Dumaguete, the Province of Southern Leyte and the City of Puerto Princesa.

They are committing today to help us in this difficult task by providing us access to information, tapping local knowledge, co-facilitating the pilot-test and finding ways to sustain the effort; as we commit to them our accountability to coordinate this effort, solicit and mobilize necessary support and ensure the accomplishment of the project.

In our engagement with them for the last six months, we discovered that indeed what a difficult challenge is cut out for us, but we also discovered that they too wish to answer the same questions that we ask, they too want to nurture and enhance citizen-government engagement to improve transparency and accountability that can improve efficiency in service delivery, they too want to transform governance as we know it and they too want a difference in our country. We find champions in them and it is comforting indeed for us that as we dare to go where politics is at, we have the support and help of those who are actors in that political space and are therefore in the best position to make change happen.

All politics is local—we are showing this afternoon another perspective to this idea. This afternoon, we assert that indeed all politics is local for it is at the local level where the government is closest to the people, where the interactions between the governed and the government is closer and more direct, oftentimes personal, and therefore where genuine political change could happen that will transform government and society as we know it.