Government-Citizen Engagement Leading to Empowering Change

  • We're in it for the long run and we invite you all to join us!
    We're in it for the long run and we invite you all to join us!

Speech delivered during the G-Watch Localization Expo at Crowne Plaza Ortigas on 26 April 2012.

When we launched this project last Dec 2010, we raised several critical questions, which we would like to answer through this project. Allow me to start by recalling these questions:

  • If an LGU delivers what its people and its locality needs, does it even matter if it is transparent and accountable in its governance?
  • Is systematic performance monitoring done jointly by the citizens and their government officials too demanding and a waste of resources for a locality with meager resources 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 civil society?
  • Can a culture of accountability and claim-making be realized in localities where the primary motif of engagement between citizens and government for decades has been clientelistic? Will citizens be capable to demand accountability and will the LGU be ready to account?
  • How can citizen involvement in governance have significant impact on development outcomes if citizens are bound by the limits of their time and resources to engage their government and sustain their engagement?

A year and a half after, we are here to present to you the result of this endeavor for us to jointly reflect on these questions. We too have our own insights which we hope to share with you in our event today in many ways and several ways, including the exhibits that we have put up. Allow me, through this presentation, to start the sharing.

Those who know the project would recall that what we intended to do in this work is to apply the G-Watch Social Accountability Approach at the local level, particularly addressing what we consider is a major gap in local governance which is constructive engagement between citizens and government in performance monitoring.

G-Watch as a social accountability model has been proven effective at the national level, being able to facilitate constructive engagement between government and citizens that ensure that the right quantity and quality of services reach the right beneficiaries at the right time following the right processes leading to enhanced transparency and accountability in governance. It is particularly successful in its engagement with DepEd with pioneering programs like Textbook Count and Bayanihang Eskwela and has partnered with various national government agencies in monitoring other critical services and programs, including human rights compliance.

The project aims to apply the G-Watch approach at the local level. With the support of the European Union’s Strategic Partnership Facility 2, the idea has been pilot-tested in six localities selected to provide a good mix of sample given several considerations: (1) presence of prospective partners, (2) level and kind of engagement between CS and LGU; (3) willingness of local stakeholder to participate, (4) most critical service delivery to be monitored.

For the past one and a half years, the six sites selected went through the G-Watch methodology from the formalization of agreement, development of tools and designs, mobilization and orientation of monitors to post-monitoring activities.

The six initiatives developed incorporated the five key features of the G-Watch model: joint citizen-government monitoring, use of easy-to-use tools, preventive/ pre-emptive approach, evidence-based and communities as monitors.

While the six sites followed the same methodology, their respective implementation has their own unique twists and turns and I hope you get to learn more about that when you go around their exhibits. Furthermore, the local G-Watch initiatives that evolved in these localities have certain uniqueness and innovation as far as application of Social Accountability in the country and perhaps even the world is concerned, which other LGUs would most likely find useful for their locality.

The Island Garden City of Samal’s monitoring of the environmental user’s fee (EUF) entitled “IGaCoS Bantay Kinaiyahan” applies social accountability in revenue generation, one of the critical challenges facing LGUs now. The initiative also engages the private sector, the resort owners, as part of the coordinating group as a way of securing the private sector’s buy-in and cooperation to the EUF through transparency efforts. The initiative was able to set up a monitoring that checks on collection, planning of utilization, information dissemination and awareness campaign, etc. with the participation of communities and civil society (particularly faith-based organizations and transport groups), leading to improved collection of the EUF and better clarified and communicated standards on EUF collection and utilization.  

San Miguel, Bohol’s monitoring of Rice Production Program dubbed as “Bulhon sa Panguma” proves that social accountability can lead to improved productivity as the monitoring contributed in the increase in rice production of the municipality. The improved transparency and accountability in San Miguel, Bohol’s governance through the invigorated civil society participation supported by the LGU also improved the level of confidence of investors and supporters as more resources from the outside were received by San Miguel since the implementation of the project through grants, awards and loans.

Puerto Princesa’s monitoring of their community-based sustainable tourism (CBSTs) called “Ambligan ang Kalibotan” is the use of social accountability in improving social enterprises that generates jobs while pursuing environmental protection. It proves that social accountability is compatible and in fact can enhance sustainable development efforts. This is extra significant for us as we hope to see Puerto Princesa and Mayor Hagedorn leading the country’s shift to sustainable development as an economic development framework with strong good governance component. The initiative was able to clarify performance standards of the CBSTs, which particularly becomes critical today given the rapid increase in tourism in Puerto Princesa given the world’s recognition of the beauty of the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

Naga City’s monitoring of education services called Edukasyon sa Naga, Salmingan Ta!” also shares its own unique value on social accountability application for it demonstrates that comprehensive school-based monitoring can be done and is particularly effective in guiding a more rational allocation of resources for education services from the national and local governments by more clearly determining where the gaps and the needs are and what resources and services are coming from where. This is also most important for Naga because it brings citizen participation to the next level, which involves taking part and being jointly responsible with the local government for the development outcomes of the locality, in this case, education outcomes. Such would demand going deeper in its participation in governance and dealing with more stakeholders including the national government. We also envision Naga City taking the lead in advanced good local governance to support the work of Sec. Jesse Robredo in DILG, who we all know made Naga City famous for good local governance, hence making their work extra important for us as well.

Dumaguete City’s monitoring of medicine procurement and dispensation through Barangay Health Stations called “Subay Kahimsug” has its own beauty as well with its strong gender perspective, showing how gender can enhance social accountability application and vice versa particularly in responding to women empowerment issues. It was able to underscore the special attention needed in addressing maternal health and in providing reproductive health services and how the feminine power (i.e., women nurses as managers of BHS, whose core management principle is caring and support) can actually make service delivery effective and responsive.

Last, but certainly not the least, the most exciting LGU, Southern Leyte with its infrastructure monitoring called “Tambayayong sa Infrastrakturang Paglambo sa Southern Leyte” prove that demand-driven or civil society-led accountability exercise could work—that it can push the LGUs to respond and improve access to information and provide transparency windows. More significantly, the S. Leyte experience showed another strong effort of the Filipino youth to reclaim their role as the “fair hope of motherland” as young students and professionals of Southern Leyte willingly stood up to take up the challenge of improving the governance of that part of the country, despite of the seemingly insurmountable challenges ahead.

The following initiatives validated most of the assumptions and hypotheses of the design. However, the experience’s priceless value are the qualifications and nuancing it provides to the assumptions of the project design, particularly in terms of how to manage the engagement and relationship between CSOs and LGUs and enable CSO participation, given the varying level of capacities, competencies and willingness and commitment across LGUs, civil society, institutions and groups and service delivery sectors. Allow me to make a quick run through of these validated hypotheses and the qualifications and nuancing generated based on the project’s experience.

These initiatives now serve as testimonies that:

  • government and citizens can and are willing to constructively engage in accountability exercises provided that: citizens primarily desire it (S. Leyte); there is an intervention to mediate and facilitate the relationship (IGACOS) and there is a sound/ conducive policy environment for it (all other sites).
  • capability can be built to enable constructive engagement in performance monitoring provided that: resources and technical expertise are made available and all stakeholders are capacitated with appropriate capability-building measures.
  • there would be a critical mass of citizens willing to volunteer in engaging their government for accountability provided that: communities/ beneficiaries are mobilized and capacitated, unconventional spaces like the NSTP are tapped and trust-building among stakeholders are undertaken.
  • such engagement leads to improved governance, particularly in terms of participation, accountability and transparency and that participation, accountability and transparency lead to efficient and responsive service delivery provided that: the initiative is sustained through commitment of all stakeholders and through state and societal institutionalization.

The result of the project validates that:

  • easy-to-use tools enable ordinary citizens to exact accountability for the services they receive provided that: there is a thorough briefing and sustained mentoring of monitors.
  • joint monitoring efforts of civil society and government (1) respond to the need for technical-know-how in some aspects of the monitoring, (2) facilitate quick response from authorities, (3) facilitate shared ownership and responsibility for monitoring results, provided that: a core group of leaders from CS and government are capacitated intensively (all sites) and there is continuous feedbacking and communication from monitors on the ground to the top level management (IGACOS).
  • on-the-spot monitoring facilitates compliance and serves as deterrent to anomalies, provided that: communication and coordination are maintained and nurtured.
  • community involvement turns “beneficiaries to monitors,” which supports ownership and sustainability of monitoring, provided that: commitment of the grassroots are particularly targeted and mobilized.
  • evidence-based problem-solving is effective in generating results as this (1) makes decision-makers more responsive and (2) provides focus on issues as well as response, provided that: monitoring, particularly gathering of facts and evidence, is done with due diligence and trust-building through coordination and communication is sustained. 

There are more learnings and I hope you get to learn more about the conditions and qualification for these assumptions to hold true given peculiarities of local conditions and situations in the exhibits later.

When we launched this, we also said that this is another way of reclaiming politics through engagement in the grassroots. We acknowledged 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.”

This experience indeed has become an ordinary citizen’s way of reclaiming politics—of making the public space its own, its government a venue and tool to effect change and the interaction of society and state as a form of social transformation by itself. It shows that at the local, people know in their gut the link of politics and governance—that who they elect or who hold power determines how that power will be exercised, whether it would be used for patronage or good governance. The experience reaffirms that people engaging/ participating at the local level know more and would want to and can make a difference if given an opportunity. Enabling participation at the local level is an empowering change, a change that is self-perpetuating and sustainable and hence allows the growth and development of a progressive society supported by good governance.

We’ve seen and heard this empowering change first-hand when:

  • we saw Manang Lita of San Miguel, Bohol passionately make a case for social accountability using their experience as proof to convince the leaders of the rest of Bohol Province to do G-Watch monitoring in their projects to improve the lives of common Boholanos;
  • we witnessed how Mayor Bonor of San Miguel, Bohol provided unwavering and hands-on leadership working painstakingly in proving that his municipality’s meager resources can be maximized if good governance is achieved;
  • we heard Pastor Albert relates his service to God with his service for good governance, testifying that he should also be a preacher of good governance since he is a preacher of God
  • we met Richard and Bianca, youth of Southern Leyte, who set aside time and exerted due diligence in going to far-flung sites to check on infrastructure projects and fill-up the monitoring tools despite the demands of school on their graduating year as engineering students
  • we encountered Dr. Tala of Dumaguete City LGU who with grace and beauty transformed the BHS management of their city into a model of good governance with keen gender sensitivity
  • we got to know Sir George of Puerto Princesa LGU who served the role of a bridge between ordinary citizens and LGU by showing compassion to the sentiments of ordinary people towards governance in their locality, while painstakingly explaining the challenges and travails of government work
  • we heard how an academician Sir Rene from Ateneo de Naga acknowledged that their social accountability initiative serves as a way of deepening and continuing the long-history of citizen empowerment in Naga City.

These are common people struggling to widen that democratic space in their own little ways in civil society, in government or as they engage together in governance, proving that contestations no longer just happen between the top and below, but also across sectors, institutions and groupings. And that empowerment is no longer a sole franchise of one group or movement; that it is dispersed, involving anybody, anywhere, anytime.

And hence finally to close, allow me to make my own treatise on democracy and democratization in the country.

A lot of thinkers and students of Politics continue to think democracy doesn't exist in the country. They think it remains an elusive dream we continue to chase. I can't disagree more! 

If we go down to the grassroots, talk to people, engage government and enable people and government to engage, trusting they would constructively engage, we'll see how everyday a certain Ate Inday or Pastor Nunez struggles to assert their rights, claim what's due them and in the process challenge the existing power relations. How by simply being informed, by caring, by simply asking a question, by reaching out to others and knowing what others are concerned about, by wondering and being bothered with questions on why some gets more than others who need it most, how by simply being a concerned and active citizen, they shake the foundations of injustice and abuse in the country and reclaim the public space for themselves and the many. And how these actions happening all over the country, like wild flowers blooming, which ignite strong passion and hope for a better country, which bring together people in shared dreams, which ignite optimism and hope, which build pride and honor, which fuel love and faith towards each other, in their community and in the country are democracy asserting itself and reaffirming its existence, a counter-veiling force against the hegemonic anti-democracy drive at the top that concentrates and monopolizes power and effectively wins hegemony by denying the existence of that which challenges it, the deafening silent struggles which are real and true to each and everyone who move, take part, believe, breathe and live in it!

This initiative, this experience counterveils and asserts: it's an engagement that leads to an empowering change! We’re in it for the long run and we invite you all to join us!

Maraming salamat po!