Citizen participation urged to ensure good governance in Puerto Princesa

If the fullest potential of grassroots citizens will be tapped to oversee local governance accountability, this city could sustain reforms not only in sustainable development but in good governance as well.

This was the essence of the local forum series entitled “Strengthening Local Governance Accountability to Sustain Reforms” spearheaded Thursday by the Ateneo School of Governance (ASoG) yesterday in Puerto Princesa.

According to Joy Aceron, project director of ASoG and forum moderator, one of the ways of activating the citizen is through community-based monitoring, which is “a good prospect” in ensuring that the quality of social services being given to locals themselves are being realized.

For one is the creation of Government Watch (G-Watch), a governance engagement program of ASoG established in 2000, and with a unit in Puerto Princesa City under the headship of George Vasquez.

Meanwhile, as part of involving the community in accountability gauge, Tutu Almonte, chief of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), said that apart from the existing fisheries and agriculture watchdogs, they are also planning to organize an environment council in the barangay level to engage ordinary citizens like fisher folks.

Political Science Professor Anthony Badilla, meanwhile believes the knowledge-center academe, if constantly tap, is a force to reckon with in enforcing government accountability.  “In a society that is politically saturated like Puerto Princesa, you can rely on the objectivity of the academe as a neutral sector,” he said.

Badilla added that the government itself can leverage the research studies of the private and public educational institutions in this City as a basis of formulating legislations, one thing he observes that is seldom being practiced.

Another thing was raised in the forum is the empowering of civil society organizations (CSOs) to oversee the building up of infrastructures. In relation, citizen participatory audit (CPA), a deterrent to corrupt practices is being observed  here.

“It’s not just a simple efficiency question. When citizens realized what do they expect from the government, they can claim — they can hold the government accountable,” said Aceron.

“But the challenge there is how the information will reach communities and the citizens on the ground, and how do you capacitate them so they can really monitor well,” she said.

“Feedback mechanism breeds empowerment,” she added, noting that even a simple text line could spur interactivity between the government official and common people.

Aceron suggests that the local government of Puerto Princesa should bring out more people empowerment discussions that would provide a leeway to openflow dialogue between the officials and CSOs.

“Successful societies become successful because they provide spaces or dialogues and discussion. It’s always a challenge of how you bring together the different perspectives and use the strengths of every argument, so you can come up with good, acceptable policies,” she said, adding that the gap in most of the local governances is that lack of such.

Elizabeth Maclang, panel member and Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) Superintendent, said that on February 24 the City Government has launched People Empowerment Program (PEP) leading to Naga City-like People’s Council.

PEP which she heads is gear towards active and genuine participation of CSOs.

Vice Mayor Luis Marcaida, also sit as panel member, meanwhile talked on the importance of Strategic Performance Management System (SPMS), a mechanism that will monthly monitor the work efficiency of    all City Government employees. It is being reviewed by the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

Aceron, moreover, believes that Puerto Princesa, just like any other societies, is still in a transition period and “it’s gonna be a long winding road.”

Nonetheless, it is “also looked up to as a leader in local governance, especially when it comes to sustainable development,” she told Philippine News Agency (PNA).

“The challenge is how are you going to really sustain the engagement, how will you deepen the engagement, how would you improve the relationship of CSOs and government to work more harmoniously,” she added.

The local forum series was also brought in Naga City, Samal Island in Davao, Sabagat San Miguel in Bohol,  Maasin City in Southern Leyte and Dumaguete City.

Also served as panel members here are City Councilor Matthew Mendoza, City Interior and Local Governance Chief Renato Javarez, G-Watch Coordinator George Vasquez and Community Based Sustainable Tourism (CBST) Sites Representative Anita Agdang of Sabang Seaferry Multipurpose Cooperative. (PNA)

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