Civic Engagement in Naga City

Last October 9, 2007, the Sangguniang Panlungsod passed another landmark law, the Local Sectoral Representation (LSR) Ordinance. This ordinance, another first in Philippine LGU history, now paves the way for sectoral representation in the Sanggunian, implementing Section 457B of the 1992 Local Government Code. As expected, it was passed not without the debate and drama like what happened when the People Empowerment Program (PEP) Ordinance was deliberated and approved in 1995. (The sponsor, then Councilor now PAGC Commissioner James Jacob, contemplated on giving up his seat in the Sanggunian in protest over the seemingly endless objections on his proposal.) This time, the different sectors were up against each other, lobbying for a possible seat. The regular members of the Sanggunian were debating as to whether the sectoral representatives shall receive the same compensation and privileges as they do. The ordinance will require an additional appropriation of at least P 2.2Million annually. The question as to how the sectoral representatives will be nominated and elected, eventually led to one member abstaining from the voting. In fact, these concerns resulted to several revisions of the proposed draft ordinance. While all the Sanggunian members agreed in principle that LSR would further enhance representation, diversity and quality of deliberations in the legislative body, there were more reasons to disagree than agree. I certified the passage of the LSR ordinance “as urgent” in my State of the City Report last July 30, 2007. Several committee hearings were already conducted. It was time to call a vote. As they say, the devil is in the detail.  But, all is well that ends well. The ordinance was passed by a vote of 9 in favor, 2 against and 1 abstention. Like in the past, the Sanggunian rose above their own personal interests and reservations. Looking beyond their terms, I believe the Councilors knew that this was good for the city. Better governance always has its costs — the additional budget, the new Sanggunian members they have to contend with in pushing for their own advocacies and the diminution of their influence in so far as committee assignments are concerned. It was agreed that the Implementing Rules & Regulations (IRR) of the ordinance should resolve most, if not all, of the issues.

The leadership of the Naga City government has blazed the trail in sharing its power with civil society. Over the years, it has passed several ordinances that effectively emasculated the local government’s authority and  further democratized decision making within its jurisdiction, beyond what was required by law . To think that since 1992 up to now, the incumbent leadership virtually has a monopoly of power. All the elected officials belong to just one political aggrupation, having been elected and  re-elected on a straight ticket in the last 15 years (from mayor, vice mayor up to the last kagawad including the ABC Federation and SK Federation representatives). At the same time that they have rewritten  Naga City’s political history, convincingly winning every electoral contest in the last 15 years, they have opened new avenues for engagement between the local government and civil society, by providing a working model for other LGUs to see. (Upi, Maguindanao has its Upi People’s Council. Infanta, Quezon and Legazpi City, Albay have similar bodies. All of them took off from the Naga City’s 1995 People Empowerment Ordinance.) What many fail to realize is that the incumbents’ electoral successes are probably the result of sharing power with the unelected representatives of the locality. In other words, by sharing power, they further secured their hold on power. While I am certain this was farthest from the minds of those who pioneered people participation in the city, apparently this is an unintended outcome that can convince the leadership of other LGUs to follow the same path. I have been asked a number of times in several fora of local officials how we have managed to win on a straight ticket in the last six local elections. (Time and again, our detractors alleged that what we have accomplished were statistical improbabilities . . . and we cheated!) I said that civic engagement significantly contributed to our electoral victories. The logic is indisputable. Certainly, people would elect a government where they have a reasonable say on how it will respond to their problems and address public concerns. Certainly, the Naga City People’s Council would prefer a leadership that they are a part of and would use their influence to promote it.

How did this all come to be? Civil society’s engagement with the local government of Naga City began when COPE Inc. (Community Organizers of Philippine Enterprises), an NGO promoting tenurial rights, organized several urban poor associations to form a federation. Their main agenda was to seek help from both the local and national governments in resolving long-standing land tenure programs in the city. While the initial relationship with the city government was adversarial (according to some city hall sources, some of the leaders were allegedly fronting for the “left), a change in administration in 1988 opened a small window for dialogue. Jointly working on small successes and eventually making breakthroughs in resolving tenurial issues, the stage was set to step up engagement from projects to programs and from programs to policies.  This brought about the formation of the NGO-PO Council, the precursor of the Naga City People’s Council, whose task was to institutionalize the relationship and build the capacity of the NGOs to effectively work with the city government. Civil society participation was thus borne out of a mutual recognition that development goals can be best achieved when the local government and non-government sector work together. The recognition was forged not because of the mere rationality of the principle but as a result of demonstrable outcomes (such as tenure for the urban poor). Of course, this was made possible because the elected officials subscribed to the same idea. It was in 1992 when we first got elected on a straight ticket.  Except for one, all the councilors were neophytes. Half of them have been identified with the “moderate left”. There was  therefore a confluence of actors  and programs that allow the engagement to blossom. Looking back, this would have been extremely difficult if we had the opposing members of the 1988 Sanggunian reelected in 1992. In fact, the PEP Ordinance, despite all of us belonging to just one political group, had to go through the wringer before it was passed in 1995. Opposing it was a matter of principle for some of the members. Supporting was a way to secure support of the NGO block for some. For us, myself and the sponsors of the ordinance,  it was a test on how far we can push further the democratization of power in the city. The ordinance allowed non-elected NGO representatives in all the Sanggunian committees as members (meaning they are part of the quorom, can vote and can debate with the regularly elected councilors). In the context of local political realities, it was like putting an opposition in the deliberations when there was none. On hindsight, the first attempt to institutionalize civic engagement in our governance system succeeded because : 1) mutual trust, borne out of successful confidence-bulding projects like the tenure program for the urban poor, was cultivated and developed, 2) civil society organizations collectively demonstrated that they were not only capable of constructively engaging with their LGU but they also possessed the political acumen and clout to influence public opinion, and 3) the local leadership viewed the engagement as a vehicle to expand its capacity, resources and institutionalize its initiatives in the long-term. Elected officials come and go. If there is one thing that is permanent in a locality, it is the constituency. A broad network of civil society organizations that represents the different sectors in the community can very well mirror the sentiments, hopes and dreams of the Nagueno. The PEP Ordinance was a “process response” to the political uncertainties of the future. But then, it can also be gleaned as a “political response” to ensure the continuity of the status quo. In several gatherings of NGOs in Bicol, I have often emphasized that at the end of the day, NGOs should draw their strength from their own selves. The political realities require that they must have the numbers, significant enough, so as not to be ignored by the important political players. Otherwise, they have to rely on the “benevolence” of an enlightened leadership to allow them to exert their influence in the governance process. In the case of Naga City, all the elements were in place at the right moment.

In 2001, the i-Governance Ordinance was passed. While the PEP Ordinance promoted engagement with organized groups, the i-Governance Ordinance focused on engagement with the ordinary citizens by freely providing the citizenry with information on almost anything they need to know about their local govrnment unit. The rationale was the Nagueno, if properly informed, will respond to the initiatives of their local government unit. The Nagueno, if properly informed, will expect their local government unit to comply with set procedures and response time standards, as they will be made accountable as these are publicly announced. While the PEP Ordinance emasculated the Sanggunian, the i-Governance Ordinance almost eliminated the exercise of discretion of the executive departments in their dealings with their clients. Transparency, accountability and engagement marked the initiative. The i-Governance Ordinance easily passed the Sanggunian. If there was discomfort, as this was a “journey to the untried and untested“, it was with the managers of the different operating departments of the city government. The i-Governance Program was a significant milestone because it  empowered the ordinary citizen, who probably would have remained nameless and faceless, if engagements were only confined to organizations and interest groups. In contrast to the LSR and PEP Ordinances, the i-Governance Ordinance was a “leadership driven” initiative that was offered rather than demanded. It was conceived to complement the PEP Ordinance. More importantly, the i-Governance Ordinance sought to put in place mechanisms that will protect the gains of the incumbent administration. In this respect, the view was that, we, the incumbents will not ask of our successors what we are not willing to subject ourselves to. In this respect, the i-Governance Program really hinges on the kind of leadership a locality has.

Are these initiatives replicable? Yes, because as demonstrated in Infanta, Legazpi City and Upi, the PEP Ordinance can be replicated. How difficult or easy it would be depends on how active and influential civil society is in the locality and  how responsive the local government is. Morever, the degree of engagement and empowerment will be dictated by the political and technical capacity of NGOs and POs and the political dynamics in the local government unit. In the case of Naga City, it was an offshoot of having all elected officials come from a single political aggrupation which wanted to have an institution that can fiscalize the local government unit during and long after their terms of office. In the case of Naga City, it was a result of having NGOs and POs who were asking and waiting for the opportunity to be part of the governance process. Replication can therefore be calibrated depending on the willingness and readiness of the entities involved. The i-Governance Program is easily the most replicable as most of its components are now in place in many localities in the country. The PEP Ordinance is being popularized by NGO groups and donor agencies. The challenge of replicability is with the LSR Ordinance. Naga City’s experience can break long standing barriers. In like manner, if it does not work, it will further set back the implementation of a constitutional provision whose implementation is long overdue.


11 Responses to Civic Engagement in Naga City

  1. edicio says:

    i will appreciate some more details on I-governance. are you using open source software? how long did you use the beta version ? who else among lgus have this I governance? the institute for popular democracy (IPD) which i and ed dela torre founded in the mid-80s have a local governance open source program. we will be interested also in the gender impact of the various innovations in governance. i have a list of queries for your wife too, eg. how it is to be a partner to an innovative mayor! girlie villariba, edicio’s conversation partner

  2. homar says:

    indeed, when it comes to people empowerment, the naga city government is the standard. the naga model is the epitome of true democracy. hopefully, this would be replicated all over the country. i had the privilege of sitting in the city council as a CYO. although it was only a short span of time (a month to be precise), i was able to observe first hand the sincerity of naga city’s leaders when it comes to public service. naga is comparable to ancient athens when it comes to democratic ideals.

  3. Guillermo Prat says:

    I have the same questions as Edicio on the I-governance. Further to that, can I log in somewhere to get soft copies of all the ordinances mentioned in this article? Or please send to the email address. Would be good to see how our City leadership in Davao compares to your initiatives in Naga. I believe our Councilor Peter Lavina and you are on the in your blogs. Homer’s comment on Naga and ancient Athens are the best compliment anyone can give you. Congrats!

  4. jesserobredo says:

    just got back!

    girlie: must confess that i am not familiar with the technical details of the IT side of i-governance. will refer your query with our EDP. when we conceived the i-governance program, we tasked our EDP group to design an interactive program that can provide the residents of the city free access to important information on city government operations. the basic premise is that an informed citizenry will make their government accountable. somebody is doing a gender impact study. will get back to you when its done.

    homar: thanks, again!

    mr. prat: thanks. most of, if not all of the ordinances, are posted in our website by chance, are you related to somebody from SMC?

  5. Guillermo Prat says:

    Hi Mayor,
    Yes, my Dad was with SMC from 1948 up until retirement years ago, early 90’s I believe. If you had worked there, he was known as Peaches Prat, a very joly and likable person. He is here in Davao with Mom since 1996.
    Will check out your site for the ordinances and hopefully get them to our local government people to study and duplicate as they appear to be good ordinances. Thanks.

  6. Ansel says:

    Ordinance 2002-063 can be found on this link —

  7. It is material that you locate the premium sources.

  8. The Naga People Empowerment Program is indeed replicable, provided that most if not all of the elements Naga had, when the LGU and NGO/PO leaders started this initiative, are present in your respective LGU. Mayor Jess mentioned a few of them, namely, a) mutual recognition that development goals can be set when LGU and NGOs/POs work together, i.e., engagement between the government of Naga and COPE, b) elected officials subscribe to the same idea, and c) there is a confluence of actors and programs that allow engagement to blossom (Robredo, par3). People empowerment, if institutionalized through a local ordinance, should not be imposed upon by the local government just because other LGUs found it to be effective.

    Also, I would suggest, that a small group of observers from your LGU be sent to Naga City for a period of time to observe, as alluded to by Homar when he was CYO, how the government works, how the people through NCPC participate in the legislative committees and other committees of the City government, how the leaders of government sincerely share their power with the people, and how the people actively pariticipate in the affairs of their government. Having these ordinances studied without direct observation on how Naga puts them into practice would perhaps just serve the theoretical requirements while lacking in practical substance. R/ Jess

  9. Ed Chavez says:

    Dear Sir,

    First of all, congratulations to you for making peoples empowerment alive in Naga that gives inspiration to many .

    sir, I am Edwin Chavez, Executive Director of Center for Popular Empowerment (CPE) and NGO based in Quezon City. I am also the convenor of the Task Force PAT (Participation, Accountability and Transparency) a group of CSOs here in QC that advocates for the passage of the PAT ordinance of QC. The ordinance seeks to institutionalize peoples participation through the creation of Peoples Council of Quezon City. It was introduced by Councilor Jorge Banal Jr, right after he went back from a visit in Naga. He was so inspired by the NCPC experience and made him file a similar measure before the city council in August 2008.

    Currently it is being deliberated by the city council for the last 3 sessions. It is actually a “toned-down” version because it doesnt have sectoral rep, no clear budget and CSO/PS reps have no voting power. Ok na rin po muna sa amin. Mahalaga ay ma institutionalize at ma expand ang participation ng mga tao sa city governance.

    Just want to ask sir sino po ang pwede namin makausap re details of the NCPC. There are some questions po kasi that we want to be answered, based on the NCPC experience. Final deliberation will be on Monday. We hope that the ordinance will be passed by the council and approved by the Mayor.

    Kudos and best regards!

    Respectfully yours,

    Ed Chavez

  10. в итоге: бесподобно!!

  11. Luis Hyle says:

    Your site was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for more info on this just sa few days ago.

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