Pamangkutanon Sang Banwa (Citizen’s Query): Kuwentahan Hindi Kuwentohan (Accountability not Lip Service)
The only time that citizens can claim absolute power over politicians is when they cast their votes. Often, they have no voice in drafting development programs once the officials have been elected into office.
But in the Municipality of Bingawan, Iloilo, the citizens have been empowered to influence the actions undertaken by their elected officials and help chart their community’s socio-economic development through the program “Pamangkutanon sang Banwa: Kwentahan hindi Kwentohan” or Citizens’ Query: Accountability, not Lip Service. The program began in 2004 as a multi-sectoral mechanism that institutionalizes the active participation of community members in local governance. Basically, it entails the periodic conduct of municipal assemblies where citizens can raise issues and concerns, and forward recommendations on the delivery of basic services as well as criticize the performance of elected officials.
The program begins when the election period kicks off and a Candidates’ Forum is held. During this forum, the vying candidates are required to sign a Performance Evaluation Covenant in which they agree to subject themselves to a performance evaluation session known as Pamangkutanon sang Banwa (PsB) or Citizens’ Query once they are elected into office. The PsB is conducted every second Monday of February and July each year.
During the PsB, the public is given the opportunity to raise relevant governance questions, clarifications and recommendations on government projects, delivery of basic services, and what the politicians promised during the election campaign period. Among those required to attend are 3rd and 4th year high school students because PsB is part of their Social Studies class. Officers of the Student Government Organizations both in elementary and high school are also invited to attend as part of their training as student leaders.
As many as 2,000 participants join in the three-hour session but the question and answer process is well organized. The questions are written on paper and placed into drop boxes which are passed through a screening committee before these are read by panelists. The elected officials and LGU department heads then take turns in answering the questions. All the unread questions are later turned over to the Drafting and Consolidation Committee for appropriate action.
Through this feedback and feed forwarding mechanism, the people of Bingawan are assured that their concerns are addressed promptly and concretely. More importantly, this performance-based system of governance has kept the politicians truly beholden to the people.
In effect, the LGU has institutionalized an effective participatory governance mechanism and also exposed its officers and personnel to public scrutiny. This mechanism has helped the LGU identify which projects need to be prioritized. In turn, this mechanism has elicited the cooperation of the citizens as can be gleaned from the municipality’s increasing tax revenue collection. Among the apparent priority projects of the LGU were the construction and rehabilitation of Small Farm Reservoirs and the establishment of day care facilities. The people also requested the building of a Health Center and the procurement of a Travelling Rice Mill.
The success of the project is attributed to the LGU’s healthy working relationship with existing civil society organizations which now comprise the members of the PsB screening, panel and other committees. Together with these CSOs, the LGU institutionalized and permanently established the program through the passage of Municipal Ordinance No. 4 Series of 2004.
Other organizations, such as the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), in partnership with other stakeholders in the municipality, were instrumental in raising the electoral awareness of the barangays. Bingawan counts the women and the youth among its crucial partners in this project, and considers the municipal and barangay development councils as the linchpins that enable all the stakeholders to act in concert.
Because of its innovation, the PsB program won a one million project grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Transparent and AccountableGovernance (TAG) Project which is being implemented by The Asia Foundation.
Today, the program has been replicated in all the fourteen barangays of Bingawan, each with their own program titles. The Local Chief Executives of other municipalities (such as Tapaz in Capiz, Banate in Iloilo and Tangalan in Aklan) have invited Bingawan to present the program to their respective Municipal Councils. Meanwhile, the LGU of Kapangan, Benguet in partnership with Shountog Foundation had an exposure visit to Bingawan on June 10, 2008 to study possible replication. The PsB program was one of the programs presented during the YC3 or Young Citizens Cyber Conference that was simultaneously held in Manila and Davao on October 8, 2009 and in Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines and Thailand on\ October 20, 2009. YC3 is a meeting of young citizen’s ideas and initiatives on social accountability.
The people of Bingawan are confident that the LGUs which are truly intent on improving governance policies and addressing the needs of their constituents will be able to replicate this program.