Community Participation and Good Government

THE idea sells, as shown by how governments and funders are buying it. But how is the public supposed to profit from it?

Community participation is known by many other names (citizen participation, collective action, collective governance, etc.) and defined in many ways. One of the more commonly used definition recognizes it as “a social process whereby specific groups with shared needs living in a defined geographic area actively pursue identification of their needs, take decisions and establish mechanisms to meet these needs.”

Community participation evolved from ideas that found top-down approaches to governance (which used to be the norm, the “one-best-way” to govern, especially for monarchies and authoritarian regimes) unresponsive to the needs of the governed, especially those who, for lack of resource bases, have been pushed to the margins of society, the poor, the disadvantaged sectors, among others.

The Local Government Code of 1991 tried to establish structures by which bottom-up approaches to governance could be institutionalized at the community level. It provides that local development councils, among other local bodies, must be constituted in such a manner that at least 20 percent of their members are representatives of community-based organizations. While some local government units have succeeded in getting people participation work for their constituents, as the experience of the province of Bulacan and the cities of Marikina and Naga — Hall of Famers of Galing Pook Awards — have shown, others have not been as well-known in taking advantage of the enabling provisions of the Code.

Meanwhile, new models of community participation have emerged and were pilot-tested. In 1999, the national government, supported by a World Bank (WB) loan, implemented the Community-Based Resource Management Project (CBRMP) and, in 2003, again with WB support, the Kalahi-CIDSS, with the Department of Social Welfare and Development as lead implementing agency, broke new ground in terms of scale and potential. Sometime in 2014, the Department of the Interior and Local Government led the launch of “bottom-up budgeting” (renamed several times eventually), where government agencies were required to set aside 10 percent of their budgets for projects that went through a community decision-making process.

The CBRMP helped upland farmers and fisherfolk along coastal areas to acquire technical knowledge and skills they needed to develop agroforestry areas, watersheds, marine sanctuaries, etc. The process of capacity-building enabled them to analyze environmental issues and identify projects that addressed them, and eventually to take those projects to a successful finish. Today, if you see stands of durian trees somewhere in the upland areas of Mahaplag, Leyte, for example, or marine sanctuaries that teem with marine life in Bohol, or mangrove forests in Palompon, also in Leyte, chances are there are farmers or fisherfolk in those areas who are making positive things happen for the environment. Chances also are they have improved their lives from economic opportunities generated by their natural resource management projects.

The Kalahi-CIDSS, later renamed the National Community-Driven Development Program (NCDDP), delimited the menu from which communities can choose development projects. The scale was likewise expanded, starting with practically all provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao where poverty incidence had been pervasive. It is now implemented in almost all regions nationwide.

Because the people themselves are the ones who are analyzing their development issues and needs, identifying and prioritizing the projects they consider as responsive to their needs, implementing and monitoring them as well, and eventually taking responsibility for their operation and maintenance, community-led projects have been shown to control conditions that give rise to waste and corruption, thereby enhancing not only effectiveness but also efficiency. Increased sense of ownership among the people ensures better quality of public investments through these projects.

The NCDDP has received fine reviews over the years, and much of the credit for its success can be attributed to the skill, professionalism and dedication of its noncareer project staff. Some of them have been working with communities for 16 straight years.

Some say everyone likes to be associated with success; and the funders, along with the national and local governments, have expressed growing interest with offers of technical support and cash. Aside from WB, others like the Asian Development Bank, the Japanese government and the European Union have added to their portfolios either loan or grant accounts for NCDDP.

The ultimate goal is for these community projects to contribute to achieving the task of reducing poverty in the countryside. While facilitating community processes is time-consuming and costly, the positive returns are limitless. Public gains from facilitative inputs made possible by CBRMP and NCDDP are hardly quantifiable, but they empower people and show the way for society to make its progress sustainable.

Perhaps more than anything, in a context where government is the problem and good government is the solution, as Sen. Ping Lacson put it in a recent social media post, ways that get things done differently, especially those that have been known to work, are what we need.

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