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Peoples’s Participation in Local Governance of Naga City, Camarines Sur, Philippines: The Legacy of Jesse Manalastas Robredo by Gabriel Hidalgo Bordado Jr.

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Note: The author closely worked with Jesse Manalastas Robredo (JMR) for almost 25 years. He was JMR’s vice mayor for two terms (2004-2010) prior to the appointment of the latter as Secretary of the Interior and Local Government. This article was excerpted from the author’s field study submitted to the University of the Philippines College of Public Affairs and Development (UP CPAf). Last April, he obtained a master’s degree in development management and governance with a general weighted average of 1.22 – the highest rating among the graduating master’s students of UP CPAf for school year 2013-2014.

I. Background and Rationale

For the past two decades, Naga Cityin Camarines Sur, Philippines has figured prominently in local governance. Its multiple international, national and regional awards and citations (now totaling more than 140) in almost all aspects of local governance certainly speak volumes on how this tiny, landlocked, and ancient (having been established as early
as 1575– just a few years younger than Cebu and Manila) city is carving a niche for itself and serving as a veritable touchstone for other local government units (LGUs).

The former City Mayor who eventuallybecame the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Jesse Manalastas Robredo,is generally credited for transforming Naga City into what it is now. This point of view was further strengthened in the aftermath of his tragic death two years ago. Empirical data point out Robredo’s pivotal role in the
emergence of Naga City as a model LGU. Kawanaka (2002) averred that the late mayor’s innovations, particularly his participatory style of local governance, along with his exceptional performance as a local chief executive, did much in making Naga a center of excellence in local governance. It also “raised him up as one of the most outstanding local politicians in the Philippines.”

Melgar (2010), however, posited a slightly different viewpoint, contending, in the process, that Robredo was merely one of the “building blocks.” She cited, among other things, “the entry of new mechanisms for popular participation in policymaking, which social movement activists subsequently maximized to further democratize access to state resources and reform social policies.”

Be that as it may, Robredo did, in fact, lay the groundwork for people’s participation to thrive in Naga City. During his first term as city mayor (1988-1992), he formulated the so-called Naga City Good Governance Model (Robredo, 2006) which would serve as the template of all the people’s participation–driven programs now being implemented in the city.

The Naga City Good Governance Model consists of three elements, viz.: progressive perspective, functional partnerships and participation. This model is based on the local government unit’s collective experience in managing the affairs of the city.

Robredo envisioned “a city for the people” where growth with equity would be the paramount concern. He thus opened up and encouraged partnerships with various sectors, ensuring that the limited resources of the city could be augmented and even enhanced by private entities, including nongovernment organizations and people’s organizations.

He did recognize, however, the limitations of partnerships, arguing that “at the operational and practical level, partnerships have to occur between institutions and organized groups, resulting often in the exclusion of the community at large, reducing them to a spectator’s role in governance.” Robredo, therefore, advocated people’s participation “to mainstream the marginalized, and actively engage them in governance.” Participation, in effect, would serve as the base or the very foundation of the Good Governance Model.

From the model then evolved numerous awardwinning programs, all of them institutionalized (and are, therefore, still being implemented in the city) and anchored on people’s participation. These include, among others, the i-Governance Program, the Naga City People’s Council, the Productivity Improvement Program, the Urban Poor Development Program (otherwise known as “Kaantabay sa Kauswagan” or Partners in Development), and the Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education in Naga (QUEEN) Program.

II. Problem Statement

What is people’s participation in local governance in Naga City (Camarines Sur), Philippines visà-vis Jesse M. Robredo’s Good Governance Model?

III. Objectives

• To determine the role of Jesse M. Robredo in forging the participative system of local governance in Naga City (Camarines Sur), Philippines
• To identify Jesse M. Robredo’s legacy on the importance of participation in local governance that started in Naga City and adopted, to a certain extent, at the national level.

• To profile the variables of participation, which include broad stakeholdership and community ownership (as spelled out in Jesse M. Robredo’s Good Governance Model), in three selected programs of Naga City, viz.: the Productivity Improvement Program, i-Governance, and the Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education in Naga (QUEEN) Program.

IV. Significance of the Study

Since the passage of Republic Act 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, people’s participation in the affairs of LGUs has always been invoked as the ideal set-up for democracy to prosper after practically being scuttled during the Martial Law years. The Code itself openly encourages the engagement of people in local governance, even providing the so-called participatory mechanisms in Sec. 3 (l) which states that “the participation of the private sector in local governance, particularly in the delivery of basic services, shall be encouraged to ensure the viability of local autonomy as an alternative strategy for sustainable development” or as clearly stipulated in Sec. 34 which exhorts local government units “to promote the establishment and operation of people’s and non-governmental organizations to become active partners in the pursuit of local autonomy.” Yet, more than two decades after the implementation of the Code,
people’s participation in local governance has not exactly taken off in most of the LGUs in the country. An outstanding exception, however, is Naga City in Camarines Sur where award-winning programs driven by people’s participation continue to thrive. Moreover, the name of Jesse M. Robredo almost always crops up in conjunction with such programs, in particular, and people’s participation in local governance, in general. This study will, therefore, prove useful in identifying the factors contributory to the relative success of people’s participation in local governance in Naga City and pave the way for their replication in other LGUs in the country. It will also underscore the role played by Jesse M. Robredo in institutionalizing people’s participation in the context of local governance, making his city a virtual laboratory for innovative practices, approaches and strategies.

V. Limitations of the Study

The study focuses only on the participatory angle of Jesse M. Robredo’s triangular Good Governance Model. Moreover, only three programs among many award winning programs– the Productivity Improvement Program, i-Governance and the Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education in Naga (QUEEN) Program– spawned by that model in Naga City are spotlighted in the study. The late City Mayor’s role in laying the groundwork for the institutionalization of people’s participation in local governance is discussed in this study but not in an in-depth or comprehensive manner befitting the humongous accomplishments of the well-loved public servant. In other words, the study merely presents one facet of Jesse M. Robredo’s multifaceted initiatives and forays into the fields of local governance. It does not have any illusion of illuminating the dynamics and undercurrents of the life and times of the man generally acknowledged as the best City Mayor ever produced by the Philippines.

VI. Summary of Findings

This study sought to determine the status of people’s participation in local governance in Naga City vis-à-vis the participation angle in Jesse M. Robredo’s Good Governance Model. In doing so, it profiled three programs being implemented in Naga and evaluated them in terms of broad stakeholdership and community ownership– two factors identified by the late mayor to be crucial in the sustainability of people’s participation in local governance.

Drawing from secondary data, the study employed qualitative descriptive research method and participation observation technique. The researcher was actually part of the core group tasked by then Mayor Robredo to establish the three programs in focus.

Based on the three programs– Productivity Improvement Program (PIP), i-Governance, and the Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education (QUEEN) Program — profiled in the study, people’s participation in local governance is alive and well in Naga City. All three programs (whose creation virtually spanned the entire stretch of the 19–year Robredo administration) are people’s participation-driven.

The PIP, i-Governance, and QUEEN programs have broad stakeholdership and community ownership, ensuring their sustainability all through these years. It may be inferred that the same principle holds true for all the other programs of the Naga City government in view of their continued engagement of people from different sectors of the community.

The profiles and subsequent analyses underscored the validity of Jesse M. Robredo’s Good Governance Model especially as it applies, of course, to participation. They affirmed that the model really works– even if viewed from just the participatory angle.

The three programs under study confirmed the proposition long espoused by Robredo and articulated by Willis (2005) that it is only through sustained people’s participation that people empowerment can be achieved. Indeed, people’s participation in the three programs did lead “to greater self-awareness and confidence.”

The participation angle, albeit a strong and energizing factor or element by itself, cannot, however, stand entirely detached from the progressive perspective and partnership angles as spelled out in the Robredo model. In most cases, there ought to be partnerships for people’s participation in local governance to thrive. The QUEEN Program, for instance,
must continually forge partnerships with the Department of Education, the Liga ng mga Barangay and other entities to facilitate its smooth operations and very survival. The same is true with and i-Governance where partnerships have been established in a bid to further streamline and strengthen their operations and, in the process, continually engage people’s participation.

The progressive perspective, viewed by Robredo from the standpoint of the local chief executive, will always come into play in the overall success of an undertaking involving people’s participation. For the PIP, a willing and competent local chief executive is simply indispensable in marshaling the full resources of the LGU. The i-Governance and QUEEN programs must, from time to time, rely on the mayor’s managerial ability to hurdle some of the tough challenges which occasionally crop up as they grapple with the realities on the ground, so to speak.

The study did demonstrate the current status of people’s participation in local governance in Naga City. Through the three profiled programs, what one sees is a vibrant, dynamic, and sustainable scheme of things where people’s participation, as always, reigns supreme.

VII. Recommendations

The city government, for its part, must continue using Robredo’s good governance model in sustaining its existing people’s participation-driven programs and in creating new initiatives aimed at harnessing people’s participation. Broad stakeholdership and community ownership are the mantras which will keep such programs moving on in breaking new grounds in the area of people’s participation in local governance.

For the long haul, the Jesse M. Robredo Center for Local Governance must be operationalized to develop training modules on Naga City’s good practices, especially the PIP, i-Governance, and the QUEEN Programs, that will facilitate the scaling up and replication of Robredo’s participative governance model. Moreover, the city government must explore ways and means of partnering with higher education institutions (HEIs) which have existing programs on public administration and local government management so that these training events can be credited to a diploma or degree which will help in the continuing capacity building of Philippine local governments.

Specific recommendations can be considered in the 3 programs profiled in this study:

For PIP

• Revisit and relaunch projects and activities that propelled the PIP and made it innovative, i.e. the Very Innovative Person (VIP) annual competition for most outstanding suggestions by city government employees.
• Reactivate and fully operationalize the Productivity Improvement Circles (PIC) which are supposed to serve the departmental units in pursuing and promoting PIP principles.

For i-Governance

• Develop the 4th edition of the Naga Citizen’s Charter as per ordinance, and for the Sangguniang Panlungsod to amend the ordinance and introduce penalties on the part of the city agencies or employees who fail to deliver the program’s goal of regular updating.
• Strengthen and developi-Governance applications to take advantage of high penetration of mobile phones in Naga and in the entire country.
• Implement alternative modes of delivering copies of the Citizen’s Charter so that it can be made available in Nagueño households.

For QUEEN

• To strengthen legislative oversight and make sure that the program, together with the other poverty alleviation programs of the city government as well as the national government (especially the 4Ps), are indeed targeting and actually benefitting the poorest of the poor (bottom 10%) of the city’s household population.
• To work more effectively with barangay and school officials to aggressively look for dropouts and other potential enrollees of the public school system.

VIII. Conclusion
Now, where does Jesse M. Robredo’s legacy come in? The impact of the PIP in the Philippine setting, for instance, can be best appreciated by reading the foreword, written by Jesse M. Robredo himself, of the second edition (2006) of the Naga City Citizen’s Charter. He averred that “a citizen’s charter–an enforceable contract between the city government and its constituents– is a concept that has long been there, up in the air, tickling our minds, lurking in the depths of City Hall’s institutional memory.” He then proceeded to trace the roots of the city’s pioneering efforts to document its services to the PIP, more specifically “the ubiquitous Performance Pledge that became a prominent part and parcel of every City Hall office.”

The connection is self-evident: the Performance Pledge’s three-column structure (Service, Response Time, Responsible Persons) was retained in both the first (2001) and second (2006) editions of the Naga City Citizen’s Charter. Although other national and local government agencies would later expand it as mandated under the Anti-Red Tape Act (ARTA) of 2007, this trinity of key information which “unilaterally removed the cloak of anonymity in public service” (as aptly described by Robredo) still forms the core of every citizen’s charter in the Philippines. By the time the ARTA would take effect in 2008, and scale up the innovation nationally, Naga was already on its third edition of its citizen’s charter.

In the case of the i-Governance Program, where the Naga City Citizen’s Charter would subsequently be incorporated through an ordinance, Robredo considered it as the solution to fully engage wide-ranging people’s participation notwithstanding the fact that majority of the people themselves– including the Naga City citizenry which provided the context to this perplexing challenge– are not members of organized groups, and therefore excluded by the city government’s system of partnership with local non-government organizations (NGOs) under the framework of the Naga City People’s Council.

The program is built on the bedrock principle of “information openness”– where government actively discloses information to the various publics in such areas as local government finance, budgeting, procurement, legislation, and service delivery (which links it to PIP). The key assumption is that citizens will take advantage of the information made available by an open-government regime to enable them to better engage their government. Under i-Governance, active disclosure is a defining characteristic of Naga’s open government regime, which distinguishes it from the “Freedom of Information” bill which the previous Congress had failed to pass.

When Robredo was finally appointed by President Benigno S. Aquino III as Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, he took advantage of the opportunity to use the department’s supervisory powers over the LGUs and use it as a platform to promote and scale up policies which sought to open up local governments to their constituencies. The series of memorandum circulars that collectively formed the cornerstone of his “full disclosure” policies can very well be traced to the i-Governance program and his open-government philosophy. Even today, almost two years after his tragic death, the DILG website which Robredo established still bears a striking resemblance to the city government website that he built for Naga. These policies form the core of reforms that his widow, now Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Maria Leonor Gerona-Robredo, filed as her first bill in the House of Representatives.

The QUEEN program, having been conceptualized and implemented at the tail-end of the 19-year incumbency of Jesse M. Robredo as mayor of Naga City, is relatively new. It nonetheless underscored the determination of Robredo to use people’s participation in a critical area which can make or break the very future of the nation: education.

Summing up past and recent developments, the legacy– defined by the Macmillan Dictionary (2013) as “something that someone achieved which continues to exist even after his death”– of Jesse M. Robredo insofar as people’s participation in local governance is concerned, can be considered as secure not only in his beloved Naga City but also in the entire Philippines. In fact, Robredo was quoted as saying on the primacy of people’s participation in local governance: “We will emerge stronger and better because this kind of governance is inclusive, propelled by the power of the very people it embraces to serve.”

Agriculture

The City Agriculture Office (CAgO), last May 7-9 hosted the threeday Farmers’ Day, where farmworkers gathered to celebrate and showcase their best products at the City Hall grounds here in Naga and earn some cash from eager buyers.

Mayor John G. Bongat and Regional Executive Director Abelardo R. Bragas of the Department of Agriculture, along with other city officials, youth officials, and city hall personnel, graced the occasion, going around the booths set up by the participating barangays to showcase their various agricultural products.

Farmers’ Day, now on its third year, is being celebrated to honor and give tribute to the city’s farmers and farm workers whom Mayor Bongat lauded as the city’s partners in its continuing march towards equitable and sustainable economic growth.

The celebration is also being made possible in coordination with the Independent Component City Agricultural and Fishery Council (ICCAFC), highlighted by an agricultural fair and booth contests, an organic agriculture lecture, a climate change lecture, project proposal preparation, and agri-karawat or agrilympics.

OIC- City Agriculturist Maria Edna B. Bongalonta said that Farmers’ Day, also provides the facility to determine the impact of the SARIG Naga program, an approach that aims to increase the income of local farmers.

Conceptualized under Mayor Bongat’s administration, SARIG Naga or Sustainable Agriculture for Rural Income Growth in Naga focuses on farmers’ income growth, not onlyon production growth. Under the SARIG principle, the city determines the measure of success in farming through the farmer’s net income, not cavans per hectare. The program also works for the reduction of production cost.

Persons with developmental disabilities go thru free assessment AND treatment by licensed therapists

By Jason B. Neola

EIGHTY individuals, mostly children diagnosed as persons with developmental disabilities (PWDDs), underwent a thorough evaluation by licensed therapists from Manila last May 30, this year.

The activity was aimed at identifying the PWDs’ needs and the kind of services they should receive.

The evaluation, free of charge, was conducted under the “Handle with Care Program” of the Communicare Therapy Center for Children, in partnership with the Philippine Autism Society.

Specifically, the individuals who availed of the assessment were persons with developmental disabilities like autism, Down syndrome, and intellectual disability.

effort of LGU Naga, Naga City SPED Center headed by Principal Edna San Jose, the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, and the Naga City Division of the Department of Education (DepEd).

In his brief message, Mayor John G. Bongat thanked and lauded the “good Samaritans” for sharing their knowledge and resources generously by way of conducting evaluations and offering recommendations that aim to determine the needs of PWDDs and by encouraging everyone in the community, especially their families, to play an important role in enhancing the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Ms. Mary Jean Nebreja, teacher at Naga City SPED Center, revealed that the evaluators were speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists. They conducted exercises to enhance the skills of parents, guardians and the teachers belonging to Naga City Special Education (SPED) Center in handling andMs. Edwina Oco, Naga City SPED Center teacher, said the activity was organized thru the consolidated caring for PWDD children.

The therapists also conducted functional evaluation on PWDDs in their customary environment in the belief that individuals with developmental disabilities should have access to opportunities and necessary support to be included in community life, have interdependent relationships, live in homes and communities, and make contributions to their families and the community.

Aside from occupational, physical and speech-language therapy, a seminar and training on disaster preparedness for persons with special needs and their parents or guardians was also conducted with Mr. Ernesto T. Elcamel, head of Naga City Disaster Management Office, as speaker.

In an interview, City Councilor D.C. Nathan A. Sergio, chairman of the Sangguniang Panlungsod’s Committee on Persons with Disability (PWDs), said the commendable gesture by the Communicare and other partner agencies was, indeed essential as “our LGU is in the thick of finding ways and means to provide our PWDs with services that they need.”

Sergio emphasized that the city government is ready and willing to help the PWDDs, avail of the services they need. He said the only thing that burdens the city government is the situation wherein it lacks technical knowledge about the kind of interventions that should be adopted for the reason that PWDDs’ concerns and priorities are of different types. “We have different concerns and priorities for autistics which are different from those persons who are visually-challenged and persons with Down syndrome or intellectual disability. ”

Mr. Christopher S. Molin, officer in charge of the Persons With Disability Affairs Office, said they are more than willing to work in partnership with similar entities in the future to come up with undertakings that will uplift the life and condition of every PWDD.