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National

Want to report what your government is or isn't doing? There's a website for that

Screengrab of the homepage of www.citizenaction.net.

InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

When former Sarangani Governor Migs Dominguez first assumed office in 2004, his province was in an abysmal state.

More than 3,000 cases were pending in court, clogging the system so much that the accused were lucky if they get two hearings in a year. The situation in the provincial jail wasn't too bright either--it was filled with 600 detainees. 

Meanwhile, it took six years to request an additional regional trial court to be established.

With the weak judicial system, it was no surprise "rido" or clan feuds were so common. 

After all, why wait for justice to be served when one could take matters in his or her own hands?

Education was in a sorry condition as well. Out of every ten students who entered Grade 1, only four would finish grade school.

It didn't take long for Dominguez to realize that he--and his province--badly needed help. And get help he did. 

During his nine-year term as governor, he partnered with non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and volunteers.

Together, the provincial government and these groups enlisted to help train 505 justice advocates. 

These volunteers were capable of settling conflicts before these were raised to the barangay level of mediation, leading to a “significant decrease of cases filed in court.”

A “trial court on wheels” was also developed in the form of a bus running thrice a week, where judicial officers would conduct hearings right where the incidents occurred. Later, 90 percent of 2,000 cases heard and solved, according to Dominguez.

Meanwhile, to see to the students’ welfare, parent-mentors were trained so they would in turn train some 50,000 parents of their roles in their children's education. These parent-mentors also scouted for households each May for school-age kids, encouraging the latter to attend school come June.

Not long after, more parents were spending at least an hour with their children as they did their homework. Achievement test scores improved, as did the number of children attending school. 

Out of every ten students who entered Grade 1, 6.3 would now finish grade school. Eight-two elementary schools were also built within six years "without a single cost to government,” thanks to the parents, who built classrooms themselves. A one-to-one textbook-to-child ratio was also achieved, again without cost to the government, because of citizen participation.

“Empowering, engaging partners really spelled the difference in improving the life of every child,” said Dominguez. 

Transforming communities was not a task solely for the government. 

While the local government presented “good, credible projects” and “showed results,” the private sector, for its part, contributed time, effort, and resources.

“We get about P20 million every year for education programs alone,” he added.

Enter The Citizen Action Network for Accountability

In comes the Citizen Action Network for Accountability (CANA), which believes that success stories--such as the one in Sarangani--can be replicated. 

To this end, CANA launched its “We Can!” website, www.citizenaction.net, on Monday.

Initiated by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), MindaNews, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), CANA seeks to tap the potential of citizen involvement to achieve the progress the country has long been waiting for.

Through the website’s interactive Citizen Action Map, ordinary citizens can look for groups to join in engaging local government; monitor local government activity in their area; and even submit reports via text message or online about their local officials or the delivery of public goods and services.

The website also has a Learning Zone, which has information such as a "Beginner’s Guide to LGU Transparency," an "A to Z of Public Finance Terms," and "A Citizen’s Introduction to Local Government Structure and Responsibilities."

Soon, CANA will be releasing a “Citizen Action Toolbox” for groups to use in organizing themselves, as well as monitoring and engaging local government.

CANA project director and IWPR head of Asia Alan Davis said they were “very happy” with President Benigno Aquino III calling the Filipino people his “boss” in his inaugural speech.

They had been waiting for three years to know how the government planned to make the people the boss, however. Davis then realized that if the people were the boss, they shouldn’t wait for the government’s plan.

“If we are the boss, we have the plan,” he said, noting that while he was British, he was married to a Filipina and had half-Filipino children, and thus, had a stake, too.

The idea behind CANA was to give people the tools to “be the boss” and get involved in true People Power fashion. Yes, ordinary people could choose to sit back and complain. But while they had rights, they had responsibilities too.

Currently, 28 citizen action groups under the project have made--and are making--local governments accountable by checking on the delivery of public goods and services.

Davis hopes this number will grow. He also hopes that by 2015, the European Commission-funded project will no longer be run by the four media organizations, but by the citizen action groups.

'Social media only relevant if they're used to fight corruption'

Thirty-four million Filipinos have regular Internet access, according to blogger and social media activist Tonyo Cruz, and they spend a quarter of a day on Facebook. Smartphone usage in the country is the fastest-growing in Southeast Asia, while cellular phone ownership is at almost a one-to-one ratio.

Armed with social media, citizens are ready to engage local government, said Cruz.

However, these social media tools only become relevant if they are used to bring about change particularly in the fight against corruption, said NUJP chairperson Rowena Paraan.

By bringing these tools to entire communities, their voices would be amplified, which hopefully leads to responses from the government.

Paraan cited a citizen journalist whose report about a wall-less school in Bohol led to the local government immediately having it fixed.

Department of Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Austere Panadero himself remarked that ordinary Filipinos enter into partnerships with their local governments as his office “actively promot[es] accountable, transparent, participatory, and effective local governance.”

“The doors have been opened,” he said, to facilitate synergy between government and constituency.

More than 400 LGUs have partnered with local civil society groups in service delivery, especially in education and health. 

A Citizen Satisfaction Index System is also in place to find from the grassroots level whether goods and services have been delivered by the local government. The DILG has programs that encourage volunteerism, as well. 

As new local government officials begin their terms, local special bodies--such as the school board, health board, and finance committee--are being reconstituted.

At least 25 percent of these bodies must come from outside the government. Panadero appealed to Filipinos to participate.

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