Recognizing Citizenship and Good Local Governance

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Governance is a complex concept to explain – in any language, in any country. What is universal however is that you can recognize it when you see it – in any part of the globe.

It’s seen when city residents are recognized as equal partners by a city government planning the school curriculum; when a petty criminal gets a chance to build a better life for her children and again when concerned citizens monitor implementation of government programs.

In a country popular for its island fiestas, a lively 3-day fair was held over a long weekend in Manila to highlight and celebrate the role of citizens in promoting good governance.

The event coincided with National Heroes Day, which I thought was a perfect backdrop to celebrate the everyday heroes working in communities across the country to better their lives.

Held in partnership with the Galing Pook Foundation, the celebration was titled a tongue-twisting ‘Mamamayan Mamamayani’  – people will prevail – which I believe is at the heart of good governance, where citizens are empowered and engage with their local government to find solutions to common challenges in their communities.

The governance fair featured citizenship talks and stories by beneficiaries of national poverty-reduction programs such as conditional cash transfer and community driven development. The fair also showcased 52 creatively-designed booths bearing examples of governance in practice from all over the Philippines. Cabinet Secretaries and senior Government officials were in attendance to hear directly from the people in town hall meetings. Popular local artists and bands like Sponge Cola drew in a diverse audience. To the screaming delight of the participants, SpongeCola even dropped in to see what “ Open government” is all about.

A crowd of over 7,000 came out for a “unity walk” on the first day and the event counted more than 24,000 visitors. A wall at the entrance gave citizens an opportunity to post comments and questions for the government, and state their own commitment to achieving good governance.

“Daang matuwid” (the straight path) was the campaign platform of the incumbent administration in 2010, but five years later the work has only just begun. History has shown in the Philippines and in many developing countries around the world – that reforms are fragile and can be easily reversed. Several initiatives for improving governance are still in infancy. Recently, the Philippines has shaken off the title of “sick man of Asia” to instead become the second fastest growing economy in the world. Despite the economic growth, reduction in poverty remains a daunting challenge.

Recognizing Citizenship and Good Local Governance

The Governance Fair culminated with an awards night recognizing excellence in local governance and active citizenship through the work of individuals and civil society organizations. The World Bank, together with Australia-DFAT and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) gave out these prestigious awards.

The audience was deeply moved by Mayor Flora Villarosa of Siayan Municipality, Zamboanga del Norte. She unseated a 43-year old dynasty when she was elected in the poorest town in the country, with a poverty incidence rate of 97.5%. The situation has improved with the poverty incidence rate now standing at 70 percent. In an emotional acceptance speech, she said “Most of the population were indigenous people and there was a language barrier. I asked the people what they needed and they drew for me their dreams; our task was to turn these into reality.” That truly is governance manifested.

As the country heads into elections in May 2016, sustained focus on governance remains critical, but beyond jargons and outside government walls what does governance mean to you and why is it important?
Philippines: What It Takes to Be a Good Citizen



Saeeda Sabah Rashid

Saeeda Sabah Rashid, Senior Public Sector Specialist

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