THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Be empowered in your barangay (Part 3)

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[This takes off from previous columns on the same topic, which dealt with empowering a citizen (Step Nos. 1 and 2), as a way of preparing for the synchronized Barangay Assemblies scheduled on Saturday, March 28, 2015.]

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/22 March) — A sense of powerlessness among barangay citizens often stems from the failure of their local government to perform as mandated—in planning and implementing projects, in mobilizing neighborhoods, in motivating people to get involved, in giving them a part in nation-building.

This non-performance keeps the local government from producing tangible benefits for its citizens or fuller development for the community. Barangay citizens can remedy this problem by taking the initiative to improve the government’s performance.

EMPOWERING STEP No. 3: Insist on professionalizing the operations of the Barangay Development Council. Next to the Barangay Assembly, this is most important institution for developing one’s community, its nerve center for planning and implementing programs and projects.

First—Review its composition and how its members were selected. At least one-fourth of them are supposed to come from locally accredited civil society, chosen by and from among their ranks.

Barangay chairmen rarely observe this procedure for selecting its members, depriving the community of the important contributions and resources of NGOs to local development. The latter are supposed to be accredited and kept in an official list of civic clubs, people’s organizations, cooperatives, church groups, women circles, senior citizens’ chapter, youth clubs, others.

Second – Review the Barangay Development Council’s performance. The law clearly states that it must prepare a Comprehensive Multi-sectoral Development Plan. This medium-term plan (five years or so) is supposed to become part of the municipal, city, or provincial Plan—which in turn are to be incorporated into upper-level Plans all the way to national (NEDA).

This requirement fulfills the democratic principle that the planning process must begin from the ground up, instead of from the top as preferred by oligarchs and autocrats. And the Plan is not supposed to be worked out by the officials only. It should build upon the inputs, suggestions, and expectations of the people—for whose benefit all development plans are supposed to be designed.

The absence of a proper Development Plan causes barangay officials to improvise, regardless of actual priorities, bypassing the constituents. Result: They may build an outsize auditorium while school children make do with classes under a tree, or construct concrete roads leading to the home of the chairman or mayor or favorite congressman while farmers haul their produce on impassable trails. Or they may purchase a vehicle to service their needs while no dispensary or clinic ministers to the health of families and children. And they may build a cockpit instead of a rice-mill or corn-mill.

EMPOWERING STEP NO. 4: Be sure there is an Annual Investment Plan—an important component of the Development Plan. See to it that it is a competent plan, not just a shopping list of projects the officials hope will be picked out by the mayor or congressman with funds to dole out. No corporation or economy grows without a well-crafted investment plan. And without it, a budget cannot be justified.

First—See that this Plan addresses the priorities defined in the Development Plan. It should be based on a socioeconomic survey of the neighborhoods to guide investment priorities. This task should involve financial experts and other professionals residing in the community or adjoining areas: accountants, development planners, business owners/managers, financial professors, and the like. The survey should identify opportunities for local investment and development.

Second—See that the Investment Plan takes account of the needs of the entire community, not just the poor but vote-rich sectors and squatters. They deserve preferential treatment, of course, but others are also entitled to a just share of development even as they share its costs. Even the wealthy are entitled; they should be encouraged to expand business so they will pay more taxes and create opportunities for employment and livelihood.

Third—Based on the community’s socioeconomic profile, help the officials identify productive projects to ensure that barangay funds will be invested profitably. Projects should also benefit inhabitants with skills or technologies that find no ready market. One way to expand the local economy is to help them find markets or customers in other barangays and communities.

Fourth—Make sure the Investment Plan is geared to expand the local economy by increasing the Gross Barangay Product (GBP). This GBP is the Gising Barangay Movement’s unique approach to local economic development.

It’s not right that nation-building takes its cue only from macro-planning approaches and abstract estimates of Gross Domestic Product or the GNP. Targeted planning for Barangay development is a more accurate and inclusive gauge for development.

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is chairman/convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. and author of books on governance.

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