BEYOND THE FOUR WALLS: Follow through citizenship

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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 7 June) – “The people have spoken,” the announcer said, then asked the old, come-backing and new officials to stand and be recognized as the “choice of the people.” A few minutes earlier a hired band from Davao City started to belt out some pieces from the ’60s in the oath-taking of provincial officials on June 4 at the Folk Arts Theater in Malaybalay City.

One of us in the media contingent complained about the throwback music played in the party. In a while, The Beatles’ “So Happy Together” played. I just thought it was the right music to depict the old and virtually unchanging face of politicians taking a new oath. In between 2001, when I first covered the provincial oath-taking, and Saturday’s version, nothing much has changed: the faces or the family names.

As the officials stood, applause reverberated in the hall. Cheers filled the air. Then some took shots of brandy and other liquors served while waiting for the main celebrant, senator-elect Juan Miguel Zubiri, to arrive.

Back in my seat, I got stung by the enthusiasm. I hope it will be sustained.

I recalled the scenes when there were only a few of us who would go to the offices of these officials to try to make them report about their election promises in 2013 and their commitments to their constituents. A few days after the expected deadline for their Executive and Legislative Agenda (ELA) in mid-2013, our group (the Piniyalan Reporting Governance 2013-2016) have requested copies from the Department of Interior and Local Government.

In early 2014, I recalled only about five or six of 22 towns and cities in Bukidnon which submitted their drafts (supposedly submitted around third quarter or late 2013). The ELA is an expression of harmony of the agenda of the executive and the members of the legislative body, which will form part of what will be proposed in the local development councils as the basis for the formulation of priority programs, projects and activities in the three-year term.

Our group wanted to use the ELA as a monitoring tool in a journalism project that reports on governance beyond elections, from planning to evaluation, from oath-taking to another election. We understood later as DILG officials reminded us that it is not a mandatory report. Local governments spend for the conduct of long and exhaustive workshops to arrive at an ELA document, and they are not required to submit it.

As of September 15, 2015, or barely eight months before the end of the term, DILG Bukidnon reported that only 13 of the 22 LGUs complied.

Somehow, because there was no document to base our monitoring on, it affected our effort to report on the commitments in the ELA. There are things we should improve in our methods. But there are things, too, that LGUs should improve in preparing and making the ELA and related requirements available to the public.

This made me think of a research idea! Why don’t we urge government to make mandatory the submission and publication of the ELA as part of the documents required from LGUs in the full disclosure policy? So that if they do not submit on time, they don’t get incentives given to LGUs for complying with the standards espoused by the Seal of Good Governance.

Hopefully, the people’s enthusiasm for the oath-taking of politicians as public servants will follow through in monitoring if they fulfill their oath through the phases of governance from consultation, planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Citizens, too, should follow through engagement, beyond voting.

This time it doesn’t matter who you voted for. Supporters or detractors of present government officials must make it their co-equal duty to accompany their local government, inasmuch as government in all levels must take effort to make it easier for citizens to participate in their governance.

“The people have spoken, these are the people’s choice,” the message got a stinging effect on me. It now becomes our collective choice. It now becomes our collective responsibility.

One danger is that people might be caught in the pageantry and be mesmerized with the promises of these public figures; and leave governance totally to them.

Then we can only hope that we are not isolated from the stream. We hope that our officials will remain consultative to pursue participatory governance that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Some analysts tell us that we get the government we deserved. Assuming those who won were the ones we really voted for, so this might sound logical.

So, congratulations to “the choice of the people!” Good luck to us all.

Let me offer my prayers for blessings, guidance and strength in your leadership and our citizenship. Let me offer our continued coverage as it is what the media’s job is. Through this, citizens help let you see how your governance reaches the citizens.

Wishing you success in your administration! May your victory help make our collective aspirations be achieved.

We pray, too, that through your service the people will truly become the biggest winner.

(Walter I. Balane, former Davao and Bukidnon reporter of MindaNews, teaches journalism and economics and manages the university radio station of Bukidnon State University.)

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