OBVIOUSLY, it is still largely lip service in many LGUs (local government units) and national agencies because the mindset, culture and policies that breed such system remain well-entrenched.
The idea of participatory governance has gained prominence and popular interest in the Post EDSA when formal democratic processes were restored, a populist 1987 Constitution was crafted, passage of Local Government Code of 1991, and later the Party-list System. All this spawned the rapid growth of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and active citizens’ engagement in local and national governance.
Some structured and less formal experiences in citizens’ participation in local governance have been documented. A number of these have contributed to increasing local government transparency and accountability, and quick delivery of social services, especially in the situation of calamities, and where CSO figures have won local political seats.
These experiences however remain limited and unsustainable due to a number of gaps; incentive gap, capacity gap, and power gap. Lessons learned from these experiences were also not translated into policy and legislative agenda.
In general, the prevailing policy, structure and practices of governance in most national government agencies and LGUs are still characterized by being “unfriendly”, “biased”, “distrustful”, and in some cases, even “hostile” to CSOs and citizens at large. Among agencies there is lack of consensus in their appreciation of participatory governance and therefore their practices don’t only vary but many times run in conflict with each other.
There is an apparent dominant mindset and culture on the part of the government, national down to LGUs, that participatory governance is a pernicious approach as it is ceding government power and resources to the CSOs and citizens, and therefore the government losses its grip on power, or simply become vulnerable to self-decapitation. Well it need not be.
My own definition of participatory governance is that of the state’s exercise of power and authority with the effective participation of stakeholders (CSOs, private sector and citizens at large) to ensure transparency, responsiveness, accountability in meeting the citizens’ socio-cultural, economic, political rights and needs, and achieve the holistic and sustainable development of the society or specific territory.
In a private corporate set up, good governance creates a strong future for an organization by continuously steering towards a vision, keeping the organization intact, and making sure that day-to-day management is always lined up with the organization’s goals and satisfy the needs of its members. At its core, good governance is about good, well and right leadership.
International agreements have made some definitions that are also useful. One is the UN 1986 Declaration of the Right to Development which defines participatory governance as “The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.”
The other is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which says “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity ... To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives.” Thus the universality of the right to participate has been recognized beyond dispute, underlining the intrinsic value of participation in all spheres of public life.
Right now, the levels of citizens’ participation range from mere information that is providing the CSOs and citizens at large with basic information, consultation to seek CSOs’ feedbacks and views on certain issues, collaboration with CSOs in particular aspects of decision making or of a project, and co-leadership which places decision making on certain issues and projects in the hands of the CSOs and citizens.
Information and consultation are still the prevailing mode of participation. Collaboration is still limited and unsustainable even in existing local development council (LDC), local special bodies (LSBs). While co-leadership takes place in few LGUs where local officials have strong ties with CSOs and the private sector.
Still, participatory governance, if defined and appreciated right and practice well, could result to several benefits to both the government and the CSOs and citizens at large.
For the CSOs, it will enhance a more responsive services to people’s needs, greater access to and control of resources by citizens; local plans and budgets will be more realistic vis a vis needs of the community; increase productivity and income generation opportunities; better recognition of people’s rights especially the marginalized sectors including women; affirmation of being listened to or having a say; and sense of belongingness and ownership to every initiative and joint undertaking.
The LGUs will likewise reap significant fruits, among them the restoration of people’s faith in public institutions; lesser security threats; better service prioritization of policies, programs and projects; greater chance for politicians to be re-elected.
While success stories on participatory governance are gaining ground, there are still difficulties and challenges to overcome. Foremost of these are, willingness of LGUs to engage the CSOs, need to democratize LDC and LSBs, amending some provisions in Local Government Code that pertain to CSOs participation, CSOs capacity to engage and no less, the need to finance the participatory governance project.