WHILE not a few local government units (LGUs) in Negros island and Panay are still unsympathetic and unsupportive of civil society organizations (CSOs), interchangeably referred to as people’s organizations (POs), in Bacolod, a city of half a million people and classified as a highly urbanized city (HUC), a sizable number of city CSOs are already represented in the City Development Council (CDC), Local Special Bodies (LSBs) and sectoral committees.
Local Development Council, LSBs like Local School Board, Local Health Board, Local Bids and Awards Committee, Local Peace and Order Council among others, the sectoral committees and the Barangay-based Institutions or BBIs, are the citizens' participatory mechanisms mandated by the Local Government Code of 1991 or Republic Act 7160. People’s participation is one of the important goals in the passage of LGC.
These CSOs engaged by the city government represent laborers, fisherfolks, farmers, market and street vendors, transport workers, overseas Filipino workers, micro, small, medium enterprises, artists, environmentalists, women, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and the youth.
Other CSOs which do not have yet legal registration and accreditation in the city like the youth, sweatshop workers, kasambahay, general odd jobbers, advocacy groups, are also engaged in some meaningful ways by the city government through the City Mayor Office-Sectoral Concerns (CMO-SCO).
These CSOs engaged by CMO-SCO constitute the majority of the city population, also tagged as the bottom of the socio-eco pyramid, the most marginalized and highly vulnerable sectors.
The CMO-SCO, occupying the former office of the City mayor in the old city hall, is the service frontline of the city mayor vis a vis sectoral issues and concerns. It is directed and managed by a specially chosen dedicated and passionate servant leaders, led by EA Ernie Pineda, a person with a solid heart for the marginalized sector and full of energy and passion in his life and works, and assisted by former bank employee Doc Cabuguason and long time church worker leader Leslie Garcia.
They are backed by more than a dozen or so sectoral leaders manning the sectoral service desks, unmindful of their small allowances and sacrifices. Though operating on a small budget and sometimes from extra support of some councilors, the group is still able to respond to the needs and concerns of the CSOs in CDC and other participatory mechanisms, and no less to the vulnerable groups regularly knocking on their hearts.
For now, their services range from capacity building, enterprise planning to various welfare and emergency assistance, and environmental and anti-disaster risk and hazard advocacy activities. Aside from these, Ernie is also in charge of managing the city’s markets and vendors therein.
Despite these positioning and achievements, Ernie and his group still look forward to having a bigger involvement in the CDC and LSBs, increased administrative and operating budget, and seeing the CSOs in CDC and LSBs functioning more effectively and getting a good share in the development project funds.
Rustico “Jun” Ano, sectoral staff member of Ernie, and serves as the point person of the CSOs and POs in the CDC admits that they still have to reckon with the bigger representation of the barangay captains and their aggressiveness in the CDC which often marginalized the CSOs when it comes to development policy decision making, and in projects funds sharing.
He also expressed the predicaments of some CSOs in some barangays where the kapitans and kagawads are quite opportunistic and not supportive of the local chief executive; the situation there is worse; they don’t like CSOs, they often ignore CSOs participation in the barangay development council, despite the LGC mandate, the mayor’s instructions and the DILG memos.
Still, Ano and the CSOs look forward to their institutionalization in local governance, to achieve greater and more effective participation in decision making, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
They look forward to the institutionalization of CSOs similar to the experience in Naga City, where the city had passed the Empowerment Ordinance, institutionalizing CSOs office and effective participation in all levels of governance. Quezon City CSOs through councilors supportive of them have passed in 2009 similar empowerment ordinance, entitled “Participation, Accountability and Transparency Ordinance in Quezon City”, but not signed by then-mayor Belmonte and still pending in to this day under the administration of a younger member of the Belmonte clan, Mayor Joy Belmonte.
As if an answer to the CSOs dream, the DILG came out with an MC 2021-012 issued January 28 this year, instructing all LGUs to begin the institutionalization of CSOs desk and the People’s Council, not just creating an office, co-terminus with the incumbent mayor and officials, but translating this MC into a local ordinance.
Ernie and his CSOs heads are hopeful and trustful that the incumbent mayor and councilors, and the DILG will help them realize the CSOs' long aspiration and struggle for their quality and effective participation in local governance, as CSOs participation is an essential element in good governance.
Kudos to the CMO-SCO, all CSOs in the local governance and the city officials!