What can we learn from Dumaguete People’s Council?

Last week, I attended a gathering of civil society leaders in Dumaguete City - from non-government organizations, civic groups, people’s organizations, and youth groups - together with several City Council members.

The coalition of CSOs and POs presented their “assessment” of the local official’s one year performance based on the platform of governance they presented during the campaign season of the 2022 elections.

Meanwhile, the council members also updated the CSOs on their achievements in the legislative and oversight work of the local government.

The entire time, I was just amused that this space and this event exist.

But more than that, my admiration and respect for civil society leaders in Dumaguete grew. In my long involvement with civil society organizations in Bacolod and Negros Occidental, there are barely any circumstances where we can hold our elected officials to account through non-confrontational dialogues.

Here are some lessons, I think, we can learn from the people’s council of this beautiful town.

We need to insist on our space in government. The strong people’s council of Dumaguete was a product of a constant and consistent insistence on the right of civil society to participate in governance.

“That’s the role of the People’s Development Council (PDC) to assert and create space, not wait to be called by the politicians,” said seasoned development worker and activist Nancy Estelloso of Tuburan Inc., who is also the chairperson of the PDC.

Critical CSO voices can be PART of governance. This lesson is for local chief executives and local government officials. In most cases, local officials will only give space to “like-minded” or “friendly” NGOs and CSOs and isolate those who are critical of them.

But the Dumaguete PDC proved that people’s organizations can be critical and, at the same time, collaborative with the local government in realizing the development agenda for the city. The PDC also champions the four principles of good governance, which can be summarized as PART (Participatory, Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent).

Lastly, and I think the most important and inspiring lesson is:

It can be done. Active and vibrant CSO involvement in Bacolod might still be a dream, but the people of Dumaguete showed us that it can be done. Their commitment and perseverance in ensuring that people’s voices are heard and mainstreamed in policy and decision-making processes.

Definitely, there are way more lessons that we can learn from the people of Dumaguete than what I have poorly summarized in this word-count-limited article. The synergistic collaboration of different groups and sectors is truly commendable, and their dedication to championing participatory governance is worth emulating.

“PDC is a work in progress. We celebrate our gains and at the same time learn the lessons from our mistakes. We did it, you can do it as well. I leave this challenge for all of us,” Estolloso said.*

***

For comments or questions, please email me at joshuaovillalobos@su.edu.ph.

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