Building civil society

Sugar cane truck PhilippinesFor the most part, the Philippines still seems to be an elite democracy, run by the few for the few. Inspite of two People Power uprisings, could it be that true civil society is still a long way to come, that their spirit does not translate into continuous action, allowing citizens to truly address their concerns and get them solved?

  • Media seem to be mostly bread and circuses for the masses, including a reporting that has the reputation of being for the most part sensationalist and tabloid-like.
  • Citizens seem to act just on an emotional basis, voting politicians for popularity, not for performance.
  • Various groups that want to represent Filipinos belt out tired ideologies instead of looking at real issues.

But there are some rays of hope:

  • Within the blogosphere, there are websites that are truly informative and non-partisan, like that of Raissa Robles which I have linked on this blog.
  • There are online media like Rappler and interaksyon which provide fairly good coverage, more comprehensive and informative than most Philippine newspapers.

And more of what truly constitutes civil society can already be found in the Philippines:

  • Bayanihan 2Mindanews is one of the rare examples of a truly good newspaper, possibly because it is essentially a cooperative of independent journalists.
  • Closely linked to it and partly funded by the European Union is the Citizen Action Network for Accountability, which grew out of the peranatinito initiative of the late Jesse Robredo and is composed of citizen groups monitoring politicians and local politics across the entire country. It includes enabling citizens to better understand local government concepts.
  • There is also kayanatin which looks like a mixture of some politicians and grassroots initiatives. Notably, Senator Bam Aquino is involved here. He is of course from one of the elite families, but also known for his support of small- and medium-sized businesses.
  • President Aquino’s Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan 2012-2016 includes strengthening the Department of Interior and Local Government’s partnership with Civil Society Organizations. A Citizen Satisfaction Index System institutionalizes citizen evaluation of Local Government Units performance.
  • The European Union is strongly promoting building Civil Society in the Philippines.

For a stable free-market democracy, a stable middle class combined with local enterpreneurship and a civil society is essential. Other possible exponents of progress may be Federalism or decentralization, to give regions and local government units more of a voice and remove the holdovers of post-colonial rule based on perceived excessive centralism from Manila. The recent economic progress in cities such as Cebu and Davao, but not only, may give this more of a push. The result may be a more modern, progressive Philippines. Let us see where this goes.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, May 13, 2015
DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed in linked articles or sources are not necessarily mine.

9 thoughts on “Building civil society

  1. Another observation:So many groups that has same goal as another, they may be a break away group or a faction, or has nothing to do with the other.It would be better if those groups consolidate.

    • The Filipino needs his “barangay” – everything in the Philippines is an extended family or barangay. Whether fraternity, graduating class, school or university.

      The Malay and Filipino word “kumpulan” says it all. It is our comfort zone. The CANA approach of having sub-groups within a bigger group is perfect for Filipino culture. Also the approach of federalism. The sense of being recognized, of having a certain ROLE is important for Filipinos – the culture being deeply Malay and hierarchic.

      Ngayon mas naiintindihan ko – or at least I am able to express it more clearly – kung bakit maraming nagalit noong wala ang Presidente sa airport after Mamasapano. Mahalaga sa Pilipino iyong bigyan siya ng importansya – it was a sense of not being recognized after such a big sacrifice under an operation the President ordered himself.

      Now for Westerners and more modern Filipinos, that may seem a bit strange or even “needy”. But remember that a defined role is still very important for how you are treated in the Philippines. Remember that the society has a high power distance according to cultural studies – even higher than in RUSSIA which is also hierarchic!

      At some point the country will modernize and that will not be so important anymore, but a lot of people still think in terms of how am I respected – or not respected! Joe very rightly observed that the BBL is more about respect and recognition than any real issues. Once all sectors in the Philippines have the sense of I am important, just as important as other people, the country will be very strong. Because a lot of problems the Philippines has stem from some people acting TOO important and stepping on others, marginalizing them. And this is not just something emotional, this is based on real experiences with real economic consequences and also with consequences in terms of effectively having less rights than others. Many Filipinos who go/run abroad have experienced this and this is existential not pride chicken.

    • You know Irineo, Karl, Sonny..Australia has 23 million people. And it is a federation of 6 states and2 territories…with a Commonwealth government over all ..

      Each state & territory has sovereign power to govern such matters as education, transport, ports, police, local government. medical & hospitals. The most populous statenis New South Wales with 6 million..The lowest population stat is Tasmania with 600,00.

      All of these issues are close to people’s needs They need to be open to local input and rule.

      By contrast the Phillippines is a country with 110 million with a single national government that dominates everything..Provinces are subject to the state… So local input and control are impossible.The needs of one area are conflicted with the power of more dominant groups..Like the church..

      I now what I prefer between these 2 choices.

      I think many Filipinos in more isolated, remote from Manila feel the same way. So Roxas rejection of Federalism comes across as yet another instance of him not seeing the needs of local people..

    • Roxas’ approach is Bottom-Up Budgeting… LGUs have more autonomy every since the Local Government Code passed in Cory’s time.

      Karl has mentioned that many LGUs have not used that autonomy responsibly, even owing money to loansharks!

      Federalism is a nice idea, but if people are (still) irresponsible it might be too early.

    • Being responsible develops Irineo from facing up to the fact that if you as a voter or as a legislator or governor, fuck up you face the consequences…The mess is ‘yours’ to sort out.

      At the moment the LGU’s have no ultimate authority. And if they fuck up they can blame someone else


    Bound by the mission to provide a venue for citizens’ participation in governance, the Sorsogon Initiative for Local Accountability in Governance (SILAG) aims to increase transparency in the community through continuous engagement and dialogue with the local government units (LGU).

    SILAG, a local term referring to a transparent fish found in Bicol waters, is a multi-sectoral group which aim to promote transparency in governance, particularly in the areas of public finance. Formed in 2014 with the support of the Citizen Action Network for Accountability (CANA), SILAG counts media practitioners, civil society workers, farmers, teachers, and other sectors as members, aspiring to promote in the province, which also has its own share of corruption issues.

  3. Naitanong ko dati ang direct democracy sa Switzerland. Uubra kaya sa pinas yun?
    Dito mga NGO conduit ng pork barrel at DAP.
    Tapos yung iba nagiging marginalized st nagiging partylists.
    Pag naipasa ang BBL malamang federalism na ang kasunod nyan,suguro lang.

    • Puwedeng umobra – kung ang tax system parang Switzerland. Doon meron kanya-kanyang tax ang city, canton (federal state) at federal government. Pagdating naman sa NGO, kahit saan hindi mo masabi kung paano talaga ginagamit ang pondo. Minsan iyong mga international NGO o kaya EU may nahuhuling mga local partner na fake pala ang project. O kaya dinadaya ng husto ang mga gastos sa kung anu-anong paraan, pero sa bagay kahit sa Germany ang dami na ritong mga iskandalo in the past decades.

      Dito ang pinag-aawayan minsan ng mga NGO iyong mga municipal, state or federal subsidies – legal pork barrel ano pa. Hindi naman masama ang ganoon kung may nakakarating sa tao o talagang may nagagawa, huwag lang sana sobrang overpriced tulad ng iilang mga garahe diyan. Diyan dapat ang maging focus, laging may audit at inspection.

      Actually baka mas seseryoso ang pulitika kapag federalistic. Lalo na kung by region ang Senado – two per region halimbawa. Of course pondo pa rin ang pagaawayan…

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