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Monday, October 5, 2009
RESHAPING OUR COMMUNITIES, RESHAPING OUR NATION
by Sen. Kiko Pangilinan
In 2001, when we ran for senator under the People Power Coalition, we adopted the slogan Kumilos Kasama si Kiko to capture our brand of politics. It was a brand that drew from and continues to draw from our background as a former student leader and activist in the early ‘80s. This slogan captures the very essence of our philosophy about governance and political leadership—a philosophy we wish to share with others in the hope that, with more adherents, we will finally see the change that we seek for our nation and our children.
The slogan is a call to action. It recognizes that there is a direct causal relationship between the quality of life for our citizens and the quality of governance. Poor governance means poor quality of life. As such, governance is everyone's business; we all have to be involved in it in one way or another. It recognizes and respects the fundamental role of our people and the pressing and urgent need for their participation and involvement if we are to succeed in reshaping our communities and reshaping our nation.
Immediately after our victory and with this slogan in mind, we put our vision and our philosophy into action. From Day 1 as an elected senator, we have never wavered in our belief that in effecting genuine change in politics and governance, it is the people, committed to doing their share together with dedicated and capable leaders, who are the “messiah”.
THE SEARCH FOR THE TEN ACCOMPLISHED YOUTH ORGANIZATIONS (TAYO AWARDS).
A few months into our first term as Senator in 2001, our Senate office launched the first search for Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations—also known as the TAYO Awards. In recognition of the vital role of the youth in community and national development, the search challenged young people everywhere to use their skills, their talents, and their creative energies for the cause of helping shape their respective communities through worthwhile projects in various fields such as education reform, environmental protection, livelihood and employment, and health, among others.
Participants were required to submit their respective project entries, activities, or projects that they themselves undertook in their communities. The search was undertaken in partnership with the National Youth Commission, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and in partnership with the private sector that included MIRANT Corporation, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and others.
One interesting project was done by a group composed of Computer Science students in their senior year in college. They provided computer training to 85 public elementary school teachers—some were their own teachers—who until then had been computer-illiterate. Another group of high school students who were proficient in Math and Science gave free tutorials to Grade 6 public elementary school children for a period of 3 months, thereby increasing the test scores of these elementary students in government-administered examinations. Another group of Business Administration students in a state university in Ilocos Norte provided basic bookkeeping tutorials to a farmer's cooperative, which helped lead the cooperative to determine that they had an excess of funds in their custody. This surplus—some P70,000.00—helped jumpstart the cooperative's other activities.
Now on its 7th year, a total of 120 youth and student organizations have reached the finals and 60 have emerged as winners. The winning entries are as diverse as they are compelling. They are a testament to the vibrancy, the dynamism , and the creativity of the Filipino youth today.
OUR GAWAD KALINGA PARTNERSHIP.
Upon our election in 2001 and based on our stint as Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement on the same year, the challenge of reforming the Housing sector was immediately put to bear. With a housing backlog of some 4 million homes nationwide, the challenges were indeed formidable. We knew that government alone could not hope to address the huge backlog without private sector participation. At that point, the overall performance of government agencies directly tasked to oversee the nation's housing programs left much to be desired; reforms were urgently needed. Consistent with our election campaign commitment of strengthening citizens’ involvement in helping shape the community and civil society involvement in governance, we immediately engaged the private sector.
We sat down with a Catholic Church-based national organization called GAWAD KALINGA (GK), which was committed to providing decent housing and community development for the poorest and the most marginalized sectors of society. These were poor families living in shantytowns located in urban centers throughout the country. We immediately pushed for the allocation of greater government funding to social housing in partnership with GK. Funding that would be coursed through the GK directly and not through the traditional government disbursement process. This innovation turned out to be crucial in getting the support underway, as previous efforts have failed to bear financial support.
In 2001, GK had 20 housing sites outside of Metro Manila, the nation’s capital. By the end of our first six-year term, the committee was able to allocate the largest amount of government resources to socialized housing in a decade with the GK as private sector partners. Local governments throughout the country numbering over 200 likewise partnered with GK by providing land for socialized housing. GK organized nationwide through a grassroots organization provided the human resource requirements to build the homes and to organize the communities. Because of the strong commitment of its leaders, GK was able to source support not only from the government but also from the private sector, whose donations were tax-deductible from their corporate income taxes.
All told, by the end of six years, GK sites rose from 20 to 1,200. Today, there are nearly 2,000 GK communities nationwide. The GK experience is by far the largest, most significant development in the socialized housing sector in the country in the last 10 years. Without housing champions in government and in the private sector working closely and on a day-to-day coordination, the GK experience would not have been possible.
REFORMS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM.
As Chairperson of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights in the 2001, we took the cudgels for the Judiciary and the reforms that were urgently needed at that time. Upon our assumption of the chairmanship of the said committee, the situation facing the Justice system was alarming.
One-third of the nation’s courts had no judges. The compensation package was so low that lawyers opted to stay in the private sector because earnings there were 5 to 10—to even 20—times higher. The situation was worse in the first-level courts or in the Municipal Trial Courts, where the vacancy rate nationwide was 44 percent. Nearly half of the first-level courts nationwide had no judges. In the National Prosecution Service, the vacancy rate was also even more alarming. Nearly half of the available government positions of public prosecutors had no takers. The main culprit in both instances was the unattractive compensation package for government lawyers. The private sector just paid so much more.
The immediate solution was to introduce legislation that would raise the pay of government lawyers and judges and bring them to levels comparable to the private sector. The net effect of the glaring lack of judges and prosecutors was a serious delay in the dispensation of justice and the disposal of and resolution of cases. The whole system of justice was under severe constraints and, needless to say, the faith and the trust of the public in the system of justice had been adversely affected.
After 18 months of legislative work that saw the unprecedented mobilization of the legal community, two pieces of legislation saw the doubling of the pay of judges and justices nationwide and the increase of the pay of public prosecutors. A third piece of legislation was the establishment of a Voluntary Arbitration regime in the country to declog the courts of quite a number of civil cases. Involved directly in the efforts to pass the measures were the stakeholders themselves through their respective organizations. Among those organizations directly involved in the effort where the Philippine Judges Association, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Philippine Bar Association, Association of Law Schools of the Philippines, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, and Crusade Against Violence, among others.
The immediate effect of the increase in salaries and compensation was the rise in applications for judgeship positions nationwide. By 2006, or three years after the laws were passed, the vacancy rate of judges in the courts nationwide had dropped to 16 (from a high of 30) percent and the increase in applications to various vacant courts nationwide jumped to as much as 1,000 to 1,500 percent in certain areas. More lawyers were applying for these positions. This meant that there was a larger and deeper bench from which to choose the best and the brightest.
This effort also had serious challenges. For one, the pay of judges and prosecutors involved some 4,000 positions. Excluded from the measure were over 17,000 court employees who also wanted increases in their pay. (It must be noted that the rank and file positions in the judiciary did not experience huge vacancies because in their levels as non-lawyers, pay was comparable to the private sector or at the very least was not too far off.) As earlier stated, this was not the case for lawyers in the government service. The Association of Court Personnel, a national organization of all rank and file employees in the judiciary, threatened to strike if their demand for increases in their pay was not addressed. The matter was addressed by a combination of persuasion and accommodation. In such an instance, the strong partnership between civil society and public sector leaders made it possible. Aside from the court personnel who had misgivings regarding the effort, the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Finance opposed the raising of the compensation package on two grounds namely 1) that the country was experiencing huge budget deficits at that time and that funds were not available and 2) that raising the pay of one set of public officials and employees would cause demoralization in the bureaucracy wherein other agencies too were clamoring for better pay.
In sum, the package had legal, administrative and financial stumbling blocks. All the necessary ingredients to make it fail were present. It was in the constant dialogues and meetings with the various stakeholders spanning 18 months total that the common goal of improving the compensation package was decided upon, reiterated, and constantly reviewed and updated so that all the stumbling blocks would be addressed and hurdled. Without the strong day-to-day engagement with civil society and the various stake holders of the legal community, it is difficult to see how such a controversial measure would have reached first base given the attendant circumstances.
EDUCATION REFORMS AND INNOVATIVE PROGRAMS TO ADDRESS QUALITY EDUCATION: THE FILIPINO CHINESE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE SCHOOL BUILDING PROGRAMSometime in 2003, the office of then Senate President Franklin Drilon embarked on a project involving the ‘outsourcing’ of the building of public elementary classrooms to the private sector. The project saw the tie up between the Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (a national civic organization with over a hundred chapters in cities and municiapities nationwide) and the Office of Senator Drilon that saw the building of classrooms at half the usual cost of the classrooms built by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)!
The country was facing an acute shortage of classrooms and yet government was building very expensive classrooms. The option of outsourcing became compelling. Why not allow the private sector takeover if it can do a better job?
As the then Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Education, I sought the permission of Senator Drilon to adopt this project and implement it as well. The result saw our office allocate nearly P100 million for the construction of 200 school buildings and classrooms all over the country, in partnership with the Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the local government units. The program covered 12 regions, 45 provinces and 200 cities and municipalities.
Under the leadership of then Secretary Florencio Abad of the DEPED, there was a plan to implement the program in full. Unfortunately, because of the political crisis that erupted after the ‘Hello Garci’ controversy in 2005, support for the project was discontinued. There is no reason why the said project cannot be revived under a new administration.
ADDRESSING POVERTY THROUGH JOB GENERATION BY SUPPORTING SMALL AND MEDIUM ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT: THE PROPEL EXPERIENCE
Buoyed by the successes of the partnerships with local communities through GAWAD KALINGA, the office embarked on yet another innovative program to help address poverty through support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). SMEs account for over ninety percent of all enterprises nationwide. SMEs employ seventy percent of the nation’s workforce and contributes to one third on the nation’s annual GDP. In order to address poverty by way of generating more jobs, therefore, there was an urgent need to support the development of small and medium entreprises. The entreprenurial spirit, particularly in the countrysides where development was sparse, needed to be promoted and supported.
With this in mind, we entered into a potent partnership with Philippine Chamber of Commere and Industry and the Department of Trade and Industry, giving birth to a project concept that will help address social inequity by opening opportunities to SMEs in the countryside through the conducting of livelihood training and seminars, capability enhancement, product development and packaging, product branding systems, and implementation of technology-transfer activities. The PCCI, is a business organization with over a hundred chapters nationwide. Its
PROPEL, or Promoting Regional Opportunities for Enterprise and Livelihood Development, envisioned to help increase economic activities in 20 pilot provinces in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao in line with government's poverty alleviation and job creation thrusts and consistent with the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTDP) 2004-2010 and the SME Development Plan 2004-2010.
The PROPEL is supported by the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to enable local chamber proponents to implement identified activities and projects that promote the growth and development of MSMEs. The office committed P24 million pesos as fund assistance to propel projects for the identified pilot areas nationwide, which are being implemented by PCCI local chambers. In 2009, the office helped by providing additional budgetary support for PROPEL to the tune of Php 34M for various PROPEL projects initiated by PCCI chapters nationwide.
Perking Up Coffee Farming in Benguet. Benguet is one of the very few places in the Philippines that have the ideal conditions for growing Arabica premium coffee. With assistance from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Benguet Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Benguet Organic Coffee Arabica Enterprises Limited (BOCAEL), Inc. embarked on an aggressive information campaign to orient local farmers and encourage them to cultivate coffee farming. Aside from the production process, farmers were also introduced to marketing strategies and entrepreneurial skills.
A few years ago a kilo of coffee would only sell for 75 pesos. It now fetches up to double that amount. The BOCAEL is now set to establish the Benguet Arabica premium brand.
Carne Ybanag and Sto. Nino’s Pride. One of the top producers of the Pinoy breakfast favorite longganisa in Tuguegarao is the Light house Cooperative. But inferior packaging and labeling diminished the product’s quality. In 2004, the cooperative sought the assistance of the Department of Trade and Industry to improve their branding. Acquiring P500, 000 for package design and product development, the Lighthouse cooperative now averages P400.000 in monthly sales for its ‘Carne Ybanag’. Its investment already reaches P1.5 million pesos, and it is now diversifying into retail trade, particularly computers, furniture, and school and office supplies.
Another product that Cagayan has been known for are green and ripe ‘carabao’ mangoes. The town of Sto. Nino is acknowledged as one of the top producers of ‘carabao’ mangoes in the country today. But while there is an abundance of the mango variety in the area, producers face low farm-gate prices and short shelf-life of their harvest. With the help of the Rural Improvement Club (RIC) Federation and the DTI, the farmers were able to come up with the brand name ‘Sto. Nino’s Pride’, and have established mango processing firms all over the country. PROPEL and the Cagayan CCI helped the cooperative and local famers acquire additional equipment and facilities.
TAYO, GAWAD KALINGA, Reforms in the Justice system, FILCHI School building program and PROPEL. These are programs that have been implemented by the office in the past 8 years that is proof that genuine change and real reforms can be undertaken provided there is synergy between government and the private sector. It is in a sense, a glimpse of what governance ought to be if there is strong a partnership between government and the private sector founded on a common goal of seeking real solutions in order to address the numerous problems facing the nation.
Decades old problems that have plagued our nation can and will be addressed if the people in the millions, mobilied throughout the country come together with committed leaders and rally behind an agenda for genuine change and reforms.
We all cry out for change. We all want better. TAYO, GAWAD KALINGA and the other people driven programs we have enumerated above is proof that government and the private sector together can effect real change in our communties.
Change is inevitable. The challenge is to hasten change by mobilizing government and the private sector to reshape our communties, to reshape our nation. It is leadership with vision and integrity and a people united, mobilized and rallying behind an agenda for change that will move our nation towards real reforms.