Over the years, people empowerment and access to basic services has characterized the CSO engagement of the state, whether in the national or local levels. In the Philippines, the enactment of the Local Government Code in 1991 placed more powers in the hands of the Local Government Units while at the same time providing for avenues wherein the people can directly participate in governance.
In the city of Naga, the organized groups welcomed this development as an opportunity to institute reforms in the local government structure. Thus, after years of discussion, meetings and consultations, the City Government enacted City Ordinance No. 95-092, “An Ordinance Initiating a System for Partnership in Local Governance between the City Government and the People of Naga” otherwise known as the Empowerment Ordinance of Naga City.
The ordinance widened the areas for people participation and bestowed powers upon the people’s council to send representatives to all government committee, councils, boards and task forces and there participate in the deliberation, conceptualization and implementation and evaluation of government projects and activities. The people’s council may also propose legislation and participate and vote at the committee level of the local legislative council.
These provisions for direct people’ participation was maximized by the Naga City People’s Council (which was recognized by the Sangguniang Panlungsod as the people’s council referred to in Section 8 of the Empowerment Ordinance) to bring about reforms and to make service delivery more responsive to the needs of the people.
NCPC worked hard to make both the people and the government ready for partnership. While implementing capability-building programs for its members, NCPC also reachedout to the local officials in order for them to appreciate people’s participation in governance.
Representatives from the different sectors were mobilized in 2001 for the NCPC Sectoral Congress where the where the different sectors identified their development agenda in pursuit of each sector’s vision.
Alongside the partnership, NCPC maintained its role as a critic of the government in issues that it finds detrimental to the cause of the CSOs. The promotion of the agenda of the sectors were done within and outside of formal avenues offered by the government bodies.
The engagement of NCPC in partnership with the city government institutionalized people’s participation in the governance affairs of the city. More than the mandated partnership under the Empowerment Ordinance, both NCPC and the city government maximized the opportunities available for participation.
NCPC’s experience in partnering with the city government provides important insights for civil society groups and local government units. While the experience of NCPC may not serve as an exact blueprint in moving towards and making the partnership work for both partners, it however introduces the systems and processes that needs to be in placed to make the partnership work. It also shows that engaging the government in a partnership undertaking uses less of CSOs energies and resources and, at times, yields better result than traditional modes of engagement. For local governments, enjoining people’s participation facilitates dentification and implementation of client-focused and demand-driven services.