‘Keeping the government honest is a shared responsibility’

Happy Feraren
It takes people to run a government, and people to keep it in check

They say we live in a democracy. And many national symbols and activities, from our raising of the flag to our election process, try to remind us that in fact we are democratic. We’ve covered all the big things, ticked all the boxes in the checklist: electorate, constitution, representatives per district, national healthcare, social security, son of a “democratic icon” as a president, freedom to practice whatever religion we please, no curfews, etc. 

Yet, when it comes to the smaller things that probably actually matter more to the people: public space, transport system, a friendly economy for SMEs, access to information, and public service – it suddenly doesn’t feel like a democracy. We are trapped in intricate webs of inefficiency and distrust. It makes us question what the bureaucracy is there for in the first place? Is it there to be a self-serving institution or a vehicle of public service?

Longterm thinking

When we say “democracy” we define it by saying the word “people” three times: ‘a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ Though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it, in the democratic equation, people should be a dominant force. And at the same time, when people point fingers at government saying it’s all their fault, we fail to recognize the “by the people” part and acknowledge that we are actually part of the problem.

People power is often associated with a single event in history. An act of protest, going out in the streets and telling those in power that we’ve had enough. But what if we could use that same power to actually prevent ourselves from getting fed up? Harnessing that same concern and care for the nation to have an efficiently run country? In other words, working towards prevention rather than just treating the symptoms. 

People power should not be a one-time thing, nor should it be partisan or politically driven. And though always gloriously portrayed, “People Power” actually entails very hard work.  

What I can do -vs- What they’re supposed to do

In the citizen monitoring space, a lot of civil society organizations (CSOs) have come to realize that many of the problems our developing nation has can be solved by people themselves. But first, ‘the people’ need to care, get involved and participate. (READ: MovePH launches #BudgetWatch)

When I, together with a friend of mine, formed Bantay.ph a little over a year ago, we came in with big dreams and high hopes. We wanted to fight the problem of government corruption. We spent two months just meeting with people to see what’s already being done so as not to replicate any efforts. We found that it was easier to navigate through the big web of bureaucracy and get results if we didn’t antagonize government. Because much as we find it hard to believe, there are good people working in government. Government is not limited to the politicians or elected officials we often see in the news. This institution is actually run by many hardworking Filipinos who choose public service as their career path and who also want you to win in the battle for good governance. 

We didn’t want to get stuck in the blame game. We didn’t want to point fingers and say “they’re supposed to do this and that,” so instead we focused on what we could do, as regular citizens. Before we demand good governance, we must be good citizens.



Open government

In 2011, the Philippine government signed an Open Government Partnership Agreement with 7 other partner countries. It is an international platform that essentially encourages government to be more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. 

And so when government opens their doors, we should walk right in and look at how they are governing, managing, and building the country. How do they imagine the country to be?
 
Citizens are the end users of government services and it is only right that we have a say in how they run their offices. Our feedback should be valued as much as they value getting budget approvals. Currently, government offices are evaluated by other government offices and any feedback from the public is lost in a pile of answered surveys. With no one to monitor if any of these suggestions are being implemented, reform will naturally move at a slow pace. 

We need to show them that we actually care and that we don’t tolerate bad governance. What we want to do is to improve public service from bottom up. When we demand accountability at this level, we won’t stand for flimsy excuses like “I was not aware my signature was forged.”  We need to strengthen the culture of social accountability, where everyone does their part. We must clean the air and create an atmosphere for good governance to prevail. A culture like this produces responsible active participants of nation building and gives the power back to the people. – Rappler.com

Bantay.ph is a youth based good governance movement. We are a civil service organization that aims to uplift the standard of government service. We get volunteers to monitor government service in different frontline government offices and give feedback to their local government units. Specifically, volunteers monitor compliance of the Anti Red Tape Act (ARTA) which serves as the service standard for all government offices that offer frontline services. These include services like getting your driver’s license from the LTO, passport from DFA, Business Permits from the LGUs, applying for a PhilHealth membership, and filing with the BIR to name a few. (READ: Things I learned in fighting corruption)

Happy Feraren co-founded Bantay.ph with her long time friend Henry Motte-Munoz a little over a year ago. They incorporated under the Makati Business Club’s Coalition Against Corruption after deciding that they were fed up with corruption in the country and wanted to actually do something about it. She is also an improv theater actress with the group SPIT (Silly People’s Improv Theater). She finished a degree in Literature at De La Salle University-Manila before pursuing a career in advertising production as an Assistant Director. She has diverse local and international experience in the fields of education, tourism, broadcasting, HR training and theater.

Join the MovePH and Bantay.ph meet-up on March 13, 2014 to discuss how we can make the government more accountable. Sign up here