Negros Occidental

New measure gives civil society groups legislative voice in Himamaylan city council

Erwin Delilan

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New measure gives civil society groups legislative voice in Himamaylan city council

HIMAMAYLAN CITY HALL. The seat of government of Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental.

courtesy of Dr. Ronnie Baldonado

The new rule, in effect, allows citizens in the Negros Occidental city to perform some tasks that were previously exclusive to lawmakers

BACOLOD, Philippines – Legislators in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, have approved a measure to enhance transparency and civil society participation in local governance. This, in effect, allows citizens in Himamaylan to perform some tasks that were previously exclusive to lawmakers.

The city’s legislature amended its internal rules to expand the role of civil society organizations in legislative affairs, mandating that all committees of the city council include representatives of such groups in the deliberation, conceptualization, and evaluation of proposed city laws, said Himamaylan Vice Mayor Justin Gatuslao on Tuesday, June 18.

Under the new rule, approved on June 11, proposed measures must pass through committee hearings where non-government stakeholders from accredited organizations can actively participate.

Gatuslao said representatives of accredited groups can offer suggestions and recommendations, which must be recorded before city laws are endorsed and approved by the city council.

Himamaylan’s civil society organizations, however, need to secure accreditation with the city government to participate in committee hearings.

The amendment also institutionalized a policy based on safe space in governance principles, ensuring stakeholders can communicate freely and confidently during city council committee deliberations, similar to local legislators.

Gatuslao said the measure was an offshoot of the Cities for Enhanced Governance and Engagement (CHANGE) project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), implemented to increase public engagement in local governance.

“It’s a public participation initiative to empower citizens by increasing their engagement in local governance processes,” he said.

Representatives of civil society groups need to attest that they participated in the committee. “Otherwise, the measures considered cannot be forwarded for consideration by the Sangguniang Panlungsod during its sessions,” Gatuslao said.

He noted that citizen participation in governance is mandated by the 1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code of 1991.

Sections 23, Article II of the Constitution provides that the state “shall encourage non-governmental, community-based, or sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation.” 

Under Section 34 of the Local Government Code, local governments are mandated to “promote the establishment and operation of people’s and non-governmental organizations to become active partners in the pursuit of local autonomy.”

Edwin Balajadia, area manager for the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), lauded the initiative as a major development in local legislation and good governance. PRRM is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing rural communities’ capacity for sustainable development.

Rusty Biñas, founder of the local environmental watchdog Green Alert Network (GAN), also welcomed the initiative, noting that the Local Government Code encourages meaningful participation through Local Development Councils (LDCs) but lacks specific mandates for citizens’ participation.

With the new measure in place in Himamaylan, Gatuslao said he is optimistic that citizens will be encouraged to take ownership of local policies and legislative and decision-making processes at city hall. – Rappler.com

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