MANILA, Philippines – Strangers gathering together at a coffee shop to talk about politics and government. Sounds like a meeting of conspiracy theorists? Far from it.
About 25 good governance advocates gathered on Thursday, March 13, 2014 for the #BeTheBoss meet up organized by Rappler’s MovePH and Bantay.PH at Yardstick Coffee in Makati City. A first of its kind, the meet up was aimed at discussing why corruption prevails in our society and how citizens can be a part of the solution.
Here is the story of what happened that night and how it all began with…
I’m Zak Yuson, head of citizen journalism at Rappler. I’m a big believer in challenging conventional thinking and coming up with out-of-the-box solutions to age-old problems. At MovePH, we want to help the public harness the potential of social media to make a positive difference in their communities. Which is why I got excited when Bantay.PH went to Rappler one day and told us about their citizen audit program.
And I’m Happy Feraren, co-founder of Bantay.PH. I’ve always wanted to work with Rappler because I agreed with their whole approach on affecting social change and what they stood for. I felt a collaboration was in place because mobilization was always a challenge for us. “Good governance” is a hard advocacy to sell. It’s such an abstract concept, but I know the clamor is there. I mean who doesn’t want a country that works? Yet, explaining the kind of work we do to others proved to be a challenge. People usually tune out the moment I say “good governance” but when I met Zak he got it, straight away (as in like finishing each other’s sentences type). And it was so refreshing. They seemed to be experts on “selling” tough issues.
Why not meet up?
In the relatively short time since Rappler was formed, MovePH has been able to work with student leaders throughout the country through our Move Chat Series. Often, the students ask us what else they can do aside from starting online advocacies. Bantay.PH’s citizen audit program was a good start for people who wanted to take online action offline.
Our volunteers in Bantay.PH usually come from our school partners. Summer was coming up so that meant no fieldwork for 2-3 months. It was also becoming hard to find school partners. We thought, “Why not open it up to the general public?”
But, we wondered, would this be something interesting for working professionals as well? So, we thought we could “test the waters” by organizing a meet up of people who are concerned about increasing government transparency and accountability.
What’s the big fuss about?
Ask any Filipino what problems we have in the Philippines and, for sure, corruption will come out. It’s real, it’s everywhere, and it’s very annoying. We’ve tolerated it to the point of apathy. We allow it to happen because “it’s always been that way.” By doing so, we’ve become part of the problem.
We all know the cliche, “kung walang korupt, walang mahirap” but we might have varying ideas of how corruption impacts on society. We often associate corruption and the lack of accountability with national politics that involve big scams and personalities. But we tend to overlook that corruption at the local level has just as damaging an effect as its national counterpart.
We think that it’s okay to pay a small bribe and that it’s part of the process to get things done. But it’s not. And the best thing of all is that the constitution is on our side. We have all these rights that we’re not necessarily aware of when we want to get things done. So imagine the power of something so simple as knowing your rights. The vision is to have citizens respond with “Can I see if that fee is listed in the Citizen’s Charter?” when a government officer asks for a “facilitation fee.” It’s one concrete way to hold officials accountable. The small things are a reflection of what happens on a larger scale. So if we don’t tolerate it in the small scale, we won’t tolerate it in the large scale.
And small things add up to big things. In a 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index report by Transparency International, the Philippines ranks 94th out of 177 countries in the world for perceived corruption. Although this was an improvement from 2012, it shows we still have a long way to go.
What did the vox (populi) say?
To be honest, I was a bit nervous that no one would show up. “Good governance” isn’t such a great reason to meet strangers. I was pleasantly proven wrong, however, when people started to file into Yardstick Coffee for the meet-up. All in all we were 25 people. There were a few students but most of us that night were working professionals!
We talked about “good governance” and “bad governance,” and what it meant for the everyday Filipino. Ernest Calayag, founder of WikiPangako said bad governance is when the government does not deliver on its mandate to protect the public. Ser Peña-Reyes of the Makati Business Club said that bad governance results in “market distortions,” which is basically a fancy way of saying that it screws up with our developing economy by giving undue advantage to some at the expense of others.
When asked if citizens could do something to address bad governance, many said “yes!”
“If we will give up on it, who else will do it?” said Ernest. He added, “those who have the capacity to do something (about corruption) should speak up and take action.”
It’s difficult to imagine what an individual can possibly do to fight corruption and push for good governance. The problem seems so far away and complex even if we encounter it on a daily basis. But for me, it’s simple. You don’t need to be a lawyer, a politician, a public administration graduate, a social worker, or an expert to know what’s good or bad. I mean, by virtue of being a Filipino living in the Philippines you are technically an expert on corruption! The idea was to get the message across that you can do something about it. That things don’t have to be the way they are. So we wanted to bring like-minded people together, to encourage the positive and pro-active attitude.
Corruption affects all of us and people really want to do something about it. The event was an opportunity to discover how exactly. The mere fact that people signed up for it and showed up was an indication of their commitment to start participating in something more meaningful. I was so worried. I kept asking myself if this is what people wanted and I was scared no one would show up but they did!
The challenge now is to keep them engaged. What now? If the work gets results – like an LGU complying with our recommendations, then great. But if not, people might give up. If the results are too small, people might get impatient and just move on. We need a total buy-in from our volunteers. It’s hard work of course and determination is key.
MovePH will continue to build a network of advocates and citizen journalists to keep our government accountable as part of our ongoing #BudgetWatch initiative. We will continue to partner with Bantay.PH and other groups who are doing amazing things on the ground. We’ve already started a Facebook Group for volunteers who can spend a few hours of their time this summer on a citizen audit program. (Join the MovePH Community by signing up today!)
The idea is to get enough volunteers to cover the 17 cities of Metro Manila to check how compliant they are with the Anti-Red Tape Act. We also want to check that the procedures and services are carried out in an open and honest manner. The data that we’ll get from the activity will reveal to us which LGUs sincerely care about their constituents.
We also want to build an “army of advocates” that will keep the conversation going online and offline. We need to get it out there that things can be done and that there’s such a thing as good governance. But first we need to show that we care. Make noise about it and take a pro-active stance. Instead of ranting and criticizing all the time, we want people to know what they can do. As we say, “Don’t hate, participate!” – Rappler.com
The #BeTheBoss group will be having a series of online and offline activities in the coming months.
Missed this meet-up but want to join? Send us an e-mail and we’ll add you to our Facebook group so you can make it to our next meet-up.
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