Citizen Participation

This year in the country saw quite a few Bills that enacted or not will impact on Filipinos, now and years to come. These are the Reproductive Health Bill, the Land Use Bill, the Anti-Cyber Crime Bill (which was recently made into law but with some protestations after), the Sin Tax Bill on tobacco products (cigarettes), the Freedom of Information Bill.

All of these to benefit the people so it is said.

But whose voices are heard/being heard, and to add, the loudest and the longest on these issues/Bills? And therefore whose agenda and priorities are catered/being catered to?

There was a time in national governance when there were formal avenues e.g. referendum where the voices and minds – vote – of the people (when I say people, it’s people at the base of governance: those in the 42,207 villages/barangays of the country) on national issues were publicly heard and so directly influenced provisions of national policies to the extent that these affect them.

Let’s take the example of parenting to provide a parallel situation. Many parents choose for some period of time the food their children eat and the kind of clothes they wear because young children had to depend on their adult caregivers to do this. But not for all time otherwise the parents who still do the choosing of clothes their 16-year old wear are labelled as tyrants and worse the parents (who think they’re doing this for the good of their child) end up with a rebellious, overly-dependent, or maybe even an apathetic 16-year old. Underlying this is the negotiation for power – one side (parents) have to give up some in order that the other side (the teenaged-child) can acquire and exercise some on his/her own. I believe that the reason why many adults here can’t seem to exercise adequate social responsibility (i.e. self-governance) is that they’ve not been “gifted” with the power to be responsible early on. Like late bloomers in love, they are just starting to imbibe social responsibility at the age of 40 or perhaps never (giving credence to “old dogs can’t learn new tricks”).

So it is with governance.

On top of the politically-charged question of whose voices are being heard in national decisions is the fact that because talking and thinking about what to do with national problems are made by the few at the top, the nation is consigned to a heavy bottom who are conspicuously silent and going about their ways as if they’re in an altogether different planet.

The absence of what “the bottom” has to say on these national issues/Bills is manifested by the delayed reaction to the Anti-Cyber Crime Law – where were these voices when it was still a Bill?

Same with the RH Bill, even when now there is this substitute RH Bill. Where are the people? On the pill while the issue is being hotly debated, I bet. In the past months in the villages for external studies I tried to casually bring up the subject in side conversations – what do they think about the Bill? I got myself a consistent response. Villagers laugh and tell me, sila lang naman sa taas ang nagkakaproblema sa RH. Dito sa baba meron ng serbisyo. Kung gusto ng magasawa na gumamit e di gumamit sila kung ayaw e di hwag pilitin. Maayos naman dito (it’s those at the top who are having issues over RH because services are already available here. If a couple wants to avail of the service they’re free to do so, if not, no one is forcing them to. It’s (RH is) working here.)

Knowing this, what could be the implication of statements such as this from citizens on the provisions and direction of the Bill?

When the people speak and their voices heard, the overall effect is as if the sky is cleared of haze and the sign on the road made obvious and clear.

The current government should revive or open up formal avenues for citizen participation in governance. As with parents who’ve adult children now, they find that the responsible parenting and child development strategy is to let in at some point the children into the family’s decision-making process.

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