Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Two Cases of Government Responsiveness

With the bad things that happened with government service delivery these days – from tanim-bala to market fires due to bad cables – it is easy to be swayed to the opinion that this government can never do right, and that everything in the Philippine government, whether local or national, are all wrong.  If facebook posts and tweets are measures of the opinion of the “connected” Filipino nation (which, by the way, comprises only around 40% of the total population), it  seems that the general sentiment is that this country is so badly-governed that entertainment is a happy escape from the current mess we are in. 

But often we forget that there are also many good things going on in this country’s government.  I do not want to be an apologist of the government but I want to speak of two experiences where I can say that as a citizen, I have benefitted from government’s willingness to protect the interest of its citizens and from government’s responsiveness to an ordinary citizen’s questions and concerns.

Case 1: The Case of Smart Communications
I am a post-paid subscriber of Smart Communications for almost 10 years now and I have not had significant complaints regarding billing until 2013. I went to South Africa on a business trip and when I came back I was surprised to get a billing of around 80K Php when I got back because of data charges.  I wrote to Smart that I have not used data while abroad and the giant telco that it is, it never cared to reply.

So I wrote to DTI’s Consumer Protection and Advocacy Division with this long letter, which explains in full detail my allegation. I was prompted to seek the assistance of DTI because Smart never cared about my rights as a consumer and threatened to cut off my subscription unless I paid, and that if I continue to question the charges, they will hand my account to the legal department for collection and appropriate legal action.

The letter above is self-explanatory.  When CPAD received the letter, it forwarded my concern to the National Telecommunications Commission, who has jurisdiction over the complaint.  Smart responded with a call from its customer relations and sent letters implying that they are doing an investigation.  For more than 10 months, Smart slept on my complaint and at some points insisted on the validity of their chargers and cutting my subscription.  For the many times that Smart did, I wrote to CPAD for support. CPAD again wrote to NTC copying Smart and my line came alive again. This occurred for more than twice until I wrote the following letter to NTC.

In the subsequent letters related to this one, I wrote to the DTI and NTC that I would like to seek advice as to what legal action I can take. It was during this time that Smart responded positively, and finally erased the charges, saying it was goodwill reduction. To this day, I still maintain that I did not use data services as I use WIFI connection for data tasks in all my trips overseas.  Smart does not have the right to charge me, so they do not have anything to reduce. 

I should credit CPAD for the responsiveness though NTC fell short of my expectations.  It is important to be mindful, that it’s not only government that has the capacity to oppress. As my experience suggested, business giants are more positioned to disadvantage consumers.  This even excludes how Telco companies sell our data even without our consent.

Case 2: The case of Tagbilaran City Government
Two months ago, I wrote in this blog about the failure of the City Government of Tagbilaran to use its Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund.  The blog entry might have reached the office of the city mayor that weeks after, Matthew Nemenzo, the mayor’s Chief of Staff emailed me the following:

I emailed Mr. Nemenzo several times after this, clarifying for example some items in the email above. Mr. Nemenzo was very responsive, and even corrected some of the information that he already gave.  It just seemed surreal to me, that a blog writer like me, who expected that no one reads his entries, got the attention of the highest public official in the city.

I should say that this is the first time that this happened to me, after writing many times about issues concerning Bohol. I should commend the city administration of Mayor Yap for being responsive though I also recommend that more proactive discussions should be done with civil society organizations on issues and concerns concerning Tagbilaran city residents be done in the future.


According to Besley and Burgess (2000:1), “a more informed and politically active electorate strengthens incentives for governments to be responsive”.  My experience provides evidence that such is so.  The implication therefore is that when we want to complain to government, we need to bring with us information on why we complain, the basis of what we are complaining about, and the reason why government should respond.  Armed with these tools, only a government who does not want to be accountable will turn a deaf ear. 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Some Questions on Justice

Image courtesy of http://www.sacrecoeur-nsw.org.au/images/SCAImages/People/Social%20Justice/social-justice-300x284.gif
The “twisted ruling” of the Supreme Court, granting bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile for a non-bailable case, and purportedly finding a constitutional basis to do so, showed once again how justice bends to the will of the powerful and the mighty.  One part of the story is the ability of the rich to engage better lawyers and build a stronger case (Lopez, 2009). Another part of the story is the potential for justices to exhibit partiality in exchange for a sum of money, or in order to side with the powers that be.

This brings me to an important question that I think every Boholano needs to answer – What do we mean by just?  When do we say that something is just?  How can we say that justice has been served?  I will not attempt to answer these questions here, but add some more, using recent events in Bohol as a basis for framing the questions.

  • Question 1:  Is the killing of supposedly “drug pushers” justified? 
Several people were killed last year in the province and their murders remain unsolved to this day. Radio news commentators talk about these victims as involved in the drug trade and their deaths caused by internal conflicts among people engaged in the same business. The general sentiment of the people who called the news anchors in one morning show was that the death of “drug pushers” was justified and that a trial was no longer necessary – expressing dissatisfaction of the state of our criminal justice system.

This seeming lack of care of lost lives prompted Boholano cultural icon Marianito Luspo to write a short play entitled “Sa Umaabot nga Kangitngit” (The Impending Darkness). The play talks about an old woman and her granddaughter discussing about the murders happening in the community, with the old woman saying that the murder of suspected drug traders are justified, until she knew that her son and daughter-in-law were one of the victims.

  • Question 2:  Is it just for a local government unit not to spend disaster risk reduction and management funds?


The Bol-anon United Sectors Working for the Advancement of Community Concerns, as part of the outputs of the Enhancing Citizen Engagement with Open Government Data project, found out that only 11.83% of the City Government of Tagbilaran’s 61.8 million annual budget on disaster risk reduction and management in 2014 was spent. Further, they also found out that the 41M budget (part of the total DRRM total budget) on mitigation was also unspent for the same year. 



BUSWACC argued that the amount could have been spent for trainings on disaster preparedness, assistance for those affected by recent earthquake and typhoon (e.g. Senyang), or for local-planning on disaster risk reduction and management.  The fund could even be used for vulnerability assessment, given that the vulnerability of the city to natural disasters is high.  The Department of Interior and Local Government requires that 70% of the funds should be spent on early warning systems and preparedness equipments. The fund can also be used to spend for trainings, information campaigns and even post-disaster livelihood assistance.   


What do these questions (and our answers to them) highlight?

First, that most of the things that happen in our lives, at the personal and communitarian levels, present opportunities to be just or unjust. A tricycle ride, a conversation with a friend, a stroll at the park, raise questions regarding justice. John Rawls, one of those academics influential in framing social justice as a contract, defines justice in the spirit of fairness.  Thus, questions like are we giving the tricycle driver a fare fair enough fits into this conversation, and whether a fare imposed on the basis of a law or regulation is an important question in this respect.  

Secondly, how we view situations and how we act on them indicates the merger of our own personal views and the wider aspirations of the society we live in.  Like the justices deciding on Enrile's petition to bail, our decisions are biased to what our interests are, but also conditioned by the pressures we see from entities external to us. Thus, fairness may not seem to matter to some people until they become a victim of unjust structures.

Finally, justice is not a noun, it is a verb. By saying this, what I mean is that our action or inaction creates just or unjust situations.  A person with the capacity to dissent but chooses not to despite the oppressive condition he is in is unjust.  A local government unit with funds to spend for the good but does otherwise is unjust. A government that uses power to silence complaints is also unjust.  It is how we act or react to the events that happen in our lives that determines how just or unjust we have become.        

Saturday, 31 January 2015

A Concrete Road to Nowhere


First day of the year 2015, Arlen and I took a walk from our house in San Isidro, Tagbilaran City, Bohol, to the city public market in Dao to exercise and at the same time buy the week’s provision of fish, vegetables and rootcrops.  For quite a time, the road that connects Dao proper and Dao Lanao intersecting the national highway going to Corella has been closed to traffic. We have used this road before when it was still surfaced with asphalt.  We knew that the other half of the road which leads to the city public market in Dao was almost completed that we wondered what took the project so long to be finished and opened for public use.

So that we would have answers to our questions, we walked through the road. Apparently that portion near the national highway has not been touched yet, for one primary reason – there is a claimant of the property that has long been used as a public road.  After a well concreted road section, probably completed for months already, a makeshift fence stood,  indicating the words “private property”.  We climbed the fence (and we were sure we would have been liable of trespassing) – at the same time that we realized the danger of the action we also realized that the road that has been used for years as public road is apparently, private property. 

It baffled me first why the private claim over the road only surfaced now that the road is being concreted and why not before when it was still asphalted.  But it baffled me more why in the first place, the government proceeded with a road concreting project without resolving first the Road Right of Way (RROW) issue.

I was trying to get the perspective of people that own the property to be able to get the full story, but unfortunately, I was not given meaningful response to write about here.  I admit I also failed to get the name of the road project and who funds it. In the upcoming days I will get this information and update this post.

I tried also "googling" for road information and whether local media has picked this news up. Unfortunately, or maybe I was not just persistent enough, there seems to be no "web presence" of this road project pictured above.

According to Lalisan and Torralba (2012)

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) policy dictates that all national government road infrastructure projects, either funded using government funds or entered through public-private partnership, must acquire ownership of the road right of way before the issuance of the Notice of Award defined in the IROW Manual.

They further contended, referring to the province of Agusan del Sur, that

Right-of-way or ownership of the road right of way has been a long-standing problem and remains one of the hurdles in  infrastructure development in the (Philippines) since there is no policy or guideline that (local officials) can use in the acquisition of road right of way except to negotiate for donation. While the (local engineers) can ably do so in securing donors, it is constrained to take further steps to formalize the acquisition through the appropriate legal route due to budgetary limitations. 

It seemed that Bohol is suffering the same fate and this is why the road has become a concrete road to nowhere.  For those with information on this road project, will you please let us know where this will lead to?