BUKIDNON VIEWS LIFE IN THE PLATEAU: ‘Some people’s republic’



‘Some people’s republic
By Walter I. Balane

Today, the buzzword is participatory or open governance. But in practice the local government is still a closed, locked, and well guarded hall of power.
You can see and hear a lot of public servants who are trapped in the dungeons of traditional governance, the ones espoused by traditional politicians and “engots”.
A respectable elected official granted me an interview about their proposed budget.  The source gave me information any reporter would delight at. Of course I needed documents. I trusted the source for the apt memory, but not mine or my notes. Besides, I also needed a print out. Verification does not mean we don’t trust, it’s just that we need to see, we need to check, we need to do our job as eyewitness.

I’ve asked for a copy of the proposed budget. Since the official’s copy of the document already had marginal notes, the official declined. But I have to give it to the official, who found a way to secure me a copy.

That’s what brought me to the office’s records section where ‘lightning’ struck me.
“Why? What will you do with the proposed budget?” The employee at the record’s section told me pointblank after I introduced myself and a staff vouched for me and the document I was requesting. The employee explained that I was the first journalist who asked for the proposed budget.
“Usually we give it when it’s already approved,” the employee said.
The person’s dedication to protect the interest of their office caught me. The employee also raised some doubts about the capacity of journalists to influence governance.  Then the source went on that some journalists flood negative thoughts on air. “It could discourage some people,” the employee added.
I agree that most news cast give bad news some prominence.  But if the bad news is based on what’s really happening then reporting it is not bad in itself. Of course, the case of “all bad news reportage” is pathetic, unprofessional.
At least, somehow I know from where the person is coming from. But for the frank and doubtful demeanor, I must say the employee needed more orientation on “customer service” and civil service.

I explained my work as a reporter and my goal to secure a copy of the public document for the information of their office’s real boss – the public.
“Why? If they would know the composition of the budget, could they help change it?” the employee added.

The question struck me hardest. The nerve, I said, of course just for my ears.

I thought of it not as a chop or a swipe on my face. It was an attack on democracy.

It’s not earthshaking, yes. But it’s alarming.
I believe it was a reflection of the person’s view of the way local or even national government is run. It was a view on democracy itself. It was a naked statement on the relationship between those in power and whom they serve.

It smelt of a view that those working in government, elected or appointed, have the sole responsibility in governance and the public is just a recipient of its services. This view smacks of feudalism and isolation and looks at the public as an outsider.
Who said that the proposed budget should not be released to the public? I find it sick and obsolete. The government is not only those inside city hall, the munisipyo or the Capitol!

The employee explained that she just wanted to release documents that are approved for release or that the requesting party was able to obtain formally. Ok, what excuse.
Yes there are limits to access to public documents. But the release of a proposed budget is not a matter of national security or one that causes grave threat!
In fact, putting barriers to access to information might cause more harm. Why should government officials be required to make public Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) and not the justices? Sorry, the impeachment hearing is audible. The impeachment, like the local measure of recall election, is so stressful.

Lack of access to information promotes exclusion. Hey, we are in a time when everybody is in, not out.

Whatever happened to the practice of participatory governance if the public would only know the budget after approval?  “Maglurat na lang lugar ang ilang mata?”

Ideally, the budget process should involve widest multi-sectoral participation. It must pass through the test of pluralism – to prove that it includes every sector.

But if the budget is produced only from the whims and imagination of the local finance committee composed of the mayor or the governor, the budget officer, the treasurer, the accountant, the local engineer, and the local planner; then the more reason it must be checked, not after but before approval.

This official who granted me an interview courageously pointed out that the chief executive’s proposed budget missed some sectors and pushed to include them. Good job!  Whether the chief executive accommodates, is another thing.
The local legislative council, too, must cease from becoming a stamping pad.
Otherwise, governance would only be “of some people, for some people, and by some people”.
(Bukidnon Views is the opinion section of Bukidnon News. Walter I. Balane is editor in chief of Bukidnon News. Life in the Plateau is the author’s column since 2007. React at your own risk via waltzib@gmail.com).


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