Championing good governance at C. Valley’s doorsteps
SANTA FE, Nueva Vizcaya
Would-be couple Salvador Soliven, 37, and Rowena Ricaide, 29, felt so relieved as they walked out of the Santa Fe town hall one Wednesday afternoon. The bride, an overseas Filipino worker who hurriedly came home for her wedding preparations, wondered long it would take them to process and secure all requirements before they could be issued their marriage license. Ricaide, a native of Sudipen town in La Union, drearily set her mind to devote one week just to complete their purpose.
But much to the their delight, the couple was able to finish all requirements just two hours after they walked into the Local Civil Registrar’s office here. They were married on a sunny Monday morning, less than a week later.
The newly-wed couple are just among the hundreds who have reaped the benefits of what observers deemed a much-improved system of government service delivery in this upland town, best known only as the scenic mountain gateway to Cagayan Valley region.
The “quick-response” practice is embedded in Santa Fe’s Citizen’s Charter program, which outlines guidelines on how local government employees must respond to the needs of their constituents, especially those who troop to the town hall for various purposes.
“The charter mandates that a client should not wait idly for someone to attend to him for more than 15 minutes. In many of the offices, we require that under ordinary circumstances, a client should have been able to accomplish his purpose in that office within one hour,” explains second-term Mayor Florante Gerdan.
The Citizen’s Charter is just one of Gerdan’s “innovative” programs, which revolve around the principle of people participation in governance. Such programs opened doors for the mayor to be chosen as one of the seven new “Champions of Good Governance” by Kaya Natin!, cause-oriented movement which aims to “promote genuine and lasting change in our government by promoting transparency, social accountability, people empowerment and electoral reforms”.
He and six other local and government officials were formally installed on April 24 as new purveyors of good governance in the country, joining the brood of local leaders like governors Ed Panlilio of Pampanga, Grace Padaca of Isabela and Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao; Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City; and Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija.
The charter is one of the products of Gerdan’s participatory style of leadership, which centers on constant consultations and dialogues with the people of Santa Fe, its officials and employees, leaders of non-government organizations, religious groups, the schools, and other sectors. Many of them volunteers, they comprise what is now called PART–Panagtitimpuyog para ti Agnanayon nga Rang-ay dagiti Tattao (collaboration for lasting progress among the people), which maps out plans on how the town government can better help improve the lives of the common resident.
As a first step, consultations were made through the “summits” in the locality–a gathering of the town’s major role players and stakeholders–to discuss problems and to find solutions on three key areas: education, health and environment.
There was also the “development summit” where participants like tricycle drivers, farmers, or pupils’ parents, were allowed to air their grievances, as well as suggest solutions on any social issue confronting them, in a public forum attended by the mayor and other town officials.
“In these dialogues, the people get the chance to confront their officials about (issues like) the existence of ‘jueteng’ in their area, the proliferation of videoke bars, illegal logging in the town’s watershed area, and many others. We like it because we also get a chance to respond. We also get feedbacks about how our employees have been performing,” says Gerdan.
Today, Santa Fe leaders see their reformed bureaucracy as their crowning glory.
The town government’s road to reform began in 2004, during Gerdan’s first term as mayor. Faced with a bureaucratic system that was “steeped in the politics of patronage” and was “highly partisan, unwilling and uncooperative”, the neophyte mayor’s first challenge was how to make the local government and its workers responsive to the needs of the townspeople.
“We had difficulty instituting change because of political reasons. Naturally, people really resist change because for them, it is a painful process,” the retired Army Captain says, partly blaming his rigid leadership style that he has brought in from 11 years of service in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Besides, he was fighting an age-old practice, a conflict between the traditional against the non-traditional style of governance: one that purely revolved around doleouts and handouts as opposed to one that was anchored on consultation and participation among the people, the mayor says. Town employees who are staunch supporters of Gerdan’s political rivals resisted his programs.
“Naturally, it was at first difficult and painful to fight tradition and institute change that directly goes against tradition. But as time passed, we were able to convince (the skeptics in the local government) because they saw the positive effect; they saw the difference,” he says.
Santa Fe’s bureaucracy was then reactive and would not care less about work outputs, the mayor says. Many employees, especially those holding permanent status, were content on waiting for work to fall on their laps, uncaring as to how much they would accomplish for the day because after all, they get their salaries on pay day. As such, its services to its people suffered.
In 2007, the Santa Fe town government put up a personnel management system (PMS) that was envisioned to better monitor the performance of each employee and serve as a more accurate basis for promotions and giving of rewards to them.
Inspired by the prospects of better incentives, every employee now grabs every task as an opportunity to earn productivity points, with the smile and “thank you” of a pleased townmate as a welcome bonus, says 61-year old Edgar Dulawan, Santa Fe’s human resources officer.
“Nobody wants to stay idle; he or she must always have something to do; otherwise, he does not earn enough productivity points for that day,” he adds.
The points are added up, and at the end of the month, the employee that hs the most number of points gets the best performing employee of the month award. The prize: cash and a plaque of recognition.
The rewards get bigger for the yearend awards, says Rolando Carreon, an administrative assistant.
Department heads were also among the main subjects of Gerdan’s mission to cause a paradigm shift in the town government, transforming their “just-an-employee” mindset to being–and performing like–managers.
“By doing that they are empowered, so that now, they are the ones drafting already policies (while) I just guide them. They are now the ones assessing the performance of their employees. There are still a few who are not convinced, but we hope that in due time, they will join our cause,” he adds.
Santa Fe’s transformation is now a far cry from other local government offices in the province, where employees are normally arrogant and crabby, and are often seen loitering, or gossiping inside air-conditioned offices while making queuing clients languish for hours. As such, the Santa Fe PMS model is now being studied by the Civil Service Commission to make it as a possible template for other local governments, according to Gerdan.
With every employee “raring to go to work”, the workhorses behind Santa Fe’s reformed bureaucracy are slowly gaining the fruits of their labor, barely less than a year following the launch of the programs in 2008, such as the malnutrition rate dropping from a high of 204 cases to just 129, earning for them the best nutrition program for 2008 in the province. The local treasury has more than doubled its target of revenues from local taxes year.
On the agricultural front, Santa Fe has developed a system whereby farmers are allowed to acquire loans from the town’s coffers, to be paid upon harvest time. Farm inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, are given to the farmer only when they actually need them–a deviation from the old practice that all inputs are given to the farmer all at once at the start of each cropping season. This gets rid of a common practice among farmers who, instead of using the fertilizer for their farm, sell it to a fellow farmer for easy cash, the mayor says.
Employees from the town’s agriculture office, yearning to earn “productivity points” under the PMS system, closely monitor the farmer’s activities, from land preparation until he sells his produce in the market. The employee accompanies the farmer to the market to collect the former’s loan payment just as he receives the proceeds of the sale of his harvest.
“We have to instill in the mind of our constituents and our employees that just like in the private business sector, our town government should also be run like a corporation. Whenever government funds are spent, it should have (a return-on-investment) after it has helped its beneficiaries,” Gerdan says.
All these programs are outlined on the principle that delivering better services makes people pay their taxes, earning more income for the government, and in turn, to allow it to provide better benefits for its employees.
To address the age-old issue of poverty, Santa Fe has established the multi-sectoral anti-poverty council, which drafts plans and programs to be implemented by the local government, and leads the advocacy for residents to be part of the “revolution”.
“Part of this program is to urge residents to set up their own vegetable garden in their backyard, so that we can minimize expenses for food. But we can’t get people to do things unless we do it ourselves, so I, too have put up my own vegetable garden,” says Gerdan, as he shows the vast greenery of that dominate his 1-hectare lot in Barangay Consuelo here.
Gerdan is also pushing for the installation of more micro-hydro projects in communities, especially in remote upland areas that could not be serviced by the Nueva Vizcaya Electric Cooperative, Inc. With this project, water from creeks are stored and diverted to rotate a tubular device that serves as a small turbine, generating enough power to light up one household at nighttime. He has four at home.
The mayor’s passion to invent and innovate has infected residents like Patrick Fernando, 54, a mechanical engineer and former overseas Filipino worker, who has worked hand-in-hand with the local officials in crafting livelihood projects that are envisioned to help the people of Santa Fe.
Fernando’s inventions and discoveries range from the outright simple–such as a water wheel as a micro-hydro project, or an eggplant species grafted with the root stock of its wild variety to make it last for ten years–to the downright ambitious, such as a pneumatic device (a machine that is run by compressed air) which they plan to install on the highway in Sitio Zigzag here to generate electricity from the weight of passing vehicles.
“Ang maganda sa nagyayari ngayon dito sa Santa Fe ay lahat nagkakaroon ng pagkakataon na magsalita, sabihin at subukan kung ano ang para sa kanila ay makatutulong sa ikagaganda ng buhay ng lahat (What is nice about this present style of governance is everybody gets a chance to speak out, say and try out what they think would help to make the lives of the people better),” says Fernando, who owns Manang Ading restaurant here.
Seeing this, more non-government organizations as well as private corporations are coming to town to offer livelihood and social development projects, Gerdan says.
Businessmen like Filipino-Chinese Samuel Lorenzo Lu are giddy about the prospects of Santa Fe’s changing social and political landscape.
“In the 25 years of doing business here, I have never involved myself in the affairs of government the way I am these days. I realized how fulfilling it is to join this revolution and be involved,” says Lu, who runs the renowned Melvin’s Restaurant here.
The Santa Fe experience is a welcome sign that, amid the noise and the filth that dominates this country’s political system, this obscure town can lead the way in the field of good governance to provide a refreshing whiff of cool mountain air, very much like the feeling that it very often provides travelers.