The Social Reform Agenda

The Social Reform Agenda


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Part 2: The Equalizer

The Equalizer was an old TV series starring Edward Woodward. I used the same title for an article on the Social Reform Agenda which I wrote for a leading NGO’s publication when the SRA was just starting to mobilize practically the whole government bureaucracy (ca. 1995). Now I’m using it again to (hopefully) persuade local government executives in Negros Oriental to consider the lessons from the SRA’s implementation back in the 1990s. This is because, as FVR said, the LGUs have “the first contact with poverty.”

At the core of the SRA’s convergence strategy is the Minimum Basic Needs approach. The MBNs are grouped under three broad categories: Survival needs (food and nutrition; water and sanitation; health; and clothing); Security needs (income and livelihood; shelter and housing; peace and order; and public safety); Enabling or Empowering needs (basic education/functional literacy; family/psycho-social care; and participation in community affairs). These are the basic services that LGUs are obliged to deliver to all their constituents. The self-applied MBN surveys by households in barangays let the LGUs know which basic services were needed, and should therefore be prioritized.

Since the SRA is no longer a national program, there is no more need for the localization strategy – the adjustment of national policies and programs to better suit the peculiar demands and conditions or nuances of local communities and sectors. This assumes that such local demands and needs are in fact already being addressed by local governments, proceeding from local initiatives sourced in the 20percent development fund of LGUs, as well as the existing and available national programs. These include agrarian reform, fisheries programs, health programs, ancestral domains and other environmental protection initiatives, etc.

The convergence strategy, on the other hand, is the close coordination and synchronization of government interventions to bear upon specific problems in a locality. It entails vertical and horizontal linkages that funnel and focus government efforts and resources. This approach is still being used in the Agrarian Reform Communities. Any government program or project that involves multiple partners or agencies and various levels uses the convergence strategy to some degree or another. But the driving force of all these efforts comes from the participation and involvement of the beneficiaries themselves. The LGUs invariably take up the cudgels for these beneficiaries, who are their constituents. This is what FVR’s bibingka method was all about – bibingka is cooked with fire above (the national political and development thrusts) and fire below (the social pressure from beneficiaries of government programs and projects).

If the 557 barangays of Negros Oriental check out in terms of basic services delivery (whether according to the MBNs or LGUs’ checklists or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), it means that the province’s human development index should be at a high level. Other poverty indicators such as income levels may still be generally low, but at least with basic services needs being met, the quality of life in the barangays should be at acceptable levels. Now if we have to connect all this with the Millennium Development Goals, it’s the same banana. Perhaps the Province’s (website) profile could more directly reflect these quality of life indicators to complement all those comparative socio-economic statistics.

This development outcome in the province (including municipalities and cities, of course) is what would “equalize” local citizens: the primary quality of life is the same across all sectors and communities on the basis of the availability of basic (social) services. During the SRA’s implementation, its localization and convergence strategies and the core MBN approach brought the “war” on poverty from the level of national policy and political rhetoric to the level of local governance and communities (barangays).

The provincial leadership may take a look at the records of SRA implementation in Negros Oriental. There may still be some gaps remaining, but if these can be addressed and integrated into the current local development thrusts and priorities, then this will add a new twist to that Ubuntu saying, “I am who I am because of who we all are.”

Carlos Bueno
[email protected]

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