13 January 2016

SILAG Voters Education

In the Diocese of Legazpi, the voters education module for the 2016 elections is called “SILAG”. Silag is a Bikol word that means “transparent”. It also stands for “Social Initiative for Local Accountability in Governance”, the overall program framework for people’s empowerment and good governance advocacy of the Social Action Center (SAC). The SILAG brand, already present in a few SAC Legazpi projects such as partnerships with line agencies and local government units, and capacity-building trainings for grassroots organizations, now extends to its Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) election campaign.

In crafting this module, we applied some lessons learned from our long institutional track record in community organizing and election advocacy, and drew inspiration from other voters education projects. The result is a campaign whose methodology expands from the usual moralistic preaching into a more audience-driven learning, whose advocacy transcends beyond the elections into the much broader arenas of good governance and people empowerment, whose support structure improves upon the current stand-alone PPCRV model into a synergistic movement that maximizes the strengths of the Church’s structure and network, including its partners in government and civil society.

Session 1, “Kita Man an Dangogon (Let Them Listen to Us this Time): Setting-up a People’s Local Governance Agenda”. We thank Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan’s “Kuwentuhang Bayan” for articulating our kindred desire to make the election season not just an exercise in discerning the qualifications of candidates but also in raising the quality of dialogue between candidates and voters by encouraging communities to express their own agenda of pressing community concerns and the common good, instead of just waiting for candidates to present their platforms of government.

Session 1's objective will be accomplished by PPCRV units when they gather the output of all vote-ed workshops conducted in parishes in a city or municipality into easy-to-remember five, seven or ten-point agenda, and present them to candidates for adoption in their respective platforms. The adopted local community agenda in turn will be the basis for measuring and demanding accountability from winning candidates as they take on the task of governance later.

Session 2, “May Marhay Magsayuma (It’s Better to Say No): Challenging Barriers to Empowerment and Good Governance”. We are also grateful for the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) “One Good Vote” module for the consistent and impassioned campaign against vote-buying and selling. We adapted the “One Good Vote” spirit into our local language and setting in order to come up with a session that challenges the most resistant barriers to HOPE (honest, orderly and peaceful elections), such as public cynicism, vote buying, and political dynasty.

The participants’ commitment against vote-buying is reinforced with a sticker campaign in homes, offices, and vehicles. The sticker says: “Kami Pamilyang Kristiyano, Dai Nababakal an Boto” (We are a Christian Family, Our Votes are Not for Sale).

Session 3, “Banwaan Pagturuwangan (Solidarity for Community Development): Promoting People’s Participation in Local Governance. To this mix, we add the message that this election need not be a zero-sum game if your favored candidates don’t get to win; that PPCRV volunteers need not easily despair in case vote-buying becomes rampant and massive again despite their best efforts; and that no matter what happens, the election season still opens up windows of opportunity for genuine people’s participation in local governance – provided we do our part.

Session 3 raises awareness on various participatory mechanisms, especially provisions in the Local Government Code for non-government and civil society organizations’ participation in local development councils (at least 25% CSO membership) and local special bodies. Section 108 of R.A. 7160 mandates that “within a period of 60 days from the start of organization of local development councils, the nongovernmental organizations shall choose from among themselves their representatives to said councils”. The session also includes information on the Bottom-Up Budgeting initiative and the Local Poverty Reduction Action Team (50% CSO membership).

SAC Legazpi intends to follow-up its PPCRV campaign with post-election projects and activities within the SILAG framework such as organizing, accreditation assistance, and capacity-building of grassroots groups, so they can effectively participate in and influence local governance processes.

In a big picture perspective, elections are part of the value-chain of good governance. The other parts of the chain include policy-making and the budget process, people’s participation, transparency and accountability, and effective and efficient service delivery, among others. The clearer we recognize the role of elections in this value-chain, the better for our people to get the best value out of it, which means making elections truly a means for sustainable community development, inclusive growth, and nation-building. This should be the end game of any voters education project.

12 January 2016

Seven Developmental Works of Mercy

In Misericordiae Vultus, the bull of indiction or official decree for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy this 2016, Pope Francis reaffirms the central value of mercy for the Church. “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love” (MV 10). Further, He asked that the 2016 Jubilee Year be a time to reflect upon and live out both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

In light of this mandate, the recently concluded Diocesan Anti-Poverty Summit – the culmination of the Year of the Poor in the Diocese of Legazpi – framed our Local Church’s anti-poverty development agenda according to the so-called Seven Developmental Works of Mercy. These are the following:

Goal 1: Improve health-seeking behavior and access to quality healthcare among the poor

Goal 2: Strengthen initiatives to improve quality of life through education

Goal 3: Provide opportunities for socio-economic development for the poor

Goal 4: Protect the rights and dignity of women, children, the unborn, and other vulnerable sectors

Goal 5: Promote genuine people’s participation in good governance

Goal 6: Care for our common home and build safe and resilient communities

Goal 7: Strengthen institutions that care for the poor and foster collaboration for development

Why developmental? Development refers to the transformation of societies and people’s quality of life, taking into account complex and intersecting realities, and often involving long-term goals. When development puts the protection of natural ecosystems as a priority so that providing for the needs of the present would not be at the expense of future generations, it is called “sustainable development”. In the language of the Church, when development pertains to the growth of human persons and communities in all aspects of life – physical, social, economic, moral, spiritual, etc. – it is called “integral development”.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical Caritatis in Veritate, he devotes an entire section to expound on Pope Paul VI’s body of social teachings on the Church’s engagement in the work of development. For Pope Benedict XVI, “testimony to Christ's charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person. These important teachings form the basis for the missionary aspect of the Church's social doctrine, which is an essential element of evangelization” (CV 15).

The Seven Developmental Works of Mercy is a local initiative. It does not cover the entirety of the Church’s varied and vast social apostolate. Rather, it is based on a reflection of the diocese’s current programs and capacity for development work, and more importantly, on the needs of poor and marginalized people within its jurisdiction. It may sound like a recent innovation, but it is actually situated well within the Church’s tradition of social teaching and action.

Next steps after the summit are the following: organize clusters of collaboration around each developmental work of mercy, and build the capacities of institutions and partnerships in order to realize their respective goals; define further key result areas, social indicators, and viable targets; and craft needed policies and an overall action plan. Once finished this will take the form of a Diocesan Anti-Poverty Development Action Plan until 2021. These processes will take place in 2016 and within the context of the Second Diocesan Pastoral Assembly (DPA 2) – the second wave of diocesan-wide consultation, reflection, and planning to come up with a pastoral strategic plan for the period of 2017 to 2021.

However, these necessarily technical processes should not overwhelm the essence of the developmental works of mercy: that is, the Local Church practicing what it preaches about the Gospel demand to take care of the least, the last, and the lost, and becoming the Church of the Poor.

As always, the words of Pope Francis inspires our efforts. “In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!” (MV 15).

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half–truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed
for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in their world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.