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.

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