For a petite woman, Bulacan governor Josefina dela Cruz packs a lot of dynamism and passion, not to mention, sense. Unlike the traditional politicians who want their constituents to be heard only come election time, Governor dela Cruz is feedback-crazy. “Ang hirap sa politico, napapaligiran kami ng mga sipsip. Hindi tuloy namin nalalaman kung ano ang tama. (Our problem as politicians is that we are surrounded by people who always want to please us. We have no way of knowing what’s right.),” she says.
These people, she says, understandably have their own vested interests and agendas. They isolate the politicians from their constituency, and render policy making a hit-or-miss affair. “We wanted something more scientific… The sentiment of those who speak is not necessarily the sentiment of those who choose to be quiet. So our dilemma is, how do we know what the people really want?” she argues.
Under the Constituent Responsive Governance project, the Bulacan provincial government used the survey research method to get a truly representative citizen’s feedback on projects. By doing so, chances for costly mistakes are minimized.
Four programs and projects were pre-tested: the health insurance program, solid waste disposal, feedback on real property tax billing statement, and the acceptability of a community radio. In each case, the provincial government found that the surveys lessened the chance for mistakes.
A case in point is health insurance. The survey showed only 35% of Bulacan households were aware of what health insurance was all about yet some were still not insured. This showed the need for a health insurance system in the province. However, respondents were concerned about the premiums they have to shell out every month and the extent of coverage for beneficiaries. Thus, they were also polled on the price they were willing to pay for health insurance.
Based on these findings, the provincial government launched on February 24, 2000 the “Medicare Para Sa Masa, Kalusugan Mo Katulong Ako” program. The local government, however, chose not to heed one of the findings in the survey: for the province to set up its own health insurance system instead of getting Philhealth, the national healthcare provider.
Two years after the program was launched, the provincial government realized the high cost it is paying for Philhealth premiums. The governor now regrets the decision to go on with the program against the findings of the survey.
Another poll was on the acceptability of the community radio station. Through pre-testing, the provincial government found out that while most Bulakeños get their information from the radio, they tune in to stations that have music, as well as news and information. This enabled the provincial government to change the station’s programming to suit its constituency’s tastes and lifestyles.
Through the survey research method, Bulacan has placed project planning into a higher plane, one that sets aside political interests.
“Surveys make decisions apolitical,” Governor dela Cruz says. Proof that it is not politically costly, she says, is the fact that “I’m still here.”