"In a real democratic system, power resides in the people."
City Halls across the globe have a common trait: they are the seats of power. But in one corner of the Philippines called Naga City in Southern Luzon, a people empowerment program has made the City Hall a symbol of true democracy. The local government of Naga has adopted a People Empowerment Program (PEP) inspired by the People Power revolution that took place hundreds of miles away from the city in 1996. "The more substantive essence of People Power—the people's direct exercise of their sovereignty that toppled the Marcos dictatorship—has not been institutionalized," Naga City officials said.The city government thus took steps to complete this unfinished revolution in its own backyard.
Under the inspired leadership of Mayor Jesse Robredo, the city government has put in place a clear and comprehensive framework that allows its constituents to take active part in governance. Naguenos can, not only voice their concerns and suggestions to City Hall, but also act on various issues—from procurement to budgeting, to scuttling an initial plan of the local government to set up a golf course.
Getting 193 non-government and people's organizations to work together is no joke. But through the program, Mayor Robredo was able to institutionalize the Naga City People's Council (NCPC) which counts NGOs, POs, cooperatives, barangays, and everyone whose voices need to be heard, as members.
To show it is not just paying lip service to people empowerment, the city government passed Empowerment Ordinance No. 95-092, formalizing NCPC's creation and giving it teeth in policy-making. Members are chosen through an independent selection process, making sure that common folks usually marginalized by powerful political interests get to participate.
Constituents are able to vote wisely on issues through an effective and convenient system of disseminating information. The city government has set up a web site that contains its budget, procurement, awards and bidding processes, among others.
The city government also went to great lengths to publish an inch-thick Citizen's Charter that contains everything a Nagueno needs to know about public services provided by the city government and includes whom to contact and how long the process should take. An ordinance requires the city government to distribute 25,000 copies of the Citizen's Charter to all households.
For his brainchild, Mayor Robredo earned the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's version of the Nobel Prize, for government service in 2000. The city also gained recognition as one of the ten best places in the world from the United National Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) and from the Municipality of Dubai. In 1999, Naga City was cited by Asiaweek magazine as one of the most improved cities in the world, singling out the People Empowerment Program as "perhaps the greatest of all of Naga's accomplishments".