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'Like a Bridge': Citizens as Champions in Social Protection

It began with individual acts of citizenship.

Many of them entered the training room doors clueless about what they are getting themselves into. The body is receiving welcome greetings, handshakes and smiles, but the mind is someplace else thinking if they came in the right place the invitation said they should be. The heart though is sure – they want to help their communities.

The stimulating actions of community members organized and trained as Community-Based Advocacy and Monitoring Groups (CBAMGs) have started creating ripples in the pilot areas of the Social Protection project. Looking into aspects of inclusiveness, effectiveness, efficiency, and CSO participation, the monitoring covered social protection programs and services for senior citizens and personswith-disabilities (PWDs).

A municipality, with four (4) barangays each, in the Provinces of Masbate, Samar, Northern Samar, and Eastern Samar were identified as pilot areas to test the developed tools and techniques in monitoring. The Social Protection project, is an undertaking of the Philippine Consortium for Social Protection, with funding support of the European Union (EU). It aims to strengthen the government’s social protection programs and policies through developing capacities of citizen groups, representing marginalized sectors. The project started in 2016 and has since been doing trainings, coalition buildings, advocacy, policy reviews, and citizen-led monitoring.



When asked how they see their role as CBAMG, they said, “Para kaming tulay.” [We are like bridges.] Every activity paved the way for the CBAMGs to go beyond gathering data for the monitoring. Interactions between program beneficiaries and government officials enabled them to raise awareness in the communities about social protection programs, encourage citizens to take part in state endeavors, and assist them in coordinating with the right people in-charge.

“Importanteng malaman ng mga tao na may tutulong sa kanila. Hindi lang barangay ang gagawa ng proyekto sa komunidad,” [It is important that people know that someone can help them. It is not only the barangay who should implement the projects,] says Marites, 44, of San Roque, Northern Samar.

The CBAMGs are extremely grateful to the trainings that the project conducted for them. It made them realize how much potential they have to serve their communities. “Dati sabi ko, ‘kaya ko ba ‘to? Galing ako sa marginalized sector tapos haharap ako sa malalaking tao’. Dati, binababa ko ang sarili ko dahil di ako kapantay,” [I used to say, ‘can I do this? I am from a marginalized sector and I am going to talk to highlevel officials.’ Before, I look down on myself because I am not an equal,] said Hazel of Salcedo, Eastern Samar.

In preparation for the monitoring, the CBAMGs were equipped with the necessary skills to do constructive engagement and citizen monitoring. They learned how to properly facilitate and document citizen satisfaction surveys, scorecards, Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), and Interface Meetings with the Barangay and Municipal Government.

Meanwhile, their actual monitoring experience taught them the right attitude. “Kapag CBAMG, kailangan matiyaga ka at sumusunod sa oras. Dapat may respeto sa pagkausap sa mga tao, halimbawa [sa] mga noread-no-write,” [When you are a CBAMG, you have to practice perseverance and punctuality. Respect is also important in approaching people, for instance, those who cannot read nor write,] exclaimed the CBAMG of San Roque Northern Samar.



Since the pilot monitoring activities concluded in September 2017, CBAMGs have been on the works to ensure that commitments were acted upon.

In Calbayog City, Samar, Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer (MSWDO) Betty Jane VergaraArnejo, was ecstatic to share that a Person with Disabilities Affairs Office (PDAO) has been established. An officer, coming from the PWD sector, has also been elected to lead. Honestly admitting that there remain things to be figured out to institutionalize, Vergara-Arnejo remains positive that little by little PWDs will soon get more attention from the local government.

Gretchen Ariban, MSWDO of Palanas, Masbate, was likewise happy that their 2018 municipal budget included funding to incentivize PWD organizing and to conduct activities. This budget already exceeded the 1% allocation initially prescribed by law. As for the social pension, their office has also been testing mechanisms to improve their pay-out systems to reach more pensioners, particularly the older, frail and sickly in far-flung and high risk barangays. On May 22, 2018, a CSO Night will be organized in Palanas, gathering citizen groups and promoting participation in communities.

The Municipality of San Roque, Northern Samar, says, that through the Interface, they saw the importance of organizing PWDs. According to MSWDO Carmila Bantilo, their 2018 budget included incentives to federate PWDs, encourage their organizing and active involvement. The budget also included allotment for the Celebration of National Disability and Prevention Week.

She furthered that senior citizens who are nonpensioners have also significantly decreased. Their budget this year also included assistance during crisis situations, hospitalization, and an increase in burial assistance. Their municipal focal persons has also expanded to deal with matters regarding pension, ID release, PWD, women, family, day care, and crisis development.



CBAMG of Palanas, Masbate planning their monitoring for the women, farmers and fisherfolk sectors.

CBAMGs’ presence in the communities facilitated a change in perceptions about social pension, as well as the services available for the PWD. Upon knowing that assistive devices are freely offered with their Municipal government, PWDs in Salcedo, Eastern Samar, started availing these devices that have been untouched for months.

The communities’ idea of Plan International’s purpose is evolving. Aside from the construction and child sponsorship projects the organization has been known for, they also appreciate that Plan International’s work also includes developing capabilities of community members to be active citizens.

The CBAMGs acknowledge that this is proof of concept – they can and their community also can. It is more than just a pilot. They are seeing results, they are seeing ripples. Now, they work towards splashes and waves.