Analysts say civic groups must make gov’t accountable

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

CIVIL society groups will play a key role in seeking accountability in the government’s pandemic response before President Rodrigo R. Duterte steps down in 2022, political analysts said on Sunday.

Nonstate actors and institutions must evaluate the government’s pandemic efforts, Human Rights and Peoples Empowerment Center Executive Director Bryan E. Gonzales said in a Facebook messenger chat.

“Our social and political movements achieve more victories when they work together,” he said.

Out of all Southeast Asian countries, Filipinos were most disapproving of their government’s response to the pandemic, according to a study by the ASEAN Studies Centre.

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Based on the survey that involved 1,032 people living in Southeast Asia, 53.7% of Filipino respondents thumbed down the government’s handling of the health crisis, making them the most dissatisfied.

Several countries including the Philippines have used the pandemic to harass journalists, activists, health workers and “anyone else who dares to criticize the official response to the coronavirus,” according to Human Rights Watch.

More than 120,000 violators of quarantine protocols had been arrested in the Philippines since Mr. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island in mid-March last year.

They included aid distributors, jeepney drivers, rallyists and others critical of the government’s slow delivery of social services during the pandemic, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last year.

In mid-2020, the tough-talking leader railed against medical workers for criticizing his government’s pandemic response, daring them to stage a revolution.

“The mere fact that the government has taken advantage of the current health crisis to quell critics is proof that dissent among sectors most affected by the ongoing pandemic and recession has become too loud to ignore,” Mr. Gonzales said.

“Our civil society did not take these issues sitting down,” he added.

Mr. Duterte in August placed the capital region under stricter quarantine status after 80 local groups representing 80,000 doctors called for tighter health protocols.

Mr. Gonzales said it would be “pointless to concentrate on coalition-building efforts on the major political blocs of the opposition.”

“We’ve seen dozens of coalitions emerge across the years but hostilities among conflicting political blocs have created cleavages in these alliances,” he said. He cited the need to focus on homeowners’ associations, transport and other sectoral groups.

“Let’s look at the unaffiliated groups and associations in our communities,” Mr. Gonzales said. “Let’s look at the younger generations. If we can build a broad coalition with these people and create with them a new message and a new politics of change, the warring groups in the opposition will have no choice but to tag along.”

He said the 2022 elections would become a referendum on the work of social and political movements.

“It does not help that the political class always sees civil society organizations as critics and adversaries,” Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center said in a Facebook messenger chat.

“This administration in particular has always been suspicious of civil society organizations,” he said. “The latter’s reputation as government watchdogs has made some politicians wary of dealing with them on a professional level, specifically in terms of exacting or ensuring accountability.”

The Duterte administration has tagged humanitarian organizations and workers as communist fronts.

Citing Congress’ oversight function under the 1987 Constitution, Mr. Yusingco said legislators must “put more effort in exacting accountability.”

“This is their constitutional duty after all,” he said. “If lawmakers fail in doing this job, then voters must make them pay in 2022. Citizens must not relent in making sure our lawmakers fulfill this constitutional mandate.”

InfraWatchPH convenor Terry L. Ridon said voters must know whether the government made real gains in making corrupt officials accountable.

“In order to convince the public that the President is serious and sincere in exacting accountability, we would like to see cases filed against people accused by the President of corrupt activities.”

Mr. Ridon said civic groups should continue to seek social accountability, especially in infrastructure projects involving the involuntary resettlement of urban poor families.

“It is the government that should keep an open mind on the importance of civil society not only in exacting accountability, but also in governing the nation,” he said.

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