My eyes have strained too long and hard these past two years on the central authority who sits in Malacañang. I knew, but have forgotten, that could not solve the lingering problems that beset our country despite the promises extravagantly made.
In a fit of frustration, I return my gaze once again on the massive potential of what citizens and their organizations can do for the nation when they engage with government, for it was this firm belief that drove me to join the development sector 10 years ago.
Citizen organizations have the right and responsibility to get involved even if the ground for participation is rough-grained most of the time. There are local chief executives who fend them off and administrative processes that stall for time.
Some local government units (LGU)’s tasks are haphazardly done; some local structures are absent. Monitoring and evaluation of public programs or projects are not organized extensively.
There are citizen-leaders who prefer to be silent; those who still lack mastery of their own cause; those who are afraid to take risks; and those who have low self-esteem.
But I’ve seen and heard a hundred success stories of citizens who bravely engaged their government at the local levels, stories seldom told in the national dailies.
How we are governed at the local level directly affects community life. Local governance should not, therefore, exclude or dishearten us, especially when at the local level we can experience kurambos.

I learned about kurambos when Balay Mindanaw Foundation Inc. wrote about it in connection to their engagement with the Cagayan de Oro City and 22 barangay governments.
Previously, whenever Cagayan de Oro City had barangay development plans, the barangay officials simply copy-pasted programs and projects from previous years and administrations; carried those over every year for the sake of compliance; or hired consultants to write the plans. As a result, people suffered from projects that were not responsive to and reflective of their needs.
The concept of kurambos helped redirect the LGUs from its short cut processes to practices with better people’s participation in local governance in every barangay.
“From merely encouraging the pooling of resources and people to work together for the common good, it attained convergence,” ended Balay Mindanaw’s reflection.
Kurambos comes from a Cebuano-Visayan word that means “pooling of resources and people who work together for the common good.” In our cause, it refers to human and financial resources of citizen/civil society organizations (CSOs) and LGUs brought together to begin or sustain particular initiatives.
Kurambos reflects our value of bayanihan, sharing, caring and collaboration that can happen at the core of local governance activities. It focuses on strengthening social bonds rather than insisting on confrontation and mistrust. It may start with establishing “friendly and good communications with the office of the municipal planning and development and the office of the mayor,” attests the provincial CSO network, Camarines Sur CSOs Network for Development.

CSO leaders of different municipalities in Eastern and Western Visayas and Southern Mindanao engage their LGU officials to help reduce poverty by improving government service delivery and local poverty reduction action plans and budgets.

Here are some of the kurambos gains won so far these past years:
• Recognition of the role of CSOs in governance. Provincial Resolution 2013-380 in the province of Bohol enshrined the partnership between the provincial government and the provincial CSO network to “work hand-in-hand in ensuring that development initiatives in the province are delivered to its constituents efficiently.” Every last week of September celebrates the CSO Week as well!
In Banaybanay, Davao Oriental, there is now a CSO desk in the LGU equipped with basic facilities and supplies and a development fund which CSOs utilized for their development planning workshop. The LGUs are recognizing that CSOs can be partners and are not naysayers all the time. CSOs are realizing that participation in local governance is empowering. Building trust and complementation in one another is essential for total development.
• More responsive projects for the community. The LGUs of Bula and Balatan, Camarines Sur appreciated the tools used by the citizens, such as the participatory rapid appraisal, to accurately present the poverty situations in their localities. As a result, identified projects that answered actual needs of the people included a livelihood and skills training center and a reforestation project to alleviate erosion-prone areas.
In Cebu City, Ordinance No. 2427 was passed in 2015 to ensure that the city’s shelter roadmap and targets would be met through sustainable financing. It was a result of yet another collaborative effort among city legislators, government shelter agencies, urban poor groups and CSOs. The ordinance assures an allocation of at least two percent of the city’s annual budget, or not less than P100 million annually, for the city’s Socialized Housing Program for poor, informal settlers.
Dialogues with CSOs enable local government officials to affirm relevance of projects, to modify and fit projects to present situations, or to implement those that can urgently resolve problems. Inversely, CSOs may also learn from the technical know-how of LGUs, study its priority concerns, and work better on their advocacies.
• Openness to dialogue and feedback. Local public institutions will be effective if they welcome feedback from constituents – its customers and human resources at the same time. Constructively receiving these information from time to time can pave the way for self-improvement.
“Our mayor met the results of the CSO Satisfaction Report Card (CSRC) we presented with positive regard. Afterwards, she used those results as guide to also measure the performance of our barangay LGU officials,” narrated Rebecca Nofies, citizen-leader of Oras, Eastern Samar.
CSOs, on the other hand, benefit from learning that “time and timing are crucial to the process; it is about finding the right time, right methods, and right language to appeal to government.”

The author (right) and CSO leaders visit Naga City to learn about the work of the Naga City People’s Council.

I found kurambos in the Timbayayong Awards for Outstanding Local Government Units and Non-Government and People’s Organization Partnership. It was launched by the Negros Oriental Network of NGOs (NEGORNET), a network of citizen organizations in the whole province. It was NEGORNET’s innovative way to address animosity and disharmony between LGUs and citizens organizations then. It wanted to enjoin them to cooperate “in the halls where plans are formulated and important decisions are being made.”
The partnership award encourages LGUs and CSOs to work together by recognizing exemplary partnership in the areas of governance, local budget, and service delivery. To sustain it, both the provincial government and NEGORNET committed to pool their financial resources annually – P700,000 from the local government’s annual budget, and P100,000 counterpart support from NEGORNET.
Could not the central authority who sits in Malacanañg respect and respond in the same way to people’s participation in national governance?
This article is based on CODE-NGO’s publication “Citizens’ Journey, Stories of Engagements for Reforms,” 2015, Quezon City.