Development organizations and practitioners have long acknowledged the benefits of inclusive and participatory processes in the planning and execution of development projects. including those funded by the government. The Philippines has a well-established and long-running program under the DSWD that embodies the principles of bottom-up development through an approach called the community-driven development (CDD).
Since its introduction in 2003, and continuing through the scaled-up program starting in 2013, the Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services) has implemented community-initiated projects in 17,538 barangays in 827 municipalities in 59 provinces as of July 2020. With this track record and wealth of good practices and lessons learned in identifying and implementing community-based projects that respond to the needs of poor rural communities, it would have been logical to have the DSWD take charge of the development projects that are to be financed through the P16-billion fund allocated to the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) under the 2021 national budget.
When one considers the objective of the Kalahi-CIDSS program, which is to empower barangays/communities of targeted municipalities to achieve improved access to services and to participate in more inclusive local planning, budgeting, and implementation, it seems to respond perfectly to what the NTF-ELCAC aims to accomplish in the barangays that it claims have been “cleared” of the communist insurgency. Employing the CDD approach, a globally recognized good practice in promoting poverty reduction and inclusive governance, the Kalahi-CIDSS program does not only aim to implement development projects, but also, and more importantly, to strengthen the capacities of the state and local governments to respond to community needs, while also empowering communities to participate in governance processes. In this way, not only infrastructure projects such as farm-to-market roads, school buildings, water and sanitation systems, and health stations are built, but also local capacities for sustaining the development process at the community and municipal levels.
A similar principle of giving communities control of resources and a voice in how public resources are utilized to meet community needs was adopted in the short-lived bottom-up budgeting process introduced by the Noynoy Aquino administration. Under the program, communities received funds allocated to national agencies for community-initiated projects to be implemented in urban and rural barangays. The projects were subjected to a selection process overseen by the LGU’s local poverty reduction committee. In the process, poor people learned how the budget process works, how to engage their local government, and craft and defend project proposals.
Harnessing the well-oiled machinery of the Kalahi-CIDSS for community development would increase the chances of achieving more sustainable poverty reduction and governance outcomes. Key to the CDD approach is giving communities control of resources, making the people more involved, responsible, and accountable in ensuring that the project funds are utilized effectively and meet the communities’ needs. It also trains communities in making informed decisions, a crucial competency needed for participatory governance.
The CDD approach is admittedly time-consuming and complex, but DSWD’s Kalahi-CIDSS personnel have been well-trained for the task, and the results are well worth the effort. It would be a pity if we missed the opportunity to strengthen governance capacities of the communities being targeted by the NTF-ELCAC because the projects are delivered in the usual top-down manner by government agencies focused more on building physical infrastructure than investing in people’s capacities.
Though limited in resources, the Philippines has a wealth of experience in innovating and implementing bottom-up development approaches, which can be utilized to bring sustainable development to the most impoverished communities in the country.