Citizen Action Guide to Masbate

 

Area Profile

The province of Masbate lies at the center of the Philippine archipelago. It is composed of a wedge-shaped mainland (Masbate), two major islands, the Ticao and Burias Islands, and 14 small islands. It is bounded on the north by the Bicol mainland, on the south by the Visayan Sea, on the west by Sibuyan Sea and on the east by the Burias Pass, Ticao Pass and Samar Sea.

The province covers a total land area of 4,151.78 square kilometres and is politically subdivided into three congressional districts, 20 municipalities, one city and 550 barangays. Masbate had a population of 834,650 as of the 2010 census, growing at an average rate of 1.66 per cent from 2000 to 2010. The province had an average population density of 201.0 persons per square kilometer.

Because of its geography, Masbate is a melting pot of dialects and cultures. Residents in the capital town of Masbate speak the native Masbateño with a mixture of the Bicol dialect; natives of Cataingan, Palanas, and Dimasalang along its east coast use Samar-Visayan; residents from Pio V. Corpus, Cataingan and Placer in the south speak Bohol and Cebu Visayan; along the western coast of Mandaon and Balud, people converse in Ilonggo and Capiceño; natives of the Burias island talk in variants of the Bicol dialect and Visayan due mainly to the droves of migrants to the island during the sixties.

Masbate is the biggest cattle raising province in the region. Its main economic activity is agriculture with copra, rice, corn and tobacco as its main products. Fishing and mining are major industries: It is the site of the biggest gold mining operation in the country. Other minerals found in the island are manganese, limestone, copper, silver, iron, and chromite. Masbate constitutes almost 60 per cent of Bicol mine receipts. It also holds unexploited deposits of iron, manganese, copper and bauxite.

Presently, there are 185 mines leased to various individuals and companies issued with permits by the government.

The province also has a growing tourism industry centered upon its “Rodeo Masbateno” Festival as the province capitalizes on its numerous cattle ranches. Since its founding in 2005, the festival has grown into a national activity drawing participants as far north as Northern Luzon and as far south as Mindanao.

Some of the province’s cowboys have been hired by large farms in other parts of the country and even abroad.

Despite this, however, Masbate still has the highest poverty incidence -- although in a downward trend -- in the region and is listed among the top 20 poorest provinces in the country. The poverty incidence of families here was 50.2 in 2003, 42.9 in 2006 and 42.5 in 2009 while its per capita poverty threshold was PhP 6,443 in 2003, PhP 8,194 in 2006 and PhP 8,660 in 2009 as per data obtained from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).

Main sources of livelihood here are agriculture -- mainly fishing, farming and livestock -- and mining while a big slice of the workforce is employed in the services sector.

The province’s economic plight is apparent in its health and nutrition status: the National Nutrition Council (NNC) ranked it third among the region’s six poorest provinces in terms of malnutrition rate at 15.53 per cent last year for those aged 0-71 months.

Data from the Department of Education placed Masbate’s malnutrition prevalence rate at 11 per cent in elementary schools and 8.6 per cent in secondary schools.

Though Masbate has high participation rate in elementary education at 97.05 per cent, it has a much lower completion rate of only 45.43 per cent. The low number of those who are able to graduate from elementary school is further reduced in secondary education with only 39.84 per cent participation and a dropout rate of 3.94 per cent.

The province has 607 public elementary schools with 205,070 enrolees and 99 public secondary schools with 60,526 students as of the school year 2012-2013.

Of the 550 barangays only 39.63 per cent have barangay health centers, 64.59 per cent have access to sanitary drinking water though only five out of the 20 municipalities have a sound water supply system while less than half of the residents have sanitary toilets and only 43 per cent of municipalities have government hospitals.

Not unexpectedly then, Masbate ranked lowest in the region in terms of Human Development Index (HDI) of only 0.422. HDI is the average of three critical development outcomes of a particular province which include health, level of knowledge and skills and access to resources.

 
Local Government Unit Profile

The province of Masbate has been known as hotbed of political violence for decades now. It used to be ruled by the Espinosa clan but assassinations of their members by rival politicians decimated their ranks until they lost grip of the province. With the emergence of new political elites political power was distributed to more clans like the Khos, Lanetes, Seachons, Revils, Bravos and the Tuasons.

But despite the changes in the political equations in the province, assassinations remained a vital tool in the political success of many of these ruling families. Even the entry of women in the political arena did not eliminate the use of violence. Numerous deaths marred the election of the province’s first woman governor in 2007 in the person of Dr. Olga Kho as she defeated the Espinosa patriarch, then. Rep. Emilio Espinosa Sr.

Another woman replaced Kho. When Kho’s husband’s term as representative of the First District ended in 2010, they switched position and ex-Rep. Tony Kho slugged it out with a woman contender, former Rep. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, who won in a bitterly contested election.

The Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF) classifies Masbate as a first class province yet it is still among the 20 poorest provinces in the country.

In the 2012 first semester provincial poverty statistics which the NSCB released, Masbate had the following poverty prevalence rates: 47.8 in 2006, 49.8 in 2009 and 44.2 in 2012. Despite the decline in its poverty rate in 2012 compared to the 2009 figure the province remained the highest in the region in terms of poverty.

Masbate, like most non-urban areas, is highly dependent on the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) from which it derives about 95 per cent of its income. In 2009, it had a total budget of PhP 713,043,844.00 but the actual income reached PhP 736,935,288.99 of which PhP 702,842,475.76 came from the IRA. The province’s actual expenses only reportedly reached PhP 598,269,690.39.

The provincial government’s handling of its finances is best described in the Annual Audit Report wherein the Commission on Audit (COA) rendered a disclaimer of opinion “due to the failure of the agency to complete the physical inventory of its Property, Plants and Equipments and Inventories valued at PhP 463, 177,612.48 and PhP 72, 457,949.47, respectively”. A huge difference in cash-in-bank account and the cashbook was also noted in the amount of PhP 2.7 million as well as the cashbook and the ledger amounting to PhP 18.8 million.

Other significant findings in the 2009 audit were the non-remittance by Accountable Officers in the amount of PhP 30.8 million, about PhP 17.1 million from the General Fund could not be ascertained due to unreliable and inaccurate records, doubtful validity of report pertaining to Property Plant and Equipments valued at PhP 436.2 million and Inventories amounting to PhP 72.5 million.

The 2010 audit report showed an improved fiscal management as the COA rendered a qualified opinion as its sole major significant adverse finding was failure of the local government unit to submit its physical inventory report of its Property, Plant and Equipment valued at PhP 449,894,374.82.

Other findings were mostly procedural defects.

The province had a total actual income of PhP 801,192,530.82 in 2010 while its budget was pegged at PhP 757,544,818.00 but actual expenses reached only PhP 598,269,690.39. The province then had an IRA of PhP 749,727,936.47.

In 2011, the COA again gave a qualified opinion in its report as it noted once more the inadequate report on its Property, Plant and Equipments and the LGU’s failure to confirm PhP 23.4 million in Accounts Payable.

Efforts at transparency was unheard of in the province until very lately when the incumbent administration started making public reports through her State of the Province Address (SOPA) in 2011.

In her 2012 SOPA, Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete bared to the public the province’s state of finances, its income, expenditures as well as all the assistance it received from outside sources. She also disclosed the programs and projects being implemented by the provincial government which encouraged public participation in governance.

In 2011, the province was awarded the Seal of Good Housekeeping by then Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo.

In September 2013 however, Lanete was among several lawmakers charged with plunder for allegedly receiving kickbacks from their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) by channelling these to ghost projects through fake NGOs of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the PhP 10-billion PDAF scam.

 
Civil Society and Media

Civil society organizations are at their infancy and nil in terms of direct engagement with the local government units especially on transparency and accountability, according to the heads of two major organizations in the province, the Masbate Advocates for Peace (MAP) and the Rotary Club.

MAP was established before the 2010 elections and was initiated by the police and the military in an effort to lessen political violence in the province. The group morphed into a civil society organization of sort as it strives to expand its mandate to cover government accountability and transparency.

Judge Igmidio Camposano, current MAP president, says there is still a high level of distrust towards the provincial government as it continues to hide things from its constituents. He confirms that patronage politics is still very much the norm in Masbate and that local officials are still not transparent on issues of finances.

He admits, though, that Gov. Olga Kho introduced a semblance of management system, instituting some reforms in running the affairs at the provincial capitol far more different from the time of her husband whose basis for extending government services and assistance was allegedly based solely on “barkadahan” (buddy system).

The MAP president says that Kho’s successor Lanete continued her management system and also introduced some more innovations, but still the provincial government remained detached from its constituency.

He says there is some effort among MAP members that seems to lead the organization into engaging the provincial government on issues of transparency and accountability. He adds that the purpose is to help the local government and guide it on good governance through constructive criticism.

Camposano says even the so-called militant and progressive organizations are silent on issues of government transparency and accountability since they focus primarily on human rights issues. These organizations have repeatedly been invited to MAP meetings but have not so far attended.

Rotary Club President Diamon Espares, incumbent member of the provincial board, gave similar comments though was far more critical of the provincial government as he described Lanete’s SOPA as mere cosmetic to hide the real situation of the province rather than to properly inform the citizenry.

He maintained that Lanete’s report were mere generalities and did not give the people the true status about how the province handled its finances. He observed that the public has now become more aware of relevant issues and concerns though many still remain passive and complacent.

Espares believes that the engagement of non-government organizations with the local government is limited to cooperating on specific issues such as the Rodeo Festival and special medical missions.  

Asked about his view on the local media, Espares said the sector willingly allows itself to be used by political leaders in their propaganda which aggravates the situation. He said most if not all media people here work as public relations providers for particular politicians and also take similar jobs from private entities on the side.

Espares, who used to be a media man himself, said the local media is not helping empower the people in the fight against corruption. Ironically, Espares said that the local manager of the state-run Philippine Information Agency is far more vocal in criticizing perceived irregularities by local government units.

 
LGU-Citizen Engagement

No active LGU-citizen engagement is happening in Masbate as of the moment relative to accountability and transparency except those that were earlier mentioned. Existing LGU-citizen engagement is limited civic and election-related activities.

 
Opportunities and Threats

Opportunities

  1. 1. Growing public awareness on issues related to good governance

Casual talk with ordinary people show they are highly aware of issues pertaining to good governance like the responsibilities of the local government to provide basic services, the obligation of government in ensuring the safety of the citizenry; the need for government action to ensure honest and peaceful elections; the responsibility of government to use public funds properly; the right of the people to be informed about where their taxes go and be provided with efficient services. But though the people expressed their opinions on all these key issues, they remained pessimistic that anything good would come out from efforts to make the government properly accountable. 

  1. 2. The existence of well-known civil society groups and civic organizations

Some well-known groups and organizations exist in the province -- an indication of the people’s social concern and awareness. Although their activities are limited to social events, the mere fact that they exist bode well for the introduction of a civil society organization which could directly engage the government on good governance. The existence of these organizations indicates social awareness of the people, although most of those involved are of middle-income.

  1. 3. Willingness of civic leaders to engage the government on issues of transparency and accountability

Results of discussions with some civic-leaders showed a high level of interest to engage government on good governance issues especially on transparency and accountability. The MAP president mentioned of their organisational plan to expand the mission of the organization to include transparency and accountability. Presently, MAP limits itself to the campaign for honest and orderly elections. In fact, the MAP leader said there had been an instance when they sent two members to a seminar-workshop in Camarines Sur which tackled transparency like monitoring of infrastructure projects. Some members of the non-government Gawad Kalinga also expressed desire for an active engagement between the government and the citizenry, citing difficulties which their beneficiaries usually encounter in availing government services.

  1. 4. Prevailing national issues that augur well for citizen-government engagement

Current issues facing the national government tend to heighten awareness of citizenry here. This situation increases their desire for a more transparent and accountable government wherein the people themselves could make their voices heard. This situation emboldens the masses to demand for more participation, directly or indirectly, in the affairs of the government.

Threats

  1. 1.  Tradition of violence

Masbate has long been a hotbed of political violence. This situation had left a deep mark in the minds of its people and had made them subservient to the manipulations of their political leaders. This situation had allowed political leaders to tighten their grip on the province as the people were afraid to even inquire about plans and programs of the administration. 

  1. 2. The local political system

Local government officials had institutionalized the system of corruption which allowed them to keep themselves in office. They view anything which has potentials to change status quo as a threat which must be repulsed or eliminated. As stated earlier, some CSOs believe that the present governor’s SOPA is just an attempt to mask the true status of the province rather than to report the real situation.

  1. 3. A generally passive populace

Rotary Club’s Espares argues that the passive character of the population and their general acceptance of corruption and violence as given part of governance make it difficult for any organization to launch an anti-corruption drive here.

 


References:

National Statistical Coordination Board

Enhanced Basic Education Information System- Department of Education

Health and Nutrition Unit Status Report- Department of Education

Annual Nutrition Report-National Nutrition Council

Salud Bicol-Department of Health

Annual Audit Reports-Commission on Audit

Masbate Profile-Provincial Planning and Development Office

State of the Province Address

Tourism Report-Provincial Tourism Office

Social Action Foundation-Diocese of Masbate