Citizen’s Guide to Camarines Sur

 

Area Profile

Camarines Sur lies across the middle of the Bicol Peninsula at the southeastern portion of Luzon. It is bounded on the north by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by Maqueda Channel, on the south by the Province of Albay, on the west by the Ragay Gulf and on the northwest by the Provinces of Camarines Norte and Quezon.

Camarines Sur is politically subdivided into five congressional districts, one chartered city, one component city, 35 municipalities and 1,063 barangays. The province has a land area of 5,502 square kilometers, roughly 30 percent of Bicol Region’s land area and 1.83 percent of the Philippines. 

The population of the province as of May 1, 2010 census was 1,822,371 accounting for close to a third of the regional population. Its population grew at an average annual rate of 1.62 percent between 2000 and 2010. Its population density is 331.2 persons per square kilometer of land area.

The province’s most dominant geographic features are its two mountains: Mount Isarog which straddles the province right off-center beside Naga City and the capital town of Pili, rising 1,176 meters above sea level, and Mount Asog at the south rising 1,196 meters above sea level. To the west is the Tankong Baka mountain range, forming the southern tip of the Sierra Madre mountain system. The Bicol River traverses the heart of Camarines Sur meandering for about 100 kilometers from Lake Bato to San Miguel Bay. Lake Buhi at the foot of Mount Asog is home to the country’s smallest commercial fish, tabios or sinarapan (Mistichis Luzonensis). 

The province’s economy is agricultural with close to 62 percent of its total land area devoted to crop production. Camarines Sur contributes almost 50 percent of the region’s cereal output. Coconut is planted to about 18 percent of the province’s land area. Rootcrop is also one of its agricultural products. The province is flanked by some of the richest marine fishing grounds in the country making fishery one of its major economic activities. Camarines Sur sits on vast tracts of metallic and non-metallic mineral deposits. Mineral reserves are estimated at 5.1 million metric tons, 82 percent per cent of which are gold ore deposits. Non-metallic mineral reserves are estimated at 3.5 billion metric tons composed mainly of limestone, sandstone, calcareous plastics, marble and ball clay.

 Naga City is the province’s and the region’s financial, trade, religious and educational center.

Camarines Sur has a fully developed tourism industry centered on the Feast of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia where hundreds of thousands of devotees and guests flock to the city on the third week of September for its festivities.

It also has the world-famous Caramoan Peninsula where several episodes of the Survivor reality show had been shot, as well as the Camarines Sur Water Sports Complex (CWC) where several international water sports events had been held. Tourism has been one of the key enterprises which the past administration of the province focused on spending huge amounts for development and promotions.

Aside from its claim of being the education hub and convention haven of the region, Camarines Sur is also primarily an agriculture and fishery province. Its Lake Buhi is not only home to the smallest fish in the world but also produces huge volumes of tilapia which is sold in the entire region. The province’s main agricultural products include palay, corn, coconut, abaca, sugarcane and banana.

The province also hosts a petroleum depot in Pasacao town where major oil companies maintain their depots that supply all gas stations in the Bicol region.  

The Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF) has classified Camarines Sur as a first-class province. The bureau’s base its classification on the annual income of a certain local government unit.

Despite all these, however, some development indicators show that the province is either lagging behind, performing poorly or its financial wealth does not benefit a vast majority of its constituents.

Based on the data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), Camarines Sur ranked third in poverty incidence in Bicol with 33.5 percent, next to Masbate and Albay. In 2006, Camarines Sur was second in poverty incidence with 37.2 per cent and still on the same place in 2003 with poverty incidence of 38.7 percent. Meanwhile, the province’s per capita poverty threshold was PhP 6,726 in 2006, PhP 8,578 in 2009 and PhP 9,097 in 2012. While there is a seeming downward trend in poverty incidence in terms of percentage, its absolute value almost did not vary due to the corresponding increase in population annually.

The province’s economic plight is further revealed in the nutritional status of its children as it ranked second in malnutrition in the region even among secondary students.

Based on the data from the National Nutrition Council, Camarines Sur had malnutrition prevalence rate of 18.16 percent among pre-school children aged 0 to 71 months while data from the Department of Education showed that the province had a 14.7 percent malnutrition rate among pre-elementary children, 15.4 percent in elementary students and 22 percent in secondary students during school year 2012-2013.

In school year 2011-2012, some 84,404 or three out 10 of the province’s elementary students belonged to recipient-families of the government’s anti-poverty program called Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program (4Ps). The number ballooned to 132,273 or 46.36 per cent during the school year 2012-2013, an indication of a growing number of poor families registered under the program.

This could probably be one of the reasons behind the province’s high participation rate in elementary in 2012 -- at 93.23 percent -- in contrast to its figure in secondary which only reached 46.54 per cent for the same period, according to the DepEd Regional Office.

The province has 210 public and 74 private secondary schools with a combined enrolment of 148,183 students and 931 public 123 private elementary school with a total enrolment of 341,589 in school year 2011-2012 as contained in the provincial government’s website.

In terms of health facilities, there are 13 provincial-managed hospitals, 12 private hospitals, 49 rural health units (RHUs) with 453 personnel and 346 barangay health stations manned by 4,652 barangay health workers.

Camarines Sur ranked third lowest in Human Development Index (HDI) at 0.511, next only to Masbate and Camarines Norte. HDI refers to the average of three critical development outcomes of a particular area which include health, level of knowledge and skills and access to resources.

Based on the Good Governance Index (GGI) Report of the NSCB, Camarines Sur was ranked 76th in 2005 with 79.95 and 78th in 2008 with 87.14 rating out of 76 provinces nationwide. GGI is a conglomeration of three main areas of governance -- political governance, economic governance and administrative governance.

 
LGU Profile

The biggest among Bicol provinces, Camarines Sur has been ruled by old political elites whose descendants continue the reign of their ancestors. Though not traditionally known for political violence, the province also had its share of politically-related violence, two most recent victims of whom were members of the media.

Among the ruling elites of the province are the Andayas, Villafuertes, Fuentebellas and the Alfelors.

Rep. Dato Arroyo, son of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had also made his own name in the local political scene as many other aspiring political families try to edge their way into the political landscape. 

However, only one family has held the provincial government for the longest time: the Villafuertes. Luis Villafuerte Sr. started occupying the provincial capitol in 1986 and sat through 2004 with only one interruption, in 1992-1995 when a wild card candidate stole the gubernatorial post. After his term ended in 2004, Villafuerte’s son, L-Ray took over until he also completed his three-term limit  in 2013. The incumbent governor, Migz Villafuerte, took the gubernatorial post after trouncing his grandfather, Luis Sr. in a so-called melodramatic election amidst a “family feud”.

L-Ray and his father started “feuding” just months into L-Ray’s first term allegedly over the choice of police provincial director. The dispute worsened into a word war which became a hot media topic. However, some media men and political observers said that the quarrel could just be a charade and was meant to preserve the family’s hold on the Provincial Capitol as proven by the third-generation Migz Villafuerte’s ascent to power.

Many believed that whoever won in the elections, there would still be a Villafuerte sitting behind the desk of the provincial governor.

Being the largest among Bicol provinces both in land area and population, Camarines Sur also has the biggest budget.

In 2009, the province had a total budget of PhP 1.624 billion which rose to PhP 1.870 billion the following year, and to PhP 2.006 billion in 2011. However, like most provinces in the region, Camarines Sur still largely depends on its Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) from the national government, still its biggest source of incomes.

Some observers claim that Camarines Sur had its “golden” years under the reign of L-Ray Villafuerte, but the real gauge on how the clan ran the provincial government is in the audit reports of the Commission on Audit on the province for the past years.

For the past three fiscal years, COA “rendered a qualified opinion on the fairness of the financial statements due to the effects of the noted deficiencies” in the financial transactions of the provincial government.

In 2009, the COA noted 20 adverse audit findings in the fiscal operations of Camarines Sur which primarily focused on unremitted cash collections, unsettled cash advances, procurements without proper biddings, unregulated use of resources like gasoline, and juggling of funds involving millions of pesos.

In the succeeding year, more adverse findings were noted especially on tourism-related activities which became the centerpiece program of L-Ray’s administration.  The provincial government was also warned of possible administrative and penal sanctions after it was found out that there were “simulated biddings” in the implementation of projects.

The 2011 audit report showed a similar trend of violations which could be described as willful and conscious disregard of rules and laws governing government financial transactions.

The three audit reports bore many commonalities in the violations committed like non-remittance of cash collections, non-settlement of cash advances, irregularities in running sports activities which involved collection of registration fees in millions of pesos, anomalous purchase and use of gasoline amounting to more than PhP 20 million, irregularity in the implementation of projects and a lot more.

The province’s website bears the “Transparency Seal” but past audit reports showed the lack of transparency in its financial operations as borne by a direct admonition from the audit agency to observe transparency in its fiscal management.

As a result of numerous adverse audit findings, Camarines Sur failed to qualify for the Seal of Good Housekeeping, a merit-based system of assessing the performance a certain local government unit initiated by the now deceased former Interior and Local Government Sec. Jesse Robredo, who also hailed from Naga City. LGUs which qualify for the seal are granted huge funding supports under the Performance Challenge Account, Local Government Support Fund and the Gawad Pamana ng Lahi Award.

The Seal of Good Housekeeping has become some sort of “barometer” as to how a particular LGU performed in a specific fiscal year. One of the disqualifying factors is an adverse audit report from COA.


Civil Society and Media

Despite the presence of numerous civic organizations, people’s and non-government organizations here, not one among them deals with transparency and accountability.

Transparency and accountability are “alien” words to the provincial government of Camarines Sur, says Fr. Wilmer Tria, director of the Commission on the Promotions of Social Teachings of the Archdiocese of Caceres. The provincial government had never been transparent in its operations, the simple proof of which is the operation of the Camarines Sur Water Sports Complex (CWC), the centerpiece tourism project of Gov. Villafuerte.

Tria said the people were never informed where the money generated from CWC operation went or how it was spent.

He said the absence of a well-meaning CSO that will engage the LGU is something that is lacking in the province of Camarines Sur. An organization, the Naga City People’s Council (NCPC), was formed some years back but it could never be considered independent and unbiased because it receives funds from the city government of Naga.

He said the archbishop of Caceres had long been calling for an independent organization which would engage the local government about transparency and accountability. The errant attitude of the provincial government in handling public funds makes it urgent and necessary for a private independent group to be formed as watchdog. The idea of forming a civil society organization for this purpose excites the church official.

Unfortunately, not even the media could be expected to do the job of a watchdog.

Nilo Aureus, publisher of Bicol Mail, the only regional paper circulating in the entire Bicol, said local media in the province had never engaged the local government on issues of transparency and accountability in a serious and consistent manner except for periodic commentaries on government’s financial transaction whenever an issue comes up. A number of media outlets are “political” in nature as they are either owned by or associated with a certain political leader.

Ex. Gov. L-Ray Villafuerte himself has listed in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) a business interest or financial connection with Bicol Broadcasting Systems, Inc. which operates TV and radio stations.  

Aureus said there is no coordinated media effort to look into the finances or the over-all government operation in a way that would reveal the irregularities in the use of public funds. Instead, some media outlets have business dealings with the provincial government which is one big source of revenue for them.                 

Aureus immediately committed himself to the soon-to-be-formed citizen action group here with the help of the Citizen Action Network for Accountability (CANA), saying it has been “long overdue”.


LGU-Citizen Engagement

As Fr. Tria of the Archdiocese of Caceres earlier said, the province has no serious LGU-citizen engagement as shown by the wayward attitude of the local government when it comes to public finances. The existence of the NCPC, which is limited to Naga City, could not be taken as an genuine engagement as it lacks independence and impartiality, being a government-funded organization.

Not even the local business community involves itself in or has any interest to engage the government on these two core issues on good governance.

Opportunities and Threats

 Opportunities:

  1. 1.      Public awareness

Fr. Tria said that there is now a high level of public awareness on the obligation of the government to be transparent as well as the right of the people to be informed properly about what the government is doing or not. The public is now conscious about their rights as citizens vis-à-vis the duty of the government. The people now demand for answers from those in power on many issues plaguing the present administration, he said. 

  1. 2.      Public clamor

There is a growing clamor from the public to hold government officials accountable for their action. The public has already realized its inherent power to demand from the government action against those who have abused their position for their own personal advantage. The people have now come to realize the government owes them good and responsible governance, said Fr. Tria. 

  1. 3.      Favourable political climate

The time is ripe for the public to seriously involve itself in policing the government. As Bicol Mail’s Aureus mentioned, the snowballing of issues confronting the government now has emboldened the public to call for action. Forming a citizen action group is not only timely but also necessary to empower the community. 

  1. 4.      Presence of community leaders who are receptive to CANA

Many sectoral leaders -- church, business, and media -- welcome the idea of organizing to allow for greater community participation in engaging the government on accountability and transparency issues.

 
Threats

  1. 1.      Fatalism

The fatalistic attitude among the masses may hinder the propagation and promotion of the campaign in the grassroots level. As noted in past campaigns, the common tao tend to submit to their fate of powerlessness and give up easily rather than strive for empowerment. Sectoral leaders may be enthusiastic but just the same, they have to deal with the people’s fatalistic attitudes. 

  1. 2.      Threats from political leaders

As many still depend on their political leaders for different needs, the people might shy away from getting involved in transparency efforts for fear of reprisal. This is possible especially in areas where barangay leaders also see such move as threat to them or to their political patrons.

  1. 3.      Diverse political views

Diverse political views, a situation common in urban settings where different groups exist, may be a factor in hampering efforts to promote public transparency and accountability. It is an issue to consider in organizing, but is not something that is insurmountable.