Citizen Action Guide to Sorsogon

 

Located at the southernmost tip of the Bicol Peninsula, the province of Sorsogon serves as the gateway to Luzon for those coming from Visayas and Mindanao. It is bounded on the north by the Province of Albay, on the east and northeast by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the San Bernardino Strait and the west and northwest by the Ticao and Burias Passes. The province has an irregular coastline with good harbors in Bulan, Magallanes and along the shore of Sorsogon Bay.

Sorsogon has 14 municipalities, one city and 541 barangays with two congressional districts. It covers an area of 2,119.01 square kilometers. With a population of 740,743 as of May 1, 2010, it has a population density of 349.6 persons per square kilometer. Sorsogon had an average annual population growth rate of 1.31 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Presently, it is classified as a second class province by the Department of Finance’s Bureau of Local Government Finance.

But its income classification hardly matters if the province’s poverty statistics are any indication. Sorsogon’s poverty incidence as reported by the National Statistical Coordination Board had been erratic for the past seven years which stood at 31.3 per cent in 2006 and went down a bit in 2009 to 29.8 per cent and went back to its 2006 figure in 2012.

In terms of absolute number, the magnitude of poor families was 44,472 in 2006; 45,046 in 2009 and 50,324 in 2012, the NSCB data showed. This means that, if each family has at least five members, some 251,620 inhabitants of the province were classified as poor in 2012.

The province has a per capita poverty threshold of PhP 12,905 in 2006; PhP 16,484 in 2009; and PhP 17,535 in 2012.   

Poverty data of the province seems to jive with the malnutrition figures as Sorsogon was ranked third regionwide with 12.9 per cent among pre-elementary, also third in elementary level with 13.2 per cent and ranked fourth in secondary level14.9 per cent as reported by the Health and Nutrition Unit of the Department of Education regional office.

The province had a low 58.28 percent participation rate in secondary level in 2012 but a high participation rate of 99.87 per cent in elementary for the same school year. It, however registered the fourth highest dropout rate in secondary regionwide at 6.38 per cent and a low cohort survival rate of 78.70 for the same level. 

Cohort survival rate is defined by the government as the percentage of enrollees at the beginning grade or year in a given school year who reached the final grade or year of the elementary/secondary level.

The province has one provincial hospital, four district hospitals and three municipal hospitals though all municipalities have their respective rural health units and all barangays have their respective health centers.

Though the province prides itself of having been commended for its health programs by the Department of Health during the Salud-Bikolnon awarding ceremony, health care services are still far from being laudable.  

Medicines and other medical supplies are still lacking most of the time in government hospitals and other health facilities frequented by the poor sector of the community.

Dr. Marili Dorion, assistant provincial health officer, said purchase of these supplies is a source of corruption in the provincial government as she decried the poor management of the provincial hospital. 

She said her office has been reduced to a mere “decoration” since she started criticizing how the provincial government run the health facility.

Sorsogon ranks third among Bicol provinces in Human Development index, a report by the NSCB stated with an HDI of 0.512. On Good Governance Index (GGI), Sorsogon ranked 57th in 2005 and dropped to 63rd place in 2008. GGI is composed of Administrative Governance, Economic Governance and Political Governance.

Sorsogon has an agricultural economy with coconut, rice, corn, abaca, and pili nuts as the major products. Its rich marine resources yield different products such as fish, crabs, clams, mollusks and seaweeds.

Aside from the resource-rich West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the province also derives its marine products from the Sorsogon Bay which is rimmed by the towns of Magallanes, Juban, Casiguran, Castilla and Sorsogon City.

Sorsogon is known for its historic and panoramic places such as the "baluartes" in Sta. Magdalena, Bacon, Matnog, Casiguran and Bulusan; the "Tulong Gapo" and Rizal Beaches in Bacon and Gubat, respectively; the Irosin Church in Irosin; the tranquil Bulusan Lake and the geologically young Bulusan Volcano in Bulusan.

It also hosts the vast geothermal reservation area where the Bac-Man Geothermal Production Field and the Bac-Man Geothermal Power Plants are located. Both used to be owned by the government but now are owned by the First Gen Company of the Lopez family. The power plants have a rated capacity of 130 megawatts.

Host communities located in and around the immediate vicinity of the 25,000-hectare reserve receive royalty which the communities and local government units should use for livelihood programs and to lower cost of power, as mandated by lawIronically, however, Sorsogon province has the highest power rate in Bicol region and one of the highest in Luzon.

The province gained world popularity following the discovery of whale sharks, locally known as butanding, which abound in the coastal waters of Donsol. Since the early 2000s foreign and local tourists have been flocking to the town to experience interaction with the gentle giants of the sea. However, the past two years saw a decline in number of whale sharks which had impact in the tourist arrivals. Officials attributed the drop in the number of whale sharks to climate change.

But Tourism Regional Director Nini Ravanilla expressed optimism that the tourist influx will rebound as more butanding start to re-appear in the area.

Another tourist destination in the province which is fast gaining popularity is the Subic beach in Matnog town due to its pink sand and the fish sanctuary.

The province serves as the gateway to Luzon and connects Bicol Region and the rest of Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao areas through the ferry service in Matnog. The Matnog Port was built in 1983 as part of the Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway or the Pan-Philippine Highway more known as the Maharlika Highway during the time of then Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos. It is also part of the Eastern Nautical Highway under the Strong Republic Nautical Highway conceived by the administration of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.


LGU Profile

Presently, only two families dominate the local politics in the province -- the Lees and the Escuderos. The Lees have a stranglehold on the provincial capitol while the Escuderos hold the first district. No one can claim dominance in the second district.

Gov. Raul Lee has been in power since the Marcos time. He was arrested when martial law was declared but political convenience dictated that he side with then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. This paved the way for his return to power. His hold to power, however, was punctuated by the rise of the now deceased Gov. Juan Frivaldo. Lee never won an election against Frivaldo in eight elections.

With the advent of the Local Government Code which set a three-term limit on local officials, Lee fielded his wife when he reached the mandated limit. Thus the provincial capitol has been in Lee’s hands since 1998.

The Escuderos on the other hand have been in control of the first district since the 1980s. From then Congressman Salvador Escudero III, the rein was passed on to his son, now Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero who served for three terms in the lower house starting in 1998 before winning a senate seat in 2007. With the death of the elder Escudero, his wife, incumbent Congresswoman Evie Escudero, took over. 

As with other local government units in the region, Sorsogon is also dependent on the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) as its main source of income.

In 2010 the province’s annual budget reached PhP 699,854,733.14 then rose to  PhP 749,390,083.58 in 2011 and down by almost PhP 20 million in 2012 to just P729,697,671.09.

During those three years, the Commission on Audit rendered a “qualified opinion” on the results of the financial audit with varied unpleasant findings.

In the 2010 audit report, the COA took note of the long-standing cash advances amounting to PhP 7.12 million. It also questioned the validity of the inventory report on supplies and materials amounting to PhP 35.2 million. The most significant findings, however, were the discrepancies in various bank deposits of the province amounting to PhP 298.133 million which the COA said could not be ascertained as the provincial government was “significantly delayed or not prepared” with its bank reconciliation statements. It also noted the discrepancy of PhP 29.172 million between cash balance record book as against the actual bank record.

COA reiterated the same significant findings in 2011 as well as in 2012 but another important finding was added in the latest audit report-- the hiring of more than a thousand job-order employees. The COA reported that wage payments to the job-order hires were not supported with necessary documents. It should be noted that 2012 was the eve of the 2013 elections and campaigns were already underway then, though unofficially.

Further, looking into the “Full Audit Report” for 2010 and 2012, the “Consolidated Notes to Financial Statements” mentioned two previous multi-million peso projects of the provincial government which COA termed as “economic enterprises”. These were the Rock Crushing Plant in Barangay Rangas, Juban and the Distance Learning Program which the COA, curiously, merely described as “non-operational” but in fact no longer exist.

The rock crushing plant was established in year 2000 while the distance learning program was founded in mid-2000. Both projects were funded through loans and both failed to take off. Allegations had it that the rock crusher purchased by the provincial government was no longer serviceable while the computer sets were already obsolete.

A graft complaint against Gov. Lee and some provincial government officials and the private supplier of the computers in the long distance learning program had been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman. Nothing has been heard about the case for quite a time now.


Civil Society and Media

As with other Bicol provinces, discussion about transparency and accountability arises only as a result of political bickering. The presence of civil society organizations as well as the so-called progressive groups never mattered on these issues on good governance. Though all claim that they are advocates of good governance none among them have ever directly engaged the provincial government on transparency and accountability.

Even the church led by Bishop Arturo Bastes, a known critic of the governor, never engaged the provincial government on such issues on a sustained manner. Tirades by the bishop come out only on occasions when there are issues that directly involve major advocacies of the church. The church uses its own radio station, DZGN-fm, in airing its criticisms of the sitting governor. 

Not even the media engages on such issues except for one station, the DWOL-fm, which is being run by a member of the provincial board, Board Member Joey Guban, who is a staunch critic of the governor. One of his colleagues, Board Member Rolando Anonuevo, also a vocal critic of Lee, is under Guban’s employ and is the anchor of the primetime program which tackles mainly issues against the governor.

All issues hurled by DWOL against the governor, and his wife, Sorsogon City Mayor Sally Lee, are countered by two other radio stations which are both owned by the governor, the DZRS-am and the WOW-fm.

Other radio stations remain neutral in the hope of hooking a broadcast contract with either the provincial or the city government.


LGU-Citizen Engagement

Local residents have become somewhat passive for lack of a credible leader who could spur them into action and demand for transparency and accountability. Such situation could be gleaned from social media sites where they vent their sentiments against the graft and corruption. Though there are some individuals who openly lambast the present administration, they are unable to attract followers as the public knows they are merely driven by their political agenda and not by genuine desire for good governance.

Even the local business community is adamant to tackle the issues with the sitting political leaders head-on choosing the safer approach of dialogue and limit their agenda to issues that are crucial only to them.



Opportunities and Threats

Opportunities

  1. Public awareness
    The introduction of modern technology had greatly help increase the awareness of the community on social and political issues. Through the internet and various social media, the people are able to know what’s going on around them and these include the goings-on in the government and how their political leaders perform. They have also learned how to air their grievances through various social media.

  2. Public desire for change
    The result of the recent election showed the public desire for change especially in the provincial leadership. Despite the reported widespread vote-buying initiated by Lee camp he barely won against a greenhorn who was virtually unknown in local politics. The result was interpreted by many political pundits as a virtual repudiation of the Lee administration. This indicates that the people are now well aware of the issues that plague the present administration --from inefficiency to corruption.

  3. Favorable political climate
    Graft and corruption are the daily fare of print and broadcast news right now and this provides a good environment to mobilize locally. The heightened awareness of the public about the need for transparency and accountability augurs well for the organization of a multi-sectoral group which could be mobilized to spearhead the campaign. People who desire for empowerment would most certainly welcome such development.

Threats

  1. Political pressure
    Though this is more of a perception than real, political pressure may be exerted by those who would feel threatened by the campaign for transparency and accountability. Such pressure could be done through the media as the sitting political leaders have the means to mobilize the local media to their advantage.

  2. Diverse political views
    The common sentiment towards the promotion transparency and accountability might be hampered by the diverse political views, a situation which is common in urban settings where various groups exist. Though this may get in the way of the organizing process but it is not something that could be considered as totally insurmountable.  

  3. Fatalistic attitude
    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 tends to submit to their fate of powerlessness and give up easily rather than strive for empowerment. Sectoral leaders may be enthusiastic but the same could not be said of the masses.