One of the best tools that could help our officials and decision makers particularly at the local level is the community-based monitoring system (CBMS). It is a tool for formulation, implementation, assessment and monitoring of programs and policies that are specific, targeted and responsive to the needs of each sector of the community. But while it is one of the “must haves”, CBMS data gathering amidst the Covid-19 pandemic is not only insensitive on the plight of its enumerators and respondents but it is also bastardizing the science behind the system.
The CBMS was introduced by Dr. Celia Reyes of the Angelo King Institute of the Dela Salle University (AKI-DLSU), and was endorsed to local government units (LGUs) by both the Department of the Interior and Local Governance (DILG) and the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) of the Office of the President. Eventually, other agencies and institutions were involved and this included the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) and the then-National Statistics Office (now Philippine Statistics Authority or PSA) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
In 2012, NAPC Secretary Joel Rocamorra and Undersecretary Florencia Dorotan entrusted me the management of the CBMS data in NAPC. In consultation with Dr. Reyes and DILG Director Anna Bonagua, and supported by LGU assessments on the challenges being encountered in the conduct of CBMS, NAPC was able to develop the Rapid Community-Based Monitoring System or Rapid CBMS. Rapid CBMS is just the same as the traditional CBMS only that the former uses smartphones and tablets for data gathering.
Rapid CBMS was a success that it was not only funded under the Bottom-Up Budgeting (BUB) Program but was also looked up to as a model in revolutionizing data gathering in the Philippines. In fact, the Senate Oversight Committee then under Senator Chiz Escudero, the NEDA and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) invited Usec. Dorotan and I to present the Rapid CBMS technology for consideration in possible harmonization of government-funded surveys including the national census. But more than the rapid technology being used in the data gathering, some Senators and then Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan also considered using the CBMS itself as a tool to harmonize all the surveys and data gathering programs of the Philippine Government. Hence, the Unified Data Harmonization System proposal that I co-drafted with Usec. Dorotan. Unfortunately, political economy dynamics played a role that the only achievement we had was a CBMS bill that later became the basis of Republic Act 11315 or the CBMS Act which President Rodrigo Duterte signed in 2019.
Then came a disturbing news. A few days ago, I was told that the Municipality of Limay, Bataan is conducting CBMS data gathering. That was the good news because appreciation on the system is indeed growing. But my heart sank on the second half of the news — that it is being conducted in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. So I asked: Is it really CBMS?
I was given pictures and other information on the data gathering. The evidences suggest that enumeration started last April — the height of the enhanced community quarantine under Covid — and is still on-going. This puts at risk not only the enumerators but also the community. What if one of these enumerators is exposed to a Covid positive? And the LGU is allowing them to gallivant from one house to another and then from community to community?
Having been out in the “CBMS work” for three years, I immediately called my friends in NAPC and DILG and asked who sanctioned the data gathering, and whether or not there is a mandate to finish the same under the pandemic. Unfortunately, both said “nada”. Nothing. Nichts. Wala. And no DILG memorandum was issued to that effect. In simple terms, it is the LGU’s initiative.
While Limay may have been really in need of data, not only did it appear insensitive to the plight of its people but it is also screwing the system. If the data is captured during these abnormal times, we will definitely get skewed results. For example, one of the questions in the CBMS tool is about experiencing crime. With the lockdown in place, CBMS-generated crime statistics will definitely drop. So does that mean that the local government is doing its job properly? Another CBMS question is on any assistance received from the government. With the LGUs forced to distribute food packs under the Covid-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Guidelines, and the LGUs merely complying with the same, shall the LGU deserve a higher rating for this? What happens then to the long term anti-poverty and sustainable goals statistics that the CBMS seeks to capture? Skewed, right?
Second, respondents usually share a different response especially under duress. Covid-19 is one such threat or constraint. Perhaps fearing that the enumerator could be a Coronavirus carrier and therefore send him off immediately, the respondent will just answer all questions without thinking the answers properly. Or simply, the respondent will avoid answering at all. Genius, right?
Likewise, if the respondent is coughing or shows some possible symptoms of Covid, won’t the enumerator hurry ending the interview just to avoid the respondent?
Fourth, and depending on the tone as well as the phrasing of the introduction, respondents who cooperate might calibrate his or her responses to be able to get something from the government. Remember that the respondent is on a difficult situation being under Covid, has no work, and is definitely worried how to get by during the pandemic. Won’t he paint a different picture so that he could easily get support from the government?
In all the cases mentioned, the quality of CBMS data is sacrificed. That is why there is a science involved on how, where and when to gather data. This science is the very reason why the PSA is postponing its census this year. Then we hear this news that the LGU of Limay bastardizing that foundation?
Note that the CBMS questions were developed without Covid in mind. These questions were pre-tested and approved by the PSA. If there is an intention from the LGU to capture Covid-related data, the CBMS is not that tool. The proper thing to do is for the LGU to consult with DILG and AKI-DLSU for a “Covid-proofed” questionnaire, or wait a little bit until the situation stabilizes. Limay is rich — the second richest municipality in the Philippines — and can definitely afford to spare a budget for data gathering. If it has a deadline to meet, the municipality could have just doubled or multiplied the number of enumerators and deployed them on a later time. For example, if the LGU is currently deploying 15 enumerators to gather data from the 16,500 households of Limay, it can just double or even triple the number of data gatherers so that what can be done for three days can be done in one day.
Fifteen enumerators, though, is very small that Limay will be laughed at by second and third class municipalities who had been employing 40 to 60 enumerators for their 10,000 to 12,000 households. Note that the total amount for data gathering won’t be that different as the number of outputs per day is just the same per enumerator. Hence, cost-efficiency can never be an issue here. Unless Limay’s finances, or at least the internal revenue allotment, dropped from billions to millions.
But of course we do not question the wisdom of the LGU on why it wants to have a longer data gathering. Hopefully that was not conceived to punish the enumerators which, by all indications, appear to be as such by sending them amidst Covid.
NAPC, DILG and AKI-DLSU have been advocating for, and defending the use of, CBMS at all levels. I’ve joined those activities not only because of NAPC but also because I am a pollster, and I love the science in gathering and analyzing the data I come up with. I may not have a particular use for Limay’s CBMS but it pains me to note that the sacrifices we have done and are doing at the national level defending the CBMS among stakeholders and crossing streams of political economic interests will just be for naught.