Power at the Grass Roots: Monitoring Public Works in Abra, The Philippines, 1986-1990


In the early 1980s, the poor condition of roads and other infrastructure in remote areas of the Philippines hindered economic growth and heightened regional inequalities. A major problem was the central government’s inability to follow through on its own improvement projects in far-flung regions of the 7,100-island archipelago. In 1986, President Corazon Aquino created the Community Employment and Development Program, which changed the way the government managed its rural public works program. Her administration empowered citizens to monitor the progress and quality of construction. In the northern province of Abra on the main island of Luzon, two dozen volunteers formed Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government to ensure that officials and contractors carried out their jobs faithfully. In 1987, the group alerted central government agencies to 20 incomplete projects and provided evidence on which to base a high-profile inquiry against a number of local officials. The group then went on to monitor about a hundred projects under Aquino’s development program. In 1988, the group earned a presidential citation as well as national and international recognition. Over the next two decades, Concerned Citizens expanded its activities to monitor more than 600 infrastructure projects valued at 300 million pesos (US$7 million), including roads, school buildings, irrigation systems, and bridges. This case study illustrates the challenges associated with citizen monitoring, a form of short-route accountability.

Rushda Majeed drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Manila and Bangued, Abra, Philippines, in February 2013. Case published May 2013.
public works
social accountability
short route accountability
road monitoring
Community Development and Employment Program
National Economic Development Agency
Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government
Department of Public Works and Highways
Catholic Church
Corazon Aquino
Pura Sumangil
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Balancing the Central and Local
Critical Tasks
Civil service corruption
Extending services to insecure or remote areas
Core Challenge
Collective action
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Rushda Majeed