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Media and civil society leaders in Kidapawan discuss how citizens could ask for more transparency from local leaders, especially when it comes to expenditures of public funds.
On October 21, the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) and Social Watch Philippines, supported by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), organized a media seminar on budget issues. During the Manila seminar, Senator Teofisto Guingona, University of the Philippines professor Alvic Padilla, Vera Files Trustee Yvonne Chua and other national budget experts shared their thoughts with journalists and activists from around the country.
The insights will help journalists investigate government corruption and report on how tax payers’ money is used. “A reporter must not be afraid of numbers,” said Chua, adding that reporters need to “dig deeper into contracts, their vulnerabilities and irregularities” and explain relevant details to the public.
The training allowed the Watchful Advocates for Transparent, Clean and Honest Governance in Kidapawan (WATCH Kidapawan) and the Multisectoral Alliance for Transparency and Accountability in Samar (MATA Samar)—local anti-corruption groups the PPTRP launched in July and September, respectively—to share what they learned over the past few months. Print and radio journalists, civil society representatives, academics, religious leaders, public servants and everyday citizens, representing competing media groups, rival political parties and diverse ideological and ethnic affiliations, comprise the two groups.
The groups have already proven effective in unveiling information and raising public awareness. WATCH Kidapawan demanded access to key fiscal documents that the city government had previously kept secret and exposed significant questionable transactions, including a non-existent waste water treatment facility worth $140,000, undelivered heavy infrastructure equipment worth $1 million and a dubious electricity bill amounting to $120,000. Following focused media campaigns and discussions with local councils, three of the five missing pieces of equipment were recovered. The group’s activism has also scrutinized eight tax collectors and treasury employees accused of involvement in the misappropriation of $280,000 in tax revenue. Seven of them have been suspended for six months, while the case of one individual is still pending. In addition, the group attended court hearings and helped raise bail funds for Lally Aninon, a whistleblower charged with libel after exposing illegal collection activities.
MATA Samar has secured membership with the Millennium Challenge Account, a local counterpart of the Millennium Challenge Corporation—an independent, innovative U.S. foreign aid agency established to address global poverty and reward good governance. MATA Samar has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Interior and Local Government to encourage community engagement and transparency in government transactions. The group is gathering information on local infrastructure projects and monitoring preparations for the 2011 provincial budget. It will establish links with other non-governmental organizations and government agencies to facilitate a feedback mechanism called Ulat sa Bayan (Report to the People), and to devise score cards and accountability tools to monitor local government units. Moreover, MATA Samar will host weekly media forums to engage local government officials and solicit public feedback.
ABA ROLI and PPTRP have previously trained members of the two groups on corruption law and investigative journalism techniques. USAID supported the trainings. Similar local groups are currently forming in Bohol and in Ozamis, Mindanao, and PPTRP, in coordination with the Ehem-Aha Anticorruption Project, has laid the groundwork for local transparency reporting initiatives in Davao City.
To learn more about work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <email@example.com>.