Citizen Watchdog Groups Help Enhance Transparency and Accountability in Local Government

Transparency champions showcase the Pera Natin 'To (It’s Our Money) handbook, a compilation of transparency initiatives, best practices, and accomplishments of the USAID-supported Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project.

September 2011

 On August 23, the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) culminated its two-year long work with a roundtable on citizen engagement in good governance. This event marked the end of the PPTRP project, which established an online public reporting portal where trained local journalists and citizens can contribute their blogs and report instances of corruption. More than 120 representatives from civil society organizations, media, universities, religious groups, government and donor community attended the roundtable.

Sharing his experiences, Abner Francisco, a radio journalist from Kidapawan City in Mindanao, said that he was frustrated that the local government kept its discussions and decisions on budget and spending behind closed doors. “Streetlights were never repaired even though we knew funds were coming from the national government in Manila for things like that,” he said.

PPTRP helped journalists and representatives of non-governmental organizations, religious groups and concerned citizens organize and set up Watchful Advocates for Transparent, Clean and Honest Governance in Kidapawan (WATCH Kidapawan).

“Things only started changing when we got together and decided that as taxpayers and voters we had to educate and organize ourselves and start monitoring what the city was doing with our money,” said Francisco. In cooperation with the group, city officials are now more aggressive in their efforts to clean up the system and provide better public services. “As a direct result of our work [seven months after the group was launched], local tax revenues have increased by 700 per cent and this has led to a better and more transparent policy on tax collection,” said Francisco.

The group in Kidapawan was the first of four pilot groups set up around the country. Similar groups in Bohol, Samar and Misamis Occidental have also been successful in making local citizens more vigilant and involved. The groups have helped renew citizens’ hopes that endemic corruption in the Philippines can be curbed by citizens’ actions and real people power at the grassroots level.

Bohol Transparency Network for Transformation convener Rosalinda Paredes said, “We are not here to condemn, we are here to work with government in ensuring that basic services go directly to the people and that every centavo is accounted for.”

Testimony to their effectiveness, the four groups are working on partnership agreements with the Department of the Interior and Local Government in its efforts to improve the accountability of local governments. During the event, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo welcomed the representatives of the groups in Manila, thanking them on behalf of the Philippine government and people and launching a do-it-yourself citizen guidebook on building transparency. The guidebook—Pera Natin 'To (It’s Our Money)—is a compilation of transparency initiatives, best practices and accomplishments of the PPTRP.

Launched to help improve transparency and accountability in government, the PPTRP promoted public vigilance, strong civil society and a culture of intolerance towards corruption. It worked to strengthen networks among media groups, civil society and government agencies to bolster efforts that push for greater transparency and accountability in the public sector. The project also established an online public reporting portal (www.transparencyreporting.net) and trained more than 400 local journalists and citizens to contribute blogs and report instances of corruption.

The transparency project is a partnership between ABA Rule of Law Initiative, U.S. Agency for International Development, Institute for War and Peace Reporting and local media groups, including the Center for Community Journalism and Development, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and MindaNews.

To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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