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Winds of Change

/ 07:53 AM November 21, 2011

Manila—The all-star cast teleserye that gripped the nation for days centered on former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s plan to leave the country. Thankfully, it came to an abrupt end. The service of the arrest warrant on her last Friday on the non-bailable charge of electoral sabotage saved the day for the Republic, including the Supreme Court.

What would have happened had she left the country and not come back? Filipinos cannot easily forget this highly politically charged accountability issue involving the former highest official of the land. Online and street surveys indicate the people’s support of the hero of the hour, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. She clearly advanced the primordial national interest of ensuring that justice is not denied the sovereign people.

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Amid the ruckus, a troubling question that demands answer is this: why was the Supreme Court open at 6:30 p.m. to receive the P2-million cash bond hastily posted by the Arroyos on Nov. 15? Normally, government offices close at 5 p.m. Considering its implications, an investigation is necessary to determine why Supreme Court staff were on hand to receive the money past working hours and to explain the result to the public. The independence of the judiciary is a basic tenet of our democracy. We cannot afford that its image be sullied further by the maneuverings of court personnel.

The winds of change are blowing faster in our country than anyone can fathom. Under this presidency, the “untouchable“ offenders are charged and could go to jail. Who could have believed that Gen. Carlos Garcia would one day be behind bars?

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The recent experience in Cebu on the stoppage of the two flyover projects show that this administration does listen to the people.

President Noy Aquino is sincere in leading us towards the path of genuine societal transformation. Civil society members are one in saying that more than any other President, it is P-Noy who has widened the democratic space for genuine engagement by government with citizens. This augurs well in restoring the vastly eroded trust of the people in government and in moving us forward in surmounting the serious challenges of our era.

In my years of sending countless letters and Notice to Sue  (NTS) to and engaging with public officials, it is only under this administration that Malacañang took positive action on the concerns raised, with the office directing pertinent agencies to reply within 10 days and report the action taken.

In response to the  NTS sent on the non-implementation of R.A. 8749, the Clean Air Act, the National Economic Development Authority in Central Visayas included the issue in the agenda in its Economic Development Committee meeting. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Environmental Management Bureau presented the air quality status in Metro Cebu, where we also had the opportunity to share our views. It paved the way for DENR’S announcement on the holding of the first and long-overdue Metro Cebu Air Shed Board meeting this year.

It is a positive step that DENR EMB would henceforth regularly give updates on the air shed board meetings and upload air quality data in the website of Neda as it does not have any at the moment. Eleven years after the adoption of R.A. 8792, the Electronic Commerce Act, the agency’s regional office still has to prioritize the use of information technology in making its services accessible and data transparent. This environmental agency is a laggard compared to the magnificent strides taken by Departments of Public Works and Highways, Health, Budget and Management in the  matter of transparency and accountability, not to mention complying with environmental protection mandates under various laws.

While residents in Metro Manila and the rest of the archipelago were in animated suspense on developments taking place regarding GMA, 100 advocates including this columnist were further enriched by their participation in the National Conference on Citizen’s Participation in Public Finance held at Clarkfield, Pampanga. The United Nations Development Program, Civil Service Commission and Social Watch Philippines organized the trail blazing event, which should be replicated all over the country.

The area of public finance is still a vastly unexplored terrain for participation by civil society, except for the pioneering initiatives of nongovernment organizations like Social Watch and Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG).  Beyond any doubt, “citizens’ involvement in the budget process leads to improved delivery of social services and increased investment for the marginalized or most vulnerable sectors. The innovative interventions of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs) improved public expenditure management and oversight. The budget, as the primary management tool of the government, reflects the administration’s economic and political priorities as well as its political will to achieve socioeconomic development. Hence, it is connected to every aspect of governance – reforms, policies, anti-corruption efforts, delivery of social services and others.” (www.socialwatchphilippines.org/abi2.htm)

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Social Watch Philippines (www.socialwatchphilippines.org) is in the forefront for pushing the Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI). ABI is a “crusade for a participatory, transparent and accountable budget system. It started in early 2006 when NGOs led by Social Watch Philippines, advocating for social development and economic justice, worked to collectively engage in the budget process. The objective is to present a concrete alternative to the budget presented by the President.”  It includes proposals for greening the budget.

The CCAGG was instituted in 1987 “to establish a self-reliant community of a politically mature and economically emancipated citizenry who will work for good government”. Largely composed of former NAMFREL volunteers, they worked with their local government through the monitoring of the Community Employment and Development Program (CEDP) of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). It was “an opportunity to help ensure that the poor living conditions of their fellow Abrenians would be properly and genuinely addressed. In the course of monitoring the projects of the CEDP, the CCAGG stumbled upon certain irregularities …The CCAGG still counts as among its initial triumphs the two landmark cases that resulted in: 1) the suspension of 11 DPWH engineers in their province for falsification of Certificates of Completion in 1988, and 2) the “remove and replace” order that was imposed on the Abra-Ilocos project contractor (D&D Construction of Bangued) for its sub-standard practices they implemented in their road concreting project in 1990”. www.tag.org.ph/citizen_action/ccagg.htm

It was inspiring to interact with the country’s movers and shakers, including Manang Pura Sumangil, lead convenor of CCAGG. Her calm personality belies the unyielding strength of a citizen warrior fighting for honesty, transparency and accountability in the management of public funds. As a teacher, Manang Pura was instrumental in influencing  co-teachers, farmers, engineers and the youth to scrutinize how taxpayers’ money was spent by the holders of public positions.

Can the Movement for Livable Cebu and other civil society organizations institutionalize participatory audit and monitoring of government programs and projects in Cebu? Undoubtedly, this can be done, as the courageous citizens in Abra have been doing the past 25 years.

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TAGS: Arroyo travel, Benigno Aquino III, electoral fraud, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Government, Supreme Court
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