Power Shift: How You Can Hold Your Government Accountable
MANILA, Philippines -- On Thursday, July 18, the Makati Business Club (MBC) and Bantay.ph presented Power Shift: How You Can Hold Your Government Accountable. The forum began at 9:00 a.m. at the Mandarin Oriental, Makati, in collaboration with the Coalition Against Corruption (CAC) and the Partnership for Transparency Fund-Philippines (PTF), as it sought to tackle an age-old problem that is constantly staring Philippine society in the face.
“As I looked around the room, I noticed that pabata ng pabata ang mga tao dito (the crowd is getting younger and younger). A younger generation. Same old problem,” sighed Commissioner Heidi Mendoza of the Commission On Audit (COA).
On that day and at this point in Filipino politics, she could not be more right.
In the midst of the Janet Lim Napoles P-10 billion pork barrel scandal and days before the State Of the Nation Address (SONA), Power Shift was determined to once again address the state of corruption that the Philippines has been drowning in for decades. With the help of its guest speakers, the message was clear: We believe in a tolerant and honest government. We believe in good governance and in the existence of a government that is not corrupt. Finally, we believe that through citizen engagement, this can be achieved.
Encouraging Citizen Activism
As the first speaker, Comm. Mendoza instantly pointed out that, though it may not seem like it, there are indeed government officials who are true advocates of a corrupt-free government. Not all politicians are corrupt. With this in mind, Comm. Mendoza stated that it was now important for the public to work hand in hand with government sectors like the COA in order to report disloyal officials and suspicious corrupt activities through the use of sufficient evidence. One way this can be done is through the Citizen Participatory Audit, a venture that allows everyday Filipino citizens to approach the COA with feedback on the operations of government offices and civil servants. The ultimate goal is to make to make the government more “efficient, transparent and accountable”.
Likewise, Mr. Geert van der Linden, country director of the PTF Philippines, supported this and claimed that, “Citizen activism works. Organization against a problem, especially a problem as destructive as corruption, can really make a difference regardless of where you live”.
Educating the Public
According to Mr. Henry Motte-Muñoz, Co-founder of Bantay.ph, these changes begin with education. Educating the public should be the first step towards encouraging citizen engagement. Bantay.ph strives to achieve this through measures as simple as providing the public with a step by step formula on various government processes, such as obtaining a driver’s license. This information has the potential to help Filipino’s avoid corrupt coercions wherein they are forced to pay extra for non-existent requirements.
Gaining Public Access
The Undersecretary to the Chief Information Officer, Mr. Richard Bon Moya, from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) proposed a similar simple strategy. It centered on the idea of making the government visible by pushing it to operate in the public’s eye through unrestrained access to the government’s public inventory. It is understandable that some government documents, like ones that pertain to issues of national security, should appropriately be kept classified. However, as taxpayers, the people have the right to know what is being done with the money they pay, which is why simple databases containing the government’s budget for various projects should be released in order for government spending to be monitored by the public. Projects such as Budget Ng Bayan and Open Data Philppines, to be launched in November 2013, strive to execute plans as simple as these to ensure honest governance.
Keeping silent about corruption does nothing to change it. It takes individual acts of courage and determination to ignite a spark and it takes organized action to create lasting change. We must encourage each other to become responsible citizens and to report signs of corruption whenever it is encountered. It is time to push for citizen engagement. It is time to hold the government accountable. It is time for a power shift.