NAMFREL engages the DepEd, DILG & the DOH for the

2012 National Budget Preparation consultations

by Eric Jude O. Alvia, NAMFREL Secretary General
March 28, 2011
from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.5
The fresh mandate of the Aquino government presents opportunities for civil society organizations (CSO) and citizens groups to set its social accountability agenda and help revitalize the advocacy for good governance in the country. This opportunity calls for a calibrated response, which can only be crafted if like-minded advocates and champions of social accountability come together and discuss the appropriate course of action.

Over the past few months, CSOs have been meeting and coordinating efforts alongside counterpart government agencies in budget advocacy towards contributing to reforms in the country's public financial management. There has been optimism noted and positive developments in terms of CSO engagement and partnership with these agencies especially with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Primarily, transparency in government is a cornerstone policy that President Aquino has promised to uphold. With President Aquino at the helm, the public sees a great opportunity in making the budget more open to the public. Specifically, the DBM has made an effort to widen public access to government documents, starting with those on the budget. Since late July 2010, the DBM has spearheaded this effort by promising full transparency and active citizens’ participation in the budget preparation process. Recently, it has issued National Budget
Memorandum No. 109 which sets guidelines for CSO participation in the budget process.

The issuance has far-reaching implications than just institutionalizing citizens’ participation. Budget transparency empowers citizens and enables them to have a buy-in on decisions being made by government. This along with public participation can enhance the credibility of policy choices and the effectiveness of policy interventions.  The absence or lack of it can lead to the selection of unpopular and inappropriate programs, and corrupt and wasteful spending. For that purpose, NAMFREL-Bantay ng Bayan Foundation Inc. (NAMFREL) and other civil society and citizens groups have convened and committed to engage the DBM and select government agencies in crafting the FY
2012 budget.

In mid-February 2011, in line with the DBM’s invitation for citizens groups to participate in the FY 2012 budget preparation process, NAMFREL signified its intention to participate in the DBM, Department of Education’s (DepEd), Department of Health’s (DOH), Department of Public Works and Highways’s (DPWH) effort in preparing the fiscal year (FY) 2012 national budget.

NAMFREL is no stranger to good governance monitoring work such as this. Since the late 1980’s various NAMFREL provincial chapters in Abra and in the Bicol region have participated in project contract monitoring and as members of the bids and awards committee of their regional DPWH. Currently, NAMFREL is expanding its participation to include the monitoring of major infrastructure projects where it has a regional and local presence.

NAMFREL has also partnered with government agencies responsible for the delivery of basic services such as education and health. In 2003, it entered into a partnership with the DepEd as a civil society consortium member for the text book count monitoring (Text Book Count 1 to 5) conducting national warehouse inspections and delivery monitoring in the district school and high school levels. Since 2007, NAMFREL has provided resource persons to conduct trainings for the Text Book Walk (delivery from district school to elementary school). Last year, NAMFREL commenced participation as observers in monitoring the proceedings of the departments' Bids and Awards Committees.

In partnership with the DOH since 2004, NAMFREL volunteer observers have been deployed in monitoring ten out of 17 Center for Health Development and 54 out of 71 Retained Hospital level nationwide on the full cycle of procurement, contract implementation (inspection & acceptance) for drugs and medicines, and participation in the departments national & regional Integrity Development Councils.

To complete and fully complement these activities, NAMFREL saw it fit to participate in evaluating as well as providing inputs to the DBM, DOH, DILG, and DepEd’s adoption of a zero –based budgeting for FY 2012. Since the budget process is a cycle, it intends to engage these select government agencies on all aspects from budget preparation, legislation, execution and monitoring and evaluation.

But beyond improving access to key budget documents as well as providing greater opportunities for the public to participate, other ways in which the Philippine budget process can be made more open and responsive include: ensuring the existence of an independent and strength of legislative and audit institutions such as the Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA).

As of this writing, local NAMFREL chapters have participated in seven (Regions 3, 6,7, 8, 11, & NCR) DOH and DepEd national’s budget consultations. It has expressed its commitment to engage with these select government agencies in the national budget process, to achieve budgetary efficiency and enhance the impact of public expenditure in reducing poverty and improving each Filipinos quality of life.