THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT has completed only three of its 19 commitments to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to make government more accountable, transparent, and responsive to its citizens.
However, the three commitments that the Philippines government had completed may be considered the most significant.
These were the findings of researchers under the OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM). The IRM report was made public by PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas, who was designated by the OGP as the IRM researcher for the Philippines.
The OGP is an initiatve launched by US President Barack Obama in 2011 to promote open governance among all countries. The Philippines is one of the eight founding member-countries of the OGP. The OGP now includes 60 countries all over the world.
The Philippine IRM report was formally launched Thursday morning, and is now publicly available for public comment at the OGP website here.
The report was the result of intensive research and consultations with stakeholders from government and civil society. At least two consultations were conducted with 31 stakeholders. As well, the researchers also pored through public documents and government websites.
Mangahas said of the 19 commitments that the Philippine government had made to the OGP, only three commitments were fulfilled and four were on schedule, and 16 only partially fulfilled.
The commitments considered to be on schedule include:
- Collaboration with local governments and community organizations to develop at least 300 local poverty reduction action plans;
- Increased compliance with Seal of Good Housekeeping to 70% by 2016;
- Harmonize monitoring and reporting systems into a single results-based performance management system;
- Expand the Electronic Transparency and Accountability Initiative for Lump-sum Funds to include other funds and enable citizen reportage.
Mangahas also noted that in the consultation workshops with stakeholders, low median scores were given to the other commitments of the government because of the lack of progress in these areas.
However, Mangahas stressed that there was general agreement that the three commitments that were completed were “the most significant,” such as the single portal for government information, the expanded participatory budgeting or bottom-up budgeting and planning.
More importantly, Mangahas said that the stakeholders have pointed out the need to emphasize not just transparency, but accountability in government. In this sense, government’s commitments to the OGP would have greater value and wider implications if the action would result in more accountability, not just in more available information.
“The qualification focuses on the question of whether the three commitments actually assured accountability and meaningful citizen participation,” Mangahas said. “It also shows maturity in the appreciation of the principles of open government.”
“On one level is transparency, but the more important value is accountability and citizen participation,” she added.
It was repeatedly emphasized that while making data available is laudable, it was a different matter altogether to make government data truly accessible. For example, Mangahas said if people are not able to make heads or tails of government figures and fragmented data, then that kind of transparency is not really empowering.
Another qualification raised by the stakeholders was the need to be able to verify the data being made available by the government.
For recommendations, Mangahas cited the need for regular open consultations and public awareness activities about the OGP, and the convening of regular meetings of the steering committees. Important too is the need to involve more civil society organizations in the drafting of the action plan of the government.
As well, government agencies need to form technical working groups to monitor and implement action plans in their own departments. Mangahas said it seems that there is little participation by civil servants in the mechanisms of open governance, despite the key role they should be playing in transparency mechanisms.
For its part, the Philippine government’s self-assessment report submitted in March this year says that the government has already fulfilled seven commitments, with 9 other commitments partially fulfilled, and three still in progress.
Right to Know Right Now! coalition convenor Nepomuceno Malaluan said that while the network welcomes government efforts towards transparency, true transparency and accountability require a clearer mechanism that citizens can use at will.
Malaluan said this was the reason why transparency groups are disappointed with the administration’s refusal to throw full support behind the Freedom of Information bill that has been pending with Congress for more than a decade.
Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, also noted that the government’s failure to pass the FOI bill may in part be the reason why the government’s transparency score is not as high as it would have wished.
Poe also emphasized the need to make transparency more meaningful to the public. “We should be able to communicate better to our constituents,” she said.