by Cong B. Corrales

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CONCERNED CITIZENS GROUPS and civil society networks delivered a stern message to the Philippine government that they are monitoring and watching how the government is using the millions in foreign and local aid that have poured in following the devastation caused by supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).

The Citizen Action Network for Accountability (CANA), in collaboration with civil society organizations and bloggers groups, sent out the message during Thursday’s first roundtable discussion on how to ensure that relief aid reaches Yolanda’s victims.

The discussion involved CANA’s Yolanda Citizen Watch, BlogWatch, #AidMonitorPH, and the Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines (DDRNetPhils).

“It is our moral obligation to help ensure things don’t go missing, get stolen or wasted. We need real people power to make sure every single centavo counts,” said Rorie Fajardo, CANA program manager.

Fajardo added that national funds are among those which need to be closely monitored.

“Some key questions: Which government departments, agencies and local government units are receiving — and how much and which designated bank accounts do these go? What contracts are being awarded, and to who? Is the money being spent on the ground the way it should? Are timely audits happening,” Fajardo asked.

Eric Galvin, program manager of the Operations Section of the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines said they back CANA’s Yolanda Citizen Watch initiative.

“There has been a strong clamor asking for efficient delivery for victims of Yolanda. This the least we can do. Monitoring requires capacity, (and) for all (to) unite (with a) high level of professionalism and ethics,” Galvin said.

The EU delegation supports the three-year program aiming to increase local government transparency and accountability by helping citizens better understand, monitor and report on LGUs through social media and crowd-sourcing technologies of CANA.

CANA is a joint initiative of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), the Mindanao news cooperative MindaNews, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, BlogWatch co-founder, said their group has also noticed a surge of interest among netizens on tracking the relief funds intended for typhoon Yolanda survivors.

“We want to build a monitoring system. Promote public policy dialogue and information between NGOs (non-government organizations). Netizens can help by using the hashtag and crowdsource the information (gathered).
Financial aid is the focus,” said Lardizabal-Dado.

“Through hashtag #AidMonitorPH, we want to ensure that the current outpouring of financial aid translates to immediate relief on the ground,” she added.

For the government’s part, Ivygail Ong, program officer of DBM’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, presented to the participants the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH). It is an online portal of information on calamity aid and assistance pledged or given by countries and intergovernmental organizations, as well as donations coursed through the Commission on Filipinos Overseas’ (CFO) Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino program (LINKAPIL).

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“Aside from pledges, FAiTH also tracks cash donations received by the Philippine government from foreign government and intergovernmental donors. Again, financial aid channeled to non-Philippine government entities such as NGOs, UN instrumentalities, as well as private entities and foundations cannot be tracked by FAiTH,” its website reads.

The FAiTH task force is composed of representatives from the Department Of Budget and Management (DBM), Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), DND-Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Office of Presidential Spokesperson (OPS), Presidential Management Staff (PMS), and Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO).

“The Commission on Audit (COA) has also agreed to provide advisory support to this initiative,” said Ong.

In her concluding remarks, Dr. Leonor Briones, Social Watch Philippines (SWP) lead convenor, said media should not be so “concerned” with foreign aid.

“Nakikita ko rin sa media, so concerned with foreign aid. Sino ba ang may dahilan ng climate change? We should also ask for accountability sa pera natin,” said Briones.

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She said she is not downplaying the foreign aid pouring in. However, Briones pointed out that the national government can easily afford to match the foreign aid amounts, if one merely looks at the recent scandals on the Congress’ pork barrel fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

“Scrap all forms of pork, wherever they are. It (YCW) is a spontaneous response. (It’s) very impressive. But this has to be translated down to the beneficiaries. Let’s watch (and monitor) government together,” added Briones.

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