The passage of the freedom of information bill remains a challenge, but it does not mean Filipinos are left with no option when it comes to monitoring the actions of our public officials.
The Citizen Action Network for Accountability, launched on July 2 in Quezon City, gives ordinary citizens the opportunity to be more active in demanding accountability from their government officials. The program gives citizens all over the country information technology tools with which to monitor and report on their local governments on how public money is spent.
Citizens can report wrongdoing, but they can also commend noteworthy action.
During the launch, social media strategist Tonyo Cruz said that out of 104 million Filipinos, 34 million have access to the Internet, 30 million have Facebook accounts, 100 million have cell phones and 25 million have smart phones. These devices are best put to use in participating in the governing process.
After all, according to Undersecretary Austere Panadero of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, 77 percent of Filipinos are interested in participating in governance, specifically planning and monitoring at the barangay level.
More and more Filipinos, especially the young, are going online. But Cruz added that going online does not necessarily mean going social. For one to be social, there must be content, conversation and community.
More government agencies must also commit to improving the delivery of their service by using technology, much like what the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Pagasa are doing, Cruz said in his presentation. There is uneven development among local governments when it comes to citizen participation.
CANA hopes to even out this landscape.
CANA succeeds Pera Natin To! Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project which focused on educating the citizenry to read and interpret public finance documents. It is a collaboration of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the Center for Community Journalism and Development, MindaNews and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, and is partly funded by the Delegation of the European Union in the Philippines.
CANA envisions that by 2015, it will have evolved from being a program to a self-standing organization owned and run from the roots up.
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CANA project manager Rorie Reyes Fajardo says that the emphasis on local government monitoring is intentional. “It is crucial that people actually feel whether the system is working or not. There is louder clamor for results in the local level.” She says that efforts will also be greater in engaging the people of Mindanao, where the poorest segments of the population can be found.
Indeed, during the launch, Red Batario of the CCJD shared his experiences in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi Tawi and Sibagat, Agusan Del Norte in their efforts to change the perception that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is a dangerous place with notoriously corrupt officials. They were reminding citizens there to claim their rights, but more importantly recognize their responsibility to participate in the business of governing.
But how shall CANA protect itself and its noble goals from scheming individuals who may deliberately feed it with complaints against political opponents, or praise their own patrons? “We will use the time-tested tool of verification, of course,” she says. “When submitting information, citizens are expected to go into details and give us their contacts.” This, so CANA can in turn conduct due diligence.
“Already, we have been receiving reports,” adds Fajardo, “and some of the stories we are being told are worthy of full-blown investigation.”
In the end, CANA exists to build the capacity of citizens to take a more active part in how they are being governed. Gone are the days when the governors did as they pleased while the governed suffered in silence, only making their voices heard during elections (assuming their votes were correctly counted in the first place).
No wheeling and dealing, unscrupulous public official can get away with anomalous actions if he or she knows that people are watching, ready to make their observations known using the real-time, far-reaching and efficient aspects of technology.
This is activism in the most engaging and constructive sense. Visit CANA’s Web site www.citizenaction.net and find out how you can make a difference.