Press Release
June 19, 2012

Speech of Sen. TG Guingona (Open Budget Partnership, World Bank)

Friends, ladies and gentlemen:

Good morning to all of you.

First, let me perform a patriotic duty. Today is the 19th of June. And, it is my duty as a Filipino to remind everyone that our country marks today the 151st birth anniversary of our national hero ... the great Malay ... Dr. Jose Rizal.

For our distinguished who may be hearing his name for the first time, let me briefly introduce Dr. Rizal. He was the perfect example of the exceptional Renaissance Man: poet, novelist, artist, outstanding sportsman, ophthalmologist, biologist, urban planner, and many more ... all rolled-up into one.

More important, he served as the single biggest inspiration of the Philippine revolution in the late 1800s which led to our independence from a 400-year-old colonial government.

Dr. Rizal had a very simple thesis regarding the need for independence. He believed and fought for the principle that those who govern should be accountable to those who are governed. He called the absence of accountability to the governed ... "tyranny." Those who governed without accountability were, to him, plain and simple "tyrants."

Dr. Rizal's principle remains true until this very day. And so, every time we stand up and call for transparency and accountability in public governance today, we know that such is a continuation of a legacy of a national hero.

Where there is transparency and accountability in public governance, there can be no modern-day "tyrants".

Interestingly, it looked like the national and local budget processes have been, in a way ... the "last bastion of tyranny". "Tyrants", simply put, are those who govern not on the basis of organic and moral laws, but mostly on the basis of whims and caprices. Minus transparency and accountability, that seems to have been the mode of planning the use and managing the people's financial resources.

Well, it looks like our people have decided it is time ... that this last bastion of tyranny ... should, at last  fall.

Time has come for the tenets of transparency and accountability to govern the way decisions are made on how, when, and where the money of the people earmarked for development and welfare are used.

Dr. Rizal, who was ahead of his time, saw one sad reality. He saw that apathy and indifference among the governed were the perfect ingredients to create an environment ripe for the perpetuation of political tyranny. The same is true in the budget process. When the people stay away from the entire budget process and leave it in the hands of the political and bureaucratic sectors, transparency and accountability are - oftentimes - compromised.

So, we thought, a "revolution" of sorts need to happen in the budget process. That "revolution" must begin with a decision among the people to be involved in the process. To participate. To tell those who govern them that they require and demand that the process of deciding how, where and when their money will be used should be done in an open process where accountability is the major pillar and foundation.

In this spirit, we convened the Open Budget Partnership in November 2010. On that day, we launched a first-of-its-kind collaborative initiative among various stakeholders. They included the Executive Branch of government through the Department of Budget and Management; the Legislative Branch through the Senate Finance Committee and the House Committee on Appropriations; civil society groups; professional organizations; academic institutions; and, international development agencies.

They were driven by one vision, one goal: that of a fully transparent, accountable and participatory budget process.

That was, in more ways than one, truly "revolutionary". It signaled a radical change ... a departure from a system where the people stood at a distance while the political machinery decided how the people's money was to be used.

In the old prevailing system, all that the people can do was grumble and complain when they felt that their money was not being wisely used ... and did not redound to their welfare and well-being.

Now, the Open Budget Partnership aims to change that culture and set-up. Instead of grumbling and complaining in the aftermath of a non-responsive budget program and use, the Partnership will bring the people in right at the beginning of the budget process ... up to the point where they actually see the concrete use of their money.

Here's what we envision the Open Budget Partnership to be doing the medium term.

One, full multi-sector engagement in the fiscal policy formulation process.

Two, significant multi-sector involvement in the preparation and implementation of the budget.

Three, active and aggressive involvement by the Partnership in tracking and monitoring the expenditure of the budget, both at the national and local levels.

Four, further expanding the opportunities for people's participation in the budget process.

The Open Budget Partnership has one other important goal: to make sure that the preparation, allocation and use of the people's money would significantly benefit the poor.

By "favor the poor", we do not necessarily mean "dole outs"; what we mean is that the wise use of the people's money should favor the creation of infrastructure and opportunities - those that would help the underprivileged and marginalized sectors of our society, to improve their situation and their plight.

The tasks that must be done to get us closer to our goal are not easy.

Our nemeses are not just apathy and indifference, but an age-old culture. But the Open Budget Partnership is determined to fulfill its mission. The journey may take a while, and we may have to take it one step at a time. But we are confident we will get to the finish line, perhaps sooner than we hope for.

You might ask, what is the basis for the air of optimism?

Well, for one, the response of the private sector and civil society has been quite encouraging.

Already, several allies from the private and civil society sectors have enlisted to help us in this cause.

Among them are the following: Alternative Budget Initiative, INCITEGov, Philippine Association of Government Budget Administrators (PAGBA), Pilipina, Procurement Watch, Kaakbay Citizen Development Initiatives, Inc., Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran, Kaya Natin!, Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), Teachers' Inc., Mindanao Bloggers, Mindanao Business Council, CO Multiversity, North Luzon Coalition for Good Governance (NLCGG), and Earth Savers Movement.

The first order of the day for the Partnership is to wage war against ignorance - ignorance of the budget process. We can't do that unless we ourselves have understood and mastered the process. So, at this point, our partners are looking at budget studies; determining how the process can lead to pro-poor outcomes; identifying the so-called accountability gaps in this process and looking at ways to correct them; and linking up with various sectors to spread the virus of involvement and participation.

For my part, I have drafted and sponsored a piece of legislation in the Senate titled "People's Participation in the National Budget Process Act".

The goal of this bill is to institutionalize the participation of people's organizations and civil society groups in the budget process.

Is institutionalization important? Yes. There will always be a strong temptation for people to revert back to the old ways of apathy and indifference. We better make sure there is a law which will remind them that they have a responsibility to take part in the process of determining how their money will be used by government.

One week ago, the Philippines marked the 114th anniversary of its independence.

On that day, June 12, 1898, Filipinos decided they would govern themselves; that they would take charge of their destiny as a people.

It took some time for us to realize that true independence requires that we be vigilant and that we take charge of the governmental processes needed to keep freedom and democracy strong.

Part of that is making sure that those who govern do so with transparency and accountability.

I believe the Open Budget Partnership makes our one-century-one-decade-and-four-years old Independence even more meaningful.

We intend to keep it that way.

I wish your conference all the best.

Have a great day ahead of you.

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