Philippines

It has been a decade since Social Watch Philippines (SWP) convened the Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI). The consortium has now blossomed to around one hundred and sixty strong civil society organizations and individuals conducting research and lobby efforts in coming out with annual budget analysis, campaigning against lump sum funds, and engaging the national government and the legislature in the budget process by coming out with a civil society-crafted alternative budget, otherwise called as the Orange Book.

Throughout the years, the effort of the consortium to directly engage through the budget process has led to the forging of partnerships with concerned agencies and champion legislators, expansion of the ABI network to more organizations and individuals who share SWP and ABI’s development vision through budget advocacy, and the continuing presence of the ABI in House and Senate to present alternative budget proposals.

With huge money comes huge accountability. For Leonor Briones, lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines (SWP), the billions of funds that would be poured into the soon-to-be-established Bangsamoro government should undergo thorough audit to ensure proper spending and hold specific people responsible for how the money is spent.

By the reckoning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiation Mohagher Iqbal, the Bangsamoro government will get an initial funding of about P70 billion in its first year of operation, from various sources, including the block grant from the government.

Security was tight during the Papal address at the Opening Plenary of the UN Summit, so I missed these events as only a few civil society representatives could be accommodated, but certainly this was better than Addis Ababa during the 3rd Financing for Conference. The UN General Assembly formally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the opening session without further debate as the document had gone through months of debates ad revisions before Member States agreed on the final text.

The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the executive and legislative departments to answer a recent petition of anti-pork barrel advocates against the government’s spending of lump sum and discretionary funds in this year’s budget.

In session yesterday, the justices decided to require the Palace and both houses of Congress to comment on the petition for certiorari and prohibition filed last Sept. 1 by Social Watch Philippines, led by former national treasurer Leonor Briones.

Inquirer Photo / Grig C.
Montegrande

OZAMIZ CITY, Philippines—The proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) law is dead, and President Aquino and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte should share the blame for its fate.

Thus declared a group of advocates who have been pushing Congress for years to enact the measure that would allow greater access to public records and help reduce corruption in government.

“(W)ithout decisive support from the President and the leadership of the House of Representatives, the bill will not pass,” read the statement from the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition which has been campaigning for the FOI bill for more than 15 years.

In response to President Benigno Aquino III’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA), Social Watch Philippines (SWP) lead convener Prof. Leonor Magtolis Briones said that the President has failed to fulfill his promises on the matter of social development and protection of the Constitution. According to Briones, based on the Millennium Development Goals target on poverty, the Philippines has not met its 17.2% poverty rate goal. As of the first semester of 2014, poverty incidence remains at 25.8% proving that despite the flagship poverty reduction programs of the government, poverty levels have remained virtually unchanged.

It is claimed that the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP) has improved, however the GDP goals for 2015 may not be attained. GDP growth does not guarantee that the majority of the Filipinos have felt this economic progress. She stressed that, “Many Filipinos still consider themselves poor and hungry. Claims of robust growth can only be substantiated if they benefit from it.

Manila, Philippines–Today, we witness state leaders, high-level officials, civil society groups, and business representatives convene for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss and agree on an action plan for financing development, including the Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted by UN member states in the September 2015 Summit.

“We started from an optimistic viewpoint on FfD3 and now ending with so much disappointment over what seems like retrogression from old agreements. There is no mention at all of peace dividends generated from the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons, and the reduction in defense spending. Debt relief and condonation are treated marginally. The emerging document suggests business as usual. It doesn’t explain the fundamental reasons for why there is lack of financing sustainable development,” lamented Isagani Serrano, co-convener of Social Watch Philippines (SWP) and president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM).

Prof. Leonor Briones.

The P70-billion block grant that will be given to the new autonomous region in the Philippines during the first year of the implementation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law raises serious questions of accountability, former National Treasurer Leonor Briones said.

“The most problematic in terms of accountability is the block grant,” Briones, lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines, told a forum on the BBL at the University of the Philippines Thursday.

Prof. Leonor Briones.

The budget watchdog Social Watch Philippines on Friday criticized the Senate for retaining the new definition of savings in the 2015 budget that it approved, and the possibility of funding for an expense item being declared as savings at any time of the year.

"Such a redefinition can perpetuate the pork barrel system and mechanisms similar to the Disbursement Acceleration Program, both of which have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court," the group said in a statement.

Photo: Social Watch Philippines

Social Watch Philippines challenged Congress to reclaim the power of the purse from the Executive at the SWP-Alternative Budget Initiative’s critique of the proposed 2015 budget at the House Committee on Appropriations CSO consultation last Wednesday, September 10, 2014. SWP-ABI also presented their alternative budget proposals for 2015 in the same meeting.

SWP Lead Convenor Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones presented with a summary of the organization’s analysis of the 2015 proposed budget. She focusing on salient issues Congress faces with the current public finance system, such as congressional scrutiny, debt servicing and stark disparities in regional allocations of the budget.

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