The Republic of the Philippines is an archipelago located in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. Roughly one third of the Philippine’s 92 million people live in poverty. This conservative number however masks both, stark regional disparities and a low national poverty line. Meanwhile, inequality is as bad as during the mid-1980s. In 2009, the richest 20% of the population earned over half (51.9%) of total family income, leaving the remaining 80% of the population to divide the remaining 48.1%. Roughly half of the Philippines’ population lives in rural areas, where roughly 80 percent of poverty is found. Depending on subsistence farming and fishing, agriculture is, in many cases, the only source of income for the rural poor.
|Poverty Headcount Ratio at National Poverty line (percent of pop)||32.9% (2006) (IBON 2010)|
|Life Expectancy at Birth, total (years)||72 (2008)|
|Literacy Rate, adult total (percent of people aged 15 and above)||94% (2008)|
|External Debt Stocks (percent of GNI)||39.2% (2009)|
|GNI per capita (current US$)||$2,050 (2009)|
|GDP annual growth (percent)||1.1% (2009)|
|Inflation Consumer Prices (annual percent)||3.2% (2009)|
|Population, total||91,983,102 (2009)|
|Rural Population (percent of total pop)||31,586,997 (2009)|
|Net ODA Received (percent of central government expenditure)||0.2% (2008)|
CSO Case Stories
Philippines, ODA and Aid Effectiveness – The AidWatch Experience
What is AidWatch?
Civil Society Organizations and aid effectiveness issues in the Philippines can often be as diverse and thriving as the thousands of islands they involve. To connect, unite and strive towards a common goal is often more difficult than one might think, yet with respect to lobbying on official development assistance (ODA), this has been largely achieved under the wings of AidWatch Philippines.
AidWatch Philippines traces its beginnings to the Philippine Aid Watch Network organized in 2003 in response to the need for a strong civil society formation on aid and development issues. The network supported its members’ advocacy campaigns through information exchange, facilitating informed dialogues and international networking.
Today, AidWatch Philippines is a broad national network of grassroots-based and -oriented NGOs working on ODA issues in the country. It has over 150 members in more than 60 provinces nationwide, including 10 national networks. IBON Foundation is part of the core group that formed AidWatch in 2005 along with civil society networks from the country’s three main island groups: Luzon (Cordillera People’s Alliance), Visayas (Solidarity People’s Advocacy Network) and Mindanao (Mindanao Inter Faith People’s Conference). The national character of AidWatch is significant in itself and there is no equivalent civil society group involved in ODA issues in the country. It is also particularly unique in how its activities bring together an unusually wide range of development stakeholders: civil society groups from different ends of the political spectrum, national and local government officials, donor agencies, and parliamentarians.
Philippines CSOs and ODA
Philippine CSOs encompass a wide range of organizations of different sizes from across the country. They operate in very different circumstances, engage in varied development programs, projects and advocacies, and are rooted in different sectors such as peasants/farmers, workers, women, youth and children, indigenous groups, Bangsamoro peoples, migrants, and others.
CSOs as a whole have a vital role to play in the country’s ODA system because of their specific character as civil society independent and distinct from the government. The greatest strength comes from the solid grounding in basic sectors and local communities as Filipino CSOs either evolved from the grassroots themselves or are engaged directly with these stakeholders. This strong foundation in the grassroots itself underpin CSOs’ vital role as development actors and of civil society as a pillar of good governance. The capacity to efficiently and effectively deliver services and implement development projects along those lines has been well-established over time. CSOs in the Philippines have also been effective in monitoring government use and misuse of aid. This kind of aid monitoring has developed into practices that are essential in empowering society’s most vulnerable and marginalized groups, and that promote the full realization of human rights.
The Importance of Ownership
ODA is a public trust that must serve the collective good. Aid and the overall aid system will only be developmental if it is consistent with key principles: respect for fundamental human rights (economic, social, cultural, civil and political); democratic ownership of the development process; equity in growth and development; transparency and access to information; accountability for decisions and actions; and primacy of the people’s well-being and welfare. These are values that AidWatch as a representative of CSOs engagement on ODA and aid effectiveness fully subscribes to.
Improvements in aid delivery and management are always welcomed; however, it needs to be acknowledged that the technical aspects of efficiency in donor mechanisms and in recipient country government processes will be most relevant only if there is true national ownership to begin with. In the words of Mr. Sonny Africa, Chairperson of AidWatch Philippines: “There is an urgent need to overhaul the country’s aid system and, correspondingly, for aid to be made more effective, it needs to be recognized that the most pressing for now is to genuinely establish democratic ownership of aid in the development process.”
Small Steps on a Long Road
The strong link of CSOs with the grassroots and its important role in monitoring ODA builds the foundation for representing the interests of the most affected stakeholders in development, i.e. the people. To voice CSO concerns and strengthen their capacity towards ODA issues, AidWatch has established itself as a key player in the Philippines. A way of analysing the implementations of the Paris Declaration (PD) and Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) in a Philippine context is hence to evaluate the work, progress and outcomes of AidWatch activities over the past years.
The majority of AidWatch’s members constitute CSOs firmly based within local communities affected by aid and development decisions and projects. While designed to better the situation of local communities, projects are often implemented without sufficient prior consultation and paradoxically caused hardship and pain to the intended beneficiaries. The most common problem and a major concern encountered by AidWatch is the lack of information supplied to affected communities and respective local CSOs prior to the implementation of the project. The vast majority of projects start without proper communication and consultation of the beneficiary community and once negative effects are being felt, local people and CSOs struggle in finding the right channels to consult and address their problems. Here, AidWatch facilitates contacts to project officers or implementing institutions and raises the concern of local communities not only on the local and regional, but also at the provincial and national levels.
Acquiring information from and on the local level is fundamentally hindered by the lack of a ‘right to information’ law in the Philippines. Getting around this obstacle has proven difficult but not impossible. By building up a credible reputation and liaising with government and donor structures, AidWatch is slowly but surely able to obtain crucial information more easily. The signing of the PD and AAA by the Philippine government facilitates on paper a more lucid, accountable and transparent engagement and should therefore enable access to information for CSOs on ODA projects. However, according to Ms. Jazminda Lumang, Executive Director of IBON Foundation, little has been felt of the PD ‘spirit’ on the ground. And so AidWatch’s struggle for information and its demands for participation to facilitate ‘real ownership’ of development projects continue.
On the national level AidWatch’s involvement is characterized by its engagement with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Philippines’ social and economic planning and coordinating body, as well as progressive parliamentarians. The importance of linking strongly and effectively with NEDA is due to its facilitating functions in the formation and implementation of development strategies in the Philippines. Furthermore, working with NEDA is essential due to NEDA’s role of hosting the secretariat of the Philippines Harmonization Committee, an inter-agency cluster responsible for coordination and monitoring of government and donors commitments to the PD.
In the immediate aftermath of the High Level Forum 3 (HLF3) in Accra, Ghana, AidWatch organized a multi-stakeholder meeting with representatives from the government, CSO and donor sector, on the achievements and challenges stemming from the HLF3. The stage was further set for future CSO involvement with ODA concerns. Advancing the agenda of the meeting, presentations on CSO issues and possible prospective steps of engagement were presented. Following this engagement AidWatch conveyed a letter to the Philippines Harmonization Committee (PHC) outlining the essential mechanisms for future CSO participation in the Philippines based on three important steps: 1) the need of CSOs to hold an observer status in monitoring the RHC independently; 2) a permanent seat in the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC), an agency that oversees and decides on all ODA development projects implementation exceeding three million pesos (Php 3 million); and 3) the importance of CSOs being part of governance training and capacity building efforts in order to engage fully and efficiently.
While the letter was received by NEDA in September 2008, there was never an official response. Instead, informal discussions on the three points are still ongoing, but occasional training slots and participation in intermittent events and meetings are granted. Overall, the process is slow moving, but as a result of constant and serious commitment, it nevertheless seems to be moving in the right direction.
In this context, quarterly meetings with NEDA were set up in an informal setting to brainstorm on how CSOs can participate more closely with the official disbursement process of aid and actively contribute to aid and development effectiveness. These meetings also informed on current ODA review processes in the Philippines and engaged in the sharing of internal documents. This process of meetings started in order to address the question of collaboration between AidWatch and the Government and simply aimed at facilitating information sharing on both sides. However, while meetings are roughly held every quarter, there is no official line, nor a definite date or venue set. Much depends on the affirmative stance of AidWatch in making these events happen.
The principal mechanism for facilitating multi-stakeholder consultations and policy dialogue in the Philippines is the Philippines Development Forum (PDF). The organizers commonly invite CSOs to these events, but these invitations are highly exclusive and are extended only to what the PDF considers as ‘like-minded’ CSOs, thereby excluding the vast majority of Aidwatch’s network. In addition, there are costs related to participating in these events such as transport costs and venue fees arise that exclude those with limited funds and those distant to the venues location. Last but not least, the PDF has failed to convene an assembly in the last three years, which makes its commitments to ownership all the more doubtful. All in all, the PDF seems to represents an exclusive club with irregular meetings, rather then a participatory mechanism aiming for real ownership and dialogue between CSOs the government and donors.
While some might say that CSO engagement in the Philippines has shown some promising results, one needs to keep in mind that the achievements mentioned in the preceding section are the results of a strong and asserted stand of CSOs demanding participation in ODA processes. Only its strong foundation in the grassroots and the people’s movement has enabled CSOs and AidWatch to take small steps forward. The Filipino government has shown many times over that it will not give out information voluntarily. While on paper the PD and AAA shows strength, it has had little effect and influence in reality. Important improvements stem mainly from AidWatch’s and its members asserted role as a credible development actor and watchdog, made possible through the support of the mass movements and its solid foundation in the grassroots sector.
Reforming the Philippines ODA Law
Another line of AidWatch’s engagement with the government is through direct dialogue with parliamentarians in the congressional oversight committee on ODA. More concretely, AidWatch suggested the setting up of an evaluation body for ODA projects, which analyses the delivery of tangible results based on feedback from local communities. Moreover, AidWatch proposed official amendments to the existing ODA law (RA 8182) in the Philippines. These amendments should come along three main lines in the form of House Bill 3230: 1) Increase the level of CSO participation of in ODA processes; 2) Extend ODA project approval from currently the NEDA and the Philippine President to also include congress for more transparency and accountability; and 3) Establish the channel for an independent CSO body to have oversight on the process of ODA project approval and disbursement. Currently, House Bill 3230 is pending with the House Committee of Economic Affairs and has not moved since September 2010.
Despite the signing of the PD and AAA by the Philippine government, a serious lack of transparency stemming from a lack of publicly accessible information precludes any real democratic ownership of ODA projects by the people. Without adequate information there can be no real participation in shaping policies and monitoring outcomes, and citizens are hindered in making demands on their own government and supposed partners. CSOs and AidWatch as its advocator will continue to engage and demand the people’s rights to information, accountability and transparency. The past years have seen confidence building and an increased openness towards CSOs effort to be heard, however it is still a long road full of obstacles depending largely on the support of the people’s movement for success.
Lessons to be learned
Most of the achievements of the past years need to be attributed to the constant pressure and firm stance of AidWatch with a strong backing of grassroots CSOs and the people’s movement. The PD and AAA on the other hand seem to not have changed too much the lack of access and availability of information and therefore a move to more accountability and transparency from a CSO perspective. It is imperative to understand that CSOs are facing a hugely complex and corrupt system that moves slowly. This however, should not discourage CSOs to engage. Without civil society’s efforts to make governments and donors accountable and transparent, real democratic ownership of ODA cannot be achieved. In turn, without democratic ownership, development effectiveness is more then questionable. For this, CSOs in the Philippines need to continue their struggle, build on, find new sources and involve genuine CSOs as part of local development. Hence, AidWatch will continue its engagement with NEDA and the Parliament in order to push for a multi-stakeholder body that will truly support development effectiveness in the Philippines.
Case story based on qualitative interviews with Mr. Sonny Africa, Chairperson of AidWatch Philippines and Ms. Jazminda Lumang, Executive Director of IBON Foundation Philippines.
AidWatch Philippines is a broad national network of grassroots-based and –oriented NGOs working on ODA issues in the Philippines. It has over 150 members in more than 60 provinces nationwide, including 10 national networks. AidWatch Philippines aim to bring together the widest possible range of organisations able to unite on the general principles and thrusts articulated in its Unity Statement.
4F IBON Center, 114 Timog Avenue, Quezon City 1103
Tel: 63-29277060 to 62
News & Resources