by: Harvey S. Keh
During his 18 years as mayor of Naga City, current Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was always known as a champion of transparency, accountability and people participation. One just has to visit their city’s official website to see that all financial transactions, biddings and purchases made by the city government are posted for the general public to see and scrutinize.
Aside from this, Robredo also institutionalized the formation of the Naga City People’s Council (NCPC), an organization composed of representatives from different NGOs, business groups and private organizations whose main task is to work with the local government to ensure that proper consultation is always done before major decisions are made.
These best practices in good governance has led to the transformation of Naga as the most progressive city in the Bicol region and has also garnered for the city more than 100 national and international awards. Robredo was also the first local government leader in the Philippines to receive the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service.
Thus, it was no wonder that during his first few months in office as DILG Secretary, Robredo made it a priority to issue a memorandum circular requiring all local government units to fully disclose their budget and how they are spending it to their constituents. Clearly, this initiative is in line with the campaign promise of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to curb graft and corruption through the promotion of transparency and public accountability.
As a show of support for this laudable initiative by the DILG to bring much needed reforms in our local government units, the House of Representatives and the Senate both approved the inclusion of this provision in the General Appropriations Act for the 2011 budget.
Gov. LRay blocks transparency and full disclosure policy
While different national organizations such as the League of Cities of the Philippines, League of Municipalities of the Philippines, League of Provinces and the Transparency and Accountability Network strongly supported and hailed this move by the DILG, one of Robredo’s long-time political rivals in Camarines Sur, Governor LRay Villafuerte, submitted a petition to the Supreme Court (SC) asking the SC to declare this memorandum as unconstitutional.
Is it unconstitutional to ask our government leaders to tell us how they are spending our hard-earned taxpayers’ money? According to Article 3, Section 7 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.” Wasn’t it no less than the Pres. Aquino who said during his inaugural speech that we are his Bosses? As our government leaders’ boss, I believe that we have the right to demand from them information about where they are spending public funds. For someone who is perceived by some as a dynamic young politician, I am surprised by this move by Gov. Villafuerte to question The DILG’s initiative that aims to make our public officials more accountable to ordinary Filipino citizens.
Running for the Senate in 2013?
Is politics also in play here? As we all know, Gov. Villafuerte has been the governor of Camarines Sur since 2004 thus, this is his last term in office. Is this perhaps his way of trying to gain national exposure for a reported plan to run for the Senate in the 2013 elections?
Before he decides to run for the Senate, it might be good for him to first try to solve the growing poverty situation in his province. According to the latest poverty data presented just last February by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), poverty incidence in Camarines Sur has grown from 36.6% in 2006 to 38.7% in 2009. The province also ranked third among all provinces in the whole country in terms of the total number of poor families with more than 126,000 families! It is surprising that despite all the tourism buzz being generated about Camarines Sur, it still has the highest poverty incidence in the Bicol region. Perhaps the money that tourism is generating for the province isn’t being used properly by the leaders of the province as can be seen by the Commission on Audit’s report (found below) on the finances of the Camarines Sur Water Sports Complex-CWC.
Anomalies found in official COA Report of Camarines Sur
A check on the official 2009 Commission of Audit (COA) Report on Camarines Sur’s financial statements would show several alleged anomalies. Allow me to quote some of these findings:
a.) Collections in the Sports Center (Camarines Sur Water Sports Complex-CWC) were not turned over to the treasurer/cashier within the period stated under Section 29 of the Manual on New Government Accounting System (NGAS), Volume 1, thus, exposing government funds to possible loss, misuse or misappropriation. Government funds were used in the development and construction of the CWC.
b.) Cash advances to officers and employees amounting to P 23.96 Million remained unliquidated at the end of the year thereby raising doubts on whether the purpose of these cash advances have been served.
c.) Donations amounting to P 132.50 Million were incurred for programs and activities undertaken by the Provincial Social and Services Office (PSSO) without approved program/activity designs and established criteria.
d.) The province paid P 6.71 Million for security services without public bidding, contrary to the provisions of Republic Act (RA) No. 9184, thereby raising doubts on the propriety and economy of this transaction.
e.) The province incurred an overdraft of P 168 Million as of December 31,2009. An overdraft amount means an overspending by the local government that is beyond their total collected funds for the fiscal year. This finding is contrary to the claims of the local government of Camarines Sur that it continues to be profitable.
Are these alleged anomalies the reason why Gov. LRay Villafuerte is hell bent on stopping the full disclosure policy that is being implemented by the DILG with the support of local government organizations as well as both houses of Congress? What is he hiding? If he is spending his public funds properly then why would he be afraid to show it to the general public?
Public office is a public trust thus, it is incumbent upon our government leaders to show to us how they are spending our public funds. All the things I have stated here aren’t based on hearsay but based on findings by the NSCB and COA. Please explain, Gov. LRay. You owe it to the Filipino people and most especially, your constituents in Camarines Sur.