My billion-peso vote

We put all our energy into voting and leave the rest to fate. It is a vicious and disempowering cycle.

Maxine Tanya M. HamadaOn May 13, I vote in Baguio City and this will mean giving the elected mayor, vice mayor, and city council the power of the purse over P1.286 billion.

I would have added the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) of P35 million but as of February 22, it has all been released to the incumbent’s chosen implementing institutions, leaving nothing to the incoming representative. 

Vicious cycle

It always begins with your vote.  

We Filipinos engage in elections with gusto! Elections are like fiestas with that sinister edge of violence and greed. We love the pomp and pageantry and we gamely debate and divide ourselves based on our choices – not that there is much difference these days, or that we do make informed choices. 

Every 3 years, we elect our local leaders, our representatives to Congress and half of our Senate. Every 6 years we elect our president and vice president. It is a cycle, a regular, predictable, chaotic, repeated and repeatable governance cycle, and it always begins with your vote. 

Unfortunately, for many, if not most Filipinos, it also ends with that vote. 

We put all our energy into voting and leave the rest to fate. After all the promises and bags of groceries have been handed out, the jingles and songs have become annoying, the pamphlets and posters taken down, the winners proclaimed, the victory parties celebrated, and the consoling words imparted to losing parties, we pat ourselves on the back for having voted and fulfilled our civic duty.

Then we go back to whatever it was we were doing before the welcome distraction of elections. We leave governance to the elected because that is what we think we put them there to do. We hope for a good leader but we do not stick around to guarantee it. 

It is a vicious and disempowering cycle because we see that hardly anything changes from election to election. In many cases, things even get worse.

In Baguio, water is rationed, air quality is deteriorating, traffic congestion and construction are badly regulated and citizen participation is not maximized. We complain and protest until the next election and we go do it all over again.

Power of the purse

For elected officials, it also starts with your vote, but this is where the cycle gets interesting. The shift from being a candidate to being an elected official brings with it one of the strongest powers in a governance cycle – the power of the purse. 

In a democracy, the power of the purse resides primarily with Congress on the national level, and with the Sanggunian at the local level. They are representatives elected by the people – including yourself – and they are given the power and responsibility to decide how much and where public money will be spent for the next 3 years. 

The executive branch also shares the power of the purse. The president at the national level or the mayor at the local level submits a proposed budget to Congress or the Sanggunian, and upon approval, allocate the budget.

So for elected officials, it is a very lucrative cycle. With each election, they get not one or two, but 3 years of power over public money. The power of the purse should be used to prioritize needed services and programs.

One of the better local government examples is that of Naga City and how the late Jesse Robredo “improved service delivery and housing, and the steps he took to fund reforms.”  

In most cases, however, the budget is not used efficiently and honestly. Instead, we witness the influence of patronage politics which paves the way for selective services and fosters dependence.


On May 13, we will elect members of Congress and our local officials who will decide on how the 2013 P2.006-trillion budget will be allocated. More importantly, we will give them the power over the budgets of 2014, 2015, and 2016.  

Many groups, including those whose stories and reports you will read on the #BudgetWatch page, have chosen to accompany and guard this multi-trillion-peso vote we each give to our elected officials. If we continue to partner with, and demand that President PNoy continues urgent reforms, we will continue to see that good governance is good economics. 

We must now however challenge government to link good economics with inclusive development. A pillar of this is inclusive and participatory budgeting as Sen TG Guingona previously wrote about.  

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has opened the national budget to anyone interested to look at pork barrel uses by their respective congresspersons, how rich or poor their municipality is, or what the broader priorities and principles of our national budget are. 

Secretary Abad has institutionalized civil society participation in budget preparation and execution, as well as bottom-up-budgeting for poverty reduction. 

The late Secretary Robredo institutionalized LGU disclosure of their fiscal documents through the Full Disclosure Policy and its incentive, Gawad Pamana ng Lahi seal of good housekeeping.

You can check here if your local government has indeed disclosed its documents online or not, and remind them to do so.  These are matched by citizens demanding access to information and better ways to work with the bureaucracy.

The opening of government’s budgets and the demand for good governance from citizens and civil society will have to converge somewhere. The stories and experiences will range from painful frustration to empowering success. 

Until we become veterans at participating and influencing budgets at the local and national level, good leaders may use the power of the purse for change, but patronage political leaders will definitely use the power of the purse to derail change. Why would they want to change a vicious cycle that is so lucrative for them?

May 13 and your vote

So it goes back to my P1.286-billion vote. 

What is the power of your vote? You can search the budget allocated to your city, municipality, or province on the Internet. The budget is the power you are handing over to the candidate you vote for. 

Watch INCITEGov’s campaign for transformative politics below. The campaign encourages citizens to engage the candidates and their public servants.

Ask yourself if a candidate will open the budget to citizens’ participation and influence. Then cast your vote and do not walk away. If we are to break this vicious cycle of patronage politics and governance, opening budgets will only be the beginning. –


Maxine Tanya Hamada is the executive director of The International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov).

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