Why should Filipinos watch the budget?
During the fourth episode of MovePH’s “#CourageON: Tumindig, makialam, kumilos” community show, various leaders from health, transportation, and watch groups urged Filipinos to participate in the budget process and help monitor whether the government’s priorities are in line with needs on the ground.
Although budget watch may seem intimidating to many people, Limitless Lab and #KamiNaman website founder Joie Cruz reiterated its importance, as a meager budget for a certain sector can end up being a matter of life and death, especially for frontliners.
In the latest budget deliberations of the lower house, no funds for healthworkers’ allowances for 2022 have been issued.
“The budget reflects the priority of our government. Kung hindi nabigyan ng prayoridad ang ating mga frontliners, may pamilya ka na frontliner, maaaring maging dahilan ‘yon ng pagkamatay ng inyong kapamilya,” Cruz argued.
(The budget reflects the priority of our government. If frontliners are not prioritized, and if you have family members who are frontliners, it might lead to their death.)
Cruz’s mother Maria Theresa, a dedicated nurse from Cainta, Rizal, died in July 2020 from COVID-19 before she could even get her meager hazard pay. Seeing the plight of frontliners like her mother, Joie Cruz had set up a website gathering stories of healthcare workers, which can be sent to inform Senate.
Why budget watch is important
Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy (iLEAD) executive director Zy-za Suzara added how budget allows government not only to give public services and goods but also drive economic and social development for the Philippines.
“Kung wala sa national budget, hindi ‘yan gagawin sa isang administrasyon. So if you want to make sure that the policy reforms that we want as citizens, as different collectives with different interests, kailangan i-siguro natin na ‘yung reporma na gusto natin meron katapat na pera,” she said.
Suzara also pointed out how, aside from engaging in the budget preparation stage, it’s just as important for Filipinos to monitor that government spends its allocated budget for their approved programs.
“Importante yun kasi kung hindi gumastos nang tama, hindi gumastos on time, hindi ginastos para sa dapat pagkagastusan, who stands to lose? It’s citizens like us…. What the government doesn’t spend, what the government doesn’t procure means services denied to ordinary citizens. ” Suzara said.
(This is important because if government did not spend their budget correctly, on time, or spent it on what it was supposed to, who stands to lose? It’s citizens like us. Who gets the short end of the stick? It’s citizens like us.”
Social Watch Philippines co-convenor Dr. Maria Victoria Raquiza echoed the same sentiment, adding how the budget can help bring services to Filipinos and underserved sectors.
“Some of us have more and many of us have less. So the budget should serve those who are underserved…. [Kapag] nakakakuha tayo ng services, katulad ng ayuda, hindi ito dahil sa awa. Entitlement itong mga services na binibigay sa atin. The state has the duty to provide these services, at karapatan ng mamamayan na i-claim itong services na to,” she said.
(When we receive services, such as aid, it is not because of pity. We are entitled to these services. The state has the duty to provide these services, and it is the citizens’ right to claim them.)
“Let’s use the political process of the budget to engage in it and try to reclaim that space for participation [that we’re losing now],” added Suzara.
How can Filipinos participate?
There are many ways that Filipinos can take part in budget watch. Cruz shared that budget watch for citizens has its own journey; Filipinos aren’t expected to instantly know how to watch the budget.
But people can start by making themselves informed. Cruz encouraged Filipinos starting their journey by speaking up about injustice, taking to the streets to protest, and posting on social media because it can catch the attention of our lawmakers.
“Once na-surpass mo na yun, you can watch the budget of your barangay. That’s your first touch point. Pwede ka mag simula doon until ultimately, kung advocate ka na, maging miyembro ka ng isang people’s organization….and really advocate for being a budget watcher,” She added.
(Once you surpass it, you can watch the budget of your barangay. That’s your first touch point. The basic unit of government. You may start there until ultimately, when you’re already an advocate, you can become a member of a people’s organization….and really advocate for being a budget watcher.)
“You can really start with something small. Hindi naman natin sinasabi agad dito na kailangan full-on agad ka na mag-allot ka na ng maraming oras kasi alam naman din natin na marami tayong mga kababayan ngayon na survival ang instinct,” Cruz added.
(We aren’t saying you have to allot a lot of hours to monitoring the budget because we know many Filipinos now are focused on surviving.)
Suzara, meanwhile, encouraged others to help in capacity-building and sharing of expertise, so more people will better understand how they can participate in budget watch. She added how there should be parallel efforts to focus on different aspects of budget watch, such as sectoral concerns, procurement up to audit, among others.
Tips on budget watch
Several members of civil society groups also shared ways in holding the government accountable as part of the budget process during the fourth episode of the #CourageON community show, especially following the release of Commission on Audit’s findings that there were irregularities in the spending of government funds.
G-Watch Southern Leyte Coordinator Amelia Mancera stressed the importance of civic engagement and people empowerment dialogue among civil society organizations.
“We engage in the procurement process. Sa amin sa Southern Leyte, we focus on the infrastructures since it’s one of the top priorities of our local government unit. [We] identify the programs and we get the documents….So, with the monitoring team, we plan [and we] coordinate with the stakeholders,” Mancera said.
(We engage in the procurement process. In Southern Leyte, we focus on the infrastructures since it’s one of the top priorities of our local government unit. [We] identify the programs and we get the documents….So, with the monitoring team, we plan [and we] coordinate with the stakeholders.)
Move As One Coalition Policy Research and Civic Engagement head Katreena Chang encouraged Filipinos to participate in dialogues, figure matters together with local or national government, and try other avenues like social media.
Meanwhile, Tarabangan Kontra COVID-19 volunteer Dominic Nobleza shared local practices in Naga which involved meetings and proposals with the LGU to appropriate a sufficient budget on effective pandemic response.
When push comes to shove, Coalition for People’s Right to Health co-convener Dr. Joshua San Pedro shared that people may also consider submitting a petition to appropriate agencies to state a sector’s needs and suggested actions, similar to what health workers did in 2014 to oppose the privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center. He also urged Filipinos to scrutinize the budget and guarantee that it satisfies our constitutional right.
The fourth episode of the #CourageON show was held Saturday, September 18. It featured leaders from iLEAD, Limitless Lab, Social Watch Philippines, G-Watch, Move As One Coalition, Coalition for People’s Right to Health, and Tarabangan Kontra COVID-19. – with reports from Samantha Bagayas and Phillippe Angelo Hiñosa/Rappler.com
Phillippe Angelo Hiñosa is a Rappler intern from the University of the Philippines Visayas. He is a senior taking up Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) with units in History as a second major.