The 2016 electoral agendum: Curbing corruption

THE horse race begins.

Though official campaigning to become this country’s newest or re-elected national and local officials hasn’t officially started, the jockeying for positions and political affiliations has begun. At the national level, surveys from Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia have now begun to give the Filipino voting public a picture of who are leading the way in the race for the presidency and vice presidency.

Sitting Vice President Jejomar Binay, charged with multiple cases of alleged corruption, remains the top draw in those surveys. From Toronto on a state visit to Canada, President Aquino and his Liberal Party are banking on Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and, reportedly, the topnotcher of the 2013 senatorial elections Grace Poe.

Jockeying for positions at local levels had also begun. As of this writing, aspirants for local positions are forming local alliances and try to make themselves visible through awareness-raising efforts.

Yes the elections are some 11 months away. But at this early, during this month of May that the Office of the Ombudsman had declared as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, there are things that we must keep watch.

The 2015 budget and, more importantly, the 2016 budget (the latter to be enacted before the current year ends) are important fiscal arenas to watch out for. These budgets can be “kitty funds” for aspiring re-electionist candidates implementing public projects months before the elections. Legally, projects can be implemented. But that’s where timing sets in —and the prospective tarpaulins are ready.

Christmas season 2015 is also a crucial time for candidates. Previously, a local government had used funds allocated for social welfare and development to distribute Christmas giveaways to barangay officials, tanods and other local residents. This local government tabbed the project at around P40 million, and it increased the following fiscal year.

Exposing the modus operandi of the now-jailed Janet Lim-Napoles —of diverting congressional funds to personal coffers— may have dealt a big blow to local and congressional officials. We are uncertain, however, if this significant anti-corruption case had rattled sitting and aspiring local and national officials. That is even if the citizenry and the strengthened mechanisms of agencies such as the Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit are at close watch.

But the citizen must all the more be on the watch. Citizens now enjoy varied avenues to see the transparency of government officials. The Department of Budget and Management had instituted numerous mechanisms that allow citizens to monitor budgets. Even before the Napoles case, DBM and the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) had also mandated local governments to implement the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Program that allows citizens to engage their local leaders and identify anti-poverty projects that are a locality’s priority. Once the project is identified, a local poverty reduction action team (LPRAT) will also monitor the execution of the identified priority anti-poverty projects. Ideally, this LPRAT is an apolitical network of citizens and local government administrative officials.

Local officials, given years of directives from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), are mandated to fully disclose their development plans, annual budgets and other public documents online. Supposedly, provinces, cities and municipalities should upload on their LGUs’ official websites these public documents. Information like the annual budget of a locality can be a tool for monitoring offline (i.e., outside of the Internet) the disbursement of funds vis-à-vis the proper implementation of public projects.

The tenure of a presidency that had been renowned for combating corruption is about to end June 30, 2016. Not even President Aquino’s commitments and personal example had curbed widespread corruption, especially in local communities. One can say that these past five years is a welcome period for citizens who want no less than the eradication of corruption. And come 2016, curbing corruption remains a major electoral agenda.

The Filipino voter will again be called to help dictate the future of Philippine politics and governance. It is time for these voters to trend a crusade: that they more watchful on aspiring local and national leaders and on the socio-political future that awaits a country and its