Thursday, April 1, 2010

‘More compelling than elections’

EVEN WHILE MANY ELECTED GOVERNMENT officials and bureaucrats are preoccupied with the coming elections, there are agencies and local governments units (LGUs) that have been or are silently going through a process of transformation.

And their best efforts could mean a $500-million grant for anti-corruption reforms.
“This is a more compelling story than the elections,” said Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao, founding chair of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia and trusted finance secretary during the Aquino administration. “Here are government agencies backed by private sector partners saying that governance reforms cannot take a back seat even during an election season.”
The Department of Education, Department of Health, Department of Transportation and Communication, Department of Public Works and Highways and Bureau of Internal Revenue and Philippine National Police have made their performance commitments public at the Public Governance Forum (PGF) held for two days last week. These agencies are undertaking the continuing Performance Governance System (PGS), a local adaptation of the Balance Scorecard System (BSC) applied to the public sector in several countries to track their performance against a set of goals.

The forum was jointly convened by ISA, the National Competitive Council (NCC) and the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP). ISA is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit institution that seeks to improve public governance through citizen participation. It conducts the public governance forum twice a year.

The six government agencies will post on their websites, their governance scorecards and commit to make quarterly reports on the basis of the governance scorecards. We will be watching.

These will not be mere rhetoric, Estanislao stressed. “This is serious. They are making public their performance commitments for 2010 and telling everyone to judge their performance by these parameters.”

These agencies’ performance could seal the deal on a $500-million, five-year grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US foreign aid agency created by Congress with strong bipartisan support to help in the fight against global poverty.

Estanislao disclosed that more agencies have pledged to undertake the PGS process before June 2010. These are the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Budget and Management, Civil Service Commission and National Economic Development Authority. Senior career undersecretaries will lead the anti-corruption programs so that sustainability can be assured even with a change in leadership.

Three cities—Santa Fe, Talisay and Dipolog—made separate presentations before ISA fellows at the forum on their progress toward “initiated” status. The Philippine Navy and the Nursing Profession in the Philippines which have obtained “initiated” status did the same.

Estanislao said that ISA has worked with LGUs or 30 of the 127 cities of the Philippines. The city of Iloilo has been elevated to the Hall of Fame while the city of San Fernando is a candidate.

Present at the governance forum were representatives of South Korea’s customs and New Zealand’s defense force, both Hall of Famers, who described the process their agencies went through and how they emerged with flying colors.

On the occasion of its 10th year anniversary, ISA launched the book “Guideposts for Governance” by Estanislao. The book highlights the key governance values that ISA associates promote as they install a governance culture in their respective units or organizations. After I get my autographed copy I will share what it is about.
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I have just screeched to a halt in order to quietly observe Holy Week. Until a few days ago, I was busy finishing feature stories for this week and Easter. I hope you get to read them.

One is about Josefina “JD” Constantino, or Sr. Teresa of Jesus and Mary, a Carmelite nun who turned 90 last Palm Sunday. JD was a known writer and newspaper columnist, UP professor and civic-minded citizen before she joined the contemplative life at the age of 54 in 1974. In Carmel, she continued to write and produced a lot of written works, all fruits of her contemplation.

I was assigned to write about traditionalist Catholics and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) who are popularizing the Tridentine Mass (think 16th-century Council of Trent) or the traditional Latin Mass which has the priest facing the altar, with his back to the people as in the days of yore. SSPX was founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who defied Vatican II reforms and ordained bishops without papal approval. They were excommunicated but were recently reinstated. It’s nostalgia for the past, a noted theologian remarked.

Just as interesting is Tito Santos, artist and entrepreneur, who produces beautiful contemporary priestly vestments in his workshop in Bulacan. He employs about 80 workers. His vocation story will come out in the Easter issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.

I was sent to Tanay, Rizal, recently and I can say that it’s still Calvary for the victims of “Ondoy.” Many still live in tents six months after the killer flood washed away their homes and sources of income—sewing machines, fishing boats, farms. “Ma’am,” they tearfully asked, “may pag-asa bang mailabas ito sa inyong diaryo?” (Ma’am, is there hope that this could come out in your newspaper?)

This Paschal season, may you be steeped in the wondrous mystery of our redemption.