Philippines: Open data, open government

Posted at 09/23/2011 10:36 PM | Updated as of 09/24/2011 6:16 AM

Open Government Partnership

 

MANILA, Philippines - The premise is simple -- make government information open to public scrutiny.

President Benigno Aquino is confident that the Philippines' participation in the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) will empower citizens as it will give them better access to information in government's hands.

Aquino, in his speech during the formal launch of the OGP at Google's New York office, said government transparency, accountability, and citizen involvement are needed for poverty alleviation, as well as inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

"The Philippines' participation in the OGP is consistent with our administration's commitment to honest and effective governance," he added. "This is what democracy is all about."

"I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to confidently assert that governments that do things right should have no problem keeping our fellow citizens informed and engaged, and are thus, partners of government in its fundamental task of addressing the needs of the people,"  he said at the "Power of Open" forum. "The result is an empowered citizenry, which is the essential aspiration at the heart of the digital revolution sweeping the globe: where technology liberates the individual and renews a sense of solidarity between the public and private sectors," he said at the "Power of Open" forum.

The Philippines is one of 8 governments and 9 civil society organizations that founded the OGP.

Under the initiative, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Norway, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and South Africa will announce country action plans with concrete commitments to advance open government domestically. 

The founding governments will also endorse the Open Government Declaration of Principles, which recognizes the value of enhancing transparency, reducing corruption, promoting civic engagement and employing new technology and tools in pursuit of improving lives.

Open government commitments

The Philippines has achieved its initial commitments, according to a draft of the country's action plan presented in the OGP.

The commitments include:

  • Mandatory disclosure of budget information
  • Transparency in local governance
  • Placing the entire corpus of laws and Supreme Court decisions  and Presidential issuances online
  • Jumpstarting citizen participation in government through participatory budget processes, and planning
  • Partnerships for effective service delivery
  • Institutionalizing public accountability
  • Results-oriented fiscal management.
  • Accountability of government corporations
  • Citizen's charters and citizen's report cards
  • Revenue integrity
  • Performance challenge for local governments
  • Leveraging technology and innovation in electronic procurement and precision in targeting social protection beneficiaries
  • Digitizing releases from congressional allocations
  • Online avenues for public feedback and communication

The Philippines has also made other promises under the OGP.
 
These include improving transparency of government agencies, promoting access to government information, deepening citizen participation, expanding participatory budgeting, establishing an "empowerment fund," and institutionalizing social audit of public infrastructure projects.
 
 Other plans are:

  •  Harmonizing performance measurement systems in government
  • Installing results-oriented budgeting in more agencies
  • Increasing compliance with citizen's charters
  • Embedding accountability in local governance

 
Unified Philippine data portal
 
Under the initiative, the government also wants to maximize technology and innovation by setting up a single portal for government information.

Access to information produced by Philippine government agencies is still limited online.

Some agencies either have outdated data online or have presented it in a way that makes it difficult to collect, analyze, synthesize, and storify.

These include a data journalist's worst nightmare -- figures published on PDFs instead of spreadsheets.

The government's need to improve data content curation and filtering mechanisms can be also compared to what Nicholas Sparks once explained as the difference between situational overload and ambient overload.

He describes situational overload as a "needle-in-haystack problem"  -- you can't find what you want amid the rubbish.

Ambient overload, on the other hand, is having far too much of what you want: a haystack-sized pile of needles, according to Sparks.

The Philippines, if it completes the unified data portal project, will join the ranks of countries that have already created unified open data web sites to distribute a portion of the data they collect.

The websites are data.gov (US), data.gov.uk (UK), data.gov.au (Australia), data.gc.ca (Canada), opendata.go.ke (Kenya), data.norge.no (Norway), and data.overheid.nl (Netherlands).

The World Bank and the United Nations have also established similar unified open data websites.

According to the Philippines' OGP action plan, the government plans to develop the national data portal in 2012 in consultation with stakeholders.

The proposed portal will comply basic open data standards and will also allow citizens to give their feedback on government performance, according to the plan.

Other government plans include the installation of a government integrated financial information management system, improved electronic bidding and procurement, establishment of a National Justice Information System, creation of a national registry of farmers and fisherfolk, electronic transparency for congressional allocations, and interactive fiscal fransparency.

How about the FOI bill?

Critics, however, believe that much still needs to be done with regard to Philippine government fully embracing the global open data movement.

A lawmaker, party-list Rep. Rep. Teddy Casiño, pointed out that the Palace does not even see the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill as a priority.

Casiño, author of House Bill 133, accused Aquino of hampering the enactment of the FOI bill.

He said Aquino didn't even mention the FOI bill in his New York speech.

"He is not showing the whole picture. His credibility will suffer if the FOI bill is not enacted within the year," the lawmaker said. "So my advice to the President is, prioritize the FOI bill, it is about time that he fulfils his promise of transparency and open governance."