Congress got two thumbs up sign from the Alternative Budget Initiative, a nationwide consortium of nongovernment organizations which pioneered civil society engagement in the national budget process, after House Speaker Prospero C. Nograles urged the private sector to actively participate in the congressional deliberations on the national budget.
Rene Raya, convenor of Social Watch Philippines, which led the ABI, said that the Alternative Budget Initiative proved that Filipino civil society is very capable of working with government for a national budget that works for equitable development.
Through the ABI campaign, since 2006 NGOs partnered with legislators in formulating and lobbying alternative budget proposals which prioritize social development, particularly on health, education, environment, agriculture and macroeconomics. They also propose alternative sources of funding for social development which includes transferring vague and unreasonably big allocations to expenditure for social services.
Recognizing the invaluable contribution of the Alternative Budget Initiative, the Congress Committee on Appropriations, for the first time in Philippine history, invited the non-government and people's organizations to participate in budget deliberations in Congress and to present their alternative budget proposals. Moreover, Congress approved Resolution No. 20: Urgent Resolution Allowing the Active Participation of Bona Fide People's Organizations in Public Hearings in Congress' Annual Budget Deliberations in November 2007.
The House Committee on People's Participation is now in the process of consolidating three bills on institutionalizing people's participation in the budget process. These are the bills authored by Guillermo Cua, Teofisto Guingona III, and Lorenzo Tanada III.
"Participation in the budget process is a right of every Filipino. We hope that Congress immediately pass the law which will set up the mechanisms for participation," Raya said.
"The experiences of other countries such as Brazil, India and South Africa proved that people's participation in the budget process improved the delivery of social services and empowered the people to directly influence priorities regarding their own development," Raya added.
The Alternative Budget Initiative campaign for the 2007 budget, the General Appropriations Act contained P5.2 billion allocations for social development, which are consistent with the alternative budget proposals. This includes P5.3 billion budget for the construction of more than 17,000 classrooms; P2 billion funding for food supplements such as milk, coco-pandesal and vegetable-based noodles, and rice under the Department of Education nutrition feeding program; P873 million for the hiring of new teachers; and P65 million additional scholarship fund for tertiary education.
Meanwhile, as a result of the ABI campaign for the 2008 national budget, a total of P6.3 billion were added to allocations for basic education, higher education, health, environment and agriculture.