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At Large

Buffing the image of NGOs

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Cecilia Ikaguchi, a friend based in Japan (I wrote last year about a book on which she and other former parishioners had written on Fr. Ruben Villote and his mission in the parish of Punta, Sta. Ana) has written about concerns regarding donations for the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

Cecilia, who is teaching in Japan, is working with a group of nuns in Joso Ibaraki, a religious community she belongs to. The nuns, she said, are planning to send about 22 boxes of donated goods to the convent of the Sisters of Ijas de Jesus in Leyte for the survivors of Yolanda.

While they are pooling their resources to shoulder the shipping costs, writes Cecilia, one problem that bothers them “is the fact that each box will be taxed when (it) gets to the destination.” This, she observes, is “totally unbelievable, since the Philippines is in a state of emergency, and those items are all donations in kind: used clothes and other items for the disaster-stricken areas. We totally do not understand why they cannot waive the taxes for these boxes.”

Having met recently with Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, I found out that the Bureau of Custom has just created “one-stop shops” to facilitate the “rapid movement of donations and relief goods from the international community.”

Under a memorandum order, said Biazon, the documentary requirements for the release of donated relief goods “have been streamlined and simplified,” with only a letter of intent to donate goods, Bill of Lading or airway bill, and a packing list and/or commercial invoice, among other documents, needed.

But, and this is the part which may be of interest to Cecilia and the nuns, Customs makes it clear that “all donations shall only be to the account of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and/or any DSWD-registered relief organization.” I suggest that Cecilia and her colleagues—and other donors as well—try coordinating with the DSWD or other agencies to facilitate their donations to the victims of Yolanda, who could use every bit of help they can get.

* * *

STILL reeling, perhaps, from the collateral damage they suffered as a result of the “pork scam” allegedly engineered by Janet Lim-Napoles and cohorts, the country’s biggest networks of nongovernment organizations are meeting this week for two days of strategizing and planning, as well as soul-searching and redirection.

CODE-NGO, the Caucus of Development NGO Networks, comprised of 12 NGO networks across the country, bills itself as the largest coalition of “competent, credible and committed development CSOs (civil society organizations) in the Philippines that influences public policies, shapes development and creates tangible impact in its partner communities.”

Lately, the term “NGOs” has garnered a bad reputation with revelations that Napoles managed to siphon about P10 billion over a decade in so-called Priority Development Assistance Fund of the government and then channeled the money to fake NGOs. Many of these NGOs were supposedly headed by employees or relatives of Napoles. Or else, they simply plucked names from the lists of board passers who had no idea they were being used as “fronts” for a broad conspiracy to steal government money.

* * *

SO IT is not just to distance themselves from the Napoles-created NGOs, but also to restore in the public mind the positive image previously created by legitimate NGOs, that the members of CODE-NGO are launching “Kasali Ka! Sumali Ka!” (You Are with Us! Join Us!) The celebration is an annual gathering of civil society organizations and their partners working on “improving the lives of the Filipino people.”

To be held tomorrow and Friday at the Institute of Social Order at the Ateneo de Manila University, the meet is meant to get CSO workers together “to discuss and share innovative ideas towards economic, socio-cultural and political empowerment of the marginalized communities, as well to promote the important roles and contributions of CSOs to social development to a larger public.”

Some 200 delegates from all over the country are taking part. On the first day, discussions will center on the challenges of working with local governments and “ensuring that the government delivers on its social contract with the people.” Also to be launched tomorrow is a partnership between the civil society organizations and the national government, with the CSOs committing “to watch and follow closely the implementation of projects supported by the Bottom-Up Budgeting process.”

On the second day, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Presidential Adviser on Environmental Protection Neric Acosta and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Tony Ledesma will share their thoughts on participatory governance and the “economic-political, environmental and socio-cultural perspectives of the issue.”

* * *

Philippine NGOs are generally viewed by the rest of the world as among “the most vibrant and advanced in the world,” involved not just in developmental work and advocacy but also in relief and rehabilitation, education, community organizing, environmental awareness and a host of other concerns. But, while most are known “for their integrity and for doing a lot of good work even with limited resources,” some have yet to strengthen their internal controls, and not just those linked to Napoles and other “pork” exploiters.

Thus, a study done by CODE-NGO itself recommends that CSOs, to effectively engage and check government, “need to build up their capacity in effectively demanding good governance.” Good housekeeping begins at home.


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