Synergy is the New Direction to Strengthen Public Accountability

(Opening Remarks in the Multiply-Ed NCR Regional Multisectoral Conference)

Joy Aceron

Pasig, 19 May 2023

To our partners, allies and champions in government…

To our partners in civil society and the private sector…

To my colleagues and comrades in Multiply-Ed and the core organizations that constitute its managing coalition, namely CYAN, SCAP, Bukluran UP System and G-Watch….

To the students, barangay officials, parents and other participants in this conference…. 

Magandang umaga. (Good morning.)

We are here to build, to harness and to show synergy. In Filipino, the closest word to synergy is pagtatagpo o pagsasanib.

There are four ways that we are building and harnessing synergy in Multiply-Ed as a citizen initiative to strengthen accountability in public education system:

Synergizing the different levels of decision-making and engagement

Multiply-Ed aims to strengthen transparency, participation and accountability at different levels of education governance from schools to the national level as we see this as important in ensuring a resilient and inclusive public education system. We synergize citizen action for accountability at different levels, checking and engaging different levels of decision-making in education governance. Pinagsasanib-sanib namin ang iba’t ibang gawain at pwersa ng mamamayan para makita ang kabuuang kalagayan ng paggu-gobyerno sa edukasyon at mapakilos ang tamang lebel ng pamahalaan. (We are synergizing the various citizen forces and actions to understand the overall situation of education governance and elicit response from the proper level of government.)

Citizen-led state-society synergy

State and society are spaces viewed as separate with different set of actors: government and civil society. What we do in Multiply-Ed is to bridge it, pagtagpuin ito, towards a common cause, which is to improve the resilience and inclusiveness of the public education system in joint actions of strengthening transparency, participation and accountability (TPA) and shared strategies encapsulated in our #MalayangEdukasyonPH reform agenda that we are to present to you.

We look forward to your delivered commitments, which are concrete and the most crucial manifestation of this synergy. Iyan ay pagtatagpo ng nakitang mga pangangailangan sa mga eskwelahan at inyong mga gagawin gamit ang inyong kapangyarihan bilang opisyales ng gonyerno para sa ating parehong layuning pagbutihin ang edukasyon sa ating bansa. (That is nothing less than linking needs of schools with the actions that you will undertake as government officials, to promote our shared goal of improving education in the Philippines.)

The plans that the school monitoring teams will prepare will be a step towards that synergy. Some of our reform agenda aim to further strengthen that synergy in existing mechanisms that already synergizes the strengths of government and civil society, like the Local School Board. The idea of synergy is not new, but it is yet to be fully realized.

Synergizing humanitarian or direct service delivery support from the private sector and social accountability actions

There are a lot of needs in our public education sector. Meanwhile, one fact that we discovered on the side in our engagements in Multiply-Ed is that there are a lot of philanthropists and donors who provide support to education.

Support to education from the private sector is commendable. Such would be greater if it goes to the needs and gaps that couldn’t be addressed by the government at the time it is needed based on evidence and prior engagement.

There are public funds for education. It should be used efficiently and effectively for education. Any support or donation from the private sector should encourage (not disincentivize) the efficient and effective use of public resources so as not to condone bad governance or misplaced priorities of the government.

For example, just last Wednesday, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) announced that it has released a whopping Php15.1 billion for school building construction, rehabilitation and repair to be jointly undertaken by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Education (DepEd). That’s 15.1 billion pesos. There is public money. The question is where will that money be used, how to ensure it is spent efficiently and where are the gaps still. To fill those specific/ targeted gaps — the private sector can come in.

Private support and donation must be synergized with citizen action for accountability. The latter determines where the gaps and needs are and engages government to respond to those needs and gaps. For needs and gaps that cannot be filled for varied reasons, private support and donation can come in, which hopefully includes supporting continuation of such social accountability efforts. Itong pagtatagpong ito, this synergy of humanitarian or private sector support for direct services and social accountability can be leveraged to make government more responsive and effective. It is a force that, if wielded, can be transformative.

Synergizing adaptiveness and consistency of the public education system amid disasters

Institutions need to quickly adapt to be responsive during disasters, especially big ones like a pandemic. But public institutions need to also maintain consistency and predictability even when it adapts.

Which part of the public education system can be adaptable and which ones need to be consistent during disasters — we are trying to help determine that through our efforts. 

How can the public education be resilient, i.e. ready for all forms of disasters? We achieve this by knowing the processes and standards that matter the most, how to streamline the standards to that which are most crucial, by being clear with target outcomes/ impact.

Our monitoring provided the information on what mattered/ what was useful to the three most crucial actors in education: the students, parents and teachers. #MalayangEdukasyonPH is a reform agenda in education that will enable that synergy of adaptiveness and consistency through strategic public actions creating resilient institutions.

Our purpose here is to build and create synergy. Synergizing the different levels of decision-making in the public education system. Building state-society synergy. Synergizing humanitarian and social accountability actions. Synergizing adaptiveness and consistency by being strategic and creating resilient institutions.

Such is oneness that builds on independent strengths. It is unity that is not stuck, but is instead progressive. It is unity that doesn’t favor nor perpetuate the status quo; instead it progresses, builds and grows — foregrounded on the dynamism of those that forge the same synergistic energy. Ito ay pagkakaisa na kung saan lahat tayo ay nagtatagpo at nagsasanib-pwersa batay sa sama-samang pagkakaunawaan, tunguhin at layunin — tungo sa Dekalidad, Matatag at Malayang Pampublikong Edukasyon sa Pilipinas. (This is the kind of unity wherein we all meet, synergize our efforts and forge alliances toward Quality, Resilient and Free Public Education in the Philippines.)