Pera Natin 'to!: An Initiative by the Philippines Public Transparency Reporting Project
- Specific Topics
- Government Corruption
- Government Spending
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
- Leadership development
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All
- Facilitator Training
- Professional Facilitators
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Listen/Watch as Spectator
- Decision Methods
- Not Applicable
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Hearings/Meetings
- Public Report
- New Media
- Type of Funder
- National Government
Problems and Purpose
Despite being the oldest democratic state in Southeast Asia, the Philippines holds one of the highest levels of private and public sector corruption in the world. Pera Natin ‘to! (“It’s our money!”) set out to address the issue of local governmental corruption in the Philippines through crowdsourced investigative journalism and increasing public awareness of financial mismanagement, so that such cases may be reported and local politicians held accountable. According to Rorie Fajardo, Pera Natin to!’s project manager, the initiative aimed to illuminate cases of corruption and foster discussion on issues on transparency and government accountability. The initiative lives out its cause not only through engagement and advocacy for civic journalism, but also through civic education on public accountability. As an online platform, Pera Natin ‘to! also reached the average Filipino citizen by providing information about public finances, infrastructure funding, taxation and revenue, and various other topics in the realm of public financial resources.
Background History and Context
According to the World Bank’s report in 2001, an estimated $48 billion USD was lost from the Filipino government to corrupt practices over the last 20 years. A 2001 report published by the Philippine Commission on Audit (COA) stated that about 2 billion pesos per annum are lost to government corruption.  In that same year, Transparency International ranked the Philippines down from a 3 to a 2 on a scale of government corruption  (On this scale, a score of “1” denotes total corruption; “10” denotes a clean government).
Pera Natin ‘to was an online initiative run by the Philippines Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP). It was officially launched on 23 March 2010, at the University of the Philippines. A roundtable discussion panel that followed the launch saw extensive media coverage, as well as the presence of embassy delegates from Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia. 
The project aimed to educate Filipino citizens about local government practices and encouraged investigative reporting, either through articles or submissions of anonymous tips and photos of alleged corruption and local mismanagement. According to the PPTRP’s Handbook for Pera Natin ‘to!, there have existed other anti-corruption initiatives in the Philippines, albeit often limited to a single sector, interest, or group of individuals.  The initiative thus set out to address corruption on multiple levels, having hoped to “[reach] out to link to and learn from earlier and other anti-corruption initiatives around the country – just as [the PPTRP] are looking to see how other places like Hong Kong have successfully fought public graft”.  Its crowdsourcing methods made it possible for anyone willing and able to submit journalistic reports on local or national corruption, in collaboration with the Philippines Public Transparency Reporting Project.  In addition, Pera Natin ‘to! educated citizens on governmental corruption, the Philippine legal and political system, and journalistic investigation through links and publications available on their website, as well as through training sessions held in various cities throughout the Philippines, where journalists and non-journalists alike were welcome to attend. 
Following its launch, Pera Natin ‘to! proved to be popular as demonstrated by a high volume of online traffic in its first 6 months. With the broader PPTRP initiative having received funding for 22 months , Pera Natin ‘To! itself was operational for a year, until all activities of the PPTRP were closed in 2011. As of 2013, the PPTRP website is reported to have secured “partial funding” for a new project, the Citizen Action Network for Local Government Accountability and Performance. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Pera Natin ‘to! was an initiative of the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP), a partnership between 4 media organizations: The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), The Centre for Community Journalism and Development, The Mindanao News and Information Cooperative Center (MNICC), and The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.  It was financially supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). 
Participant Recruitment and Selection
All citizens were encouraged to contribute to the Pera Natin ‘to! website, either through written reports of corruption, or through anonymous hints submitted online. Both journalists and regular citizens alike were also welcome to attend training sessions held by the PPTRP.
The online nature of the platform made participation in the project open to any Filipino citizen with Internet access, however, outside of the initiative’s original launch at the University of the Philippines in 2010, little information about the promotion of the project could be found.
Methods and Tools Used
The initiative made use of the internet and various forms of social media (such as Facebook) to engage citizens. The training sessions, as well as the civic education information offered online offered opportunities for capacity building within the general citizenry to not only build reports of their local politicians, but to also recognize the boundaries of good, transparent governance within the community. Civic education as a method of participatory action was also a main focus of the initiative; increasing public awareness of local government practices was a cornerstone for pursuing a more sustainable approach to democracy, in that the citizens would be able to build on this foundation of civic knowledge.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Participation in Pera Natin ‘to! took place in several different formats: through the submission of individually-written reports of corruption and financial mismanagement, the submission of anonymous hints through a form made available on the website, through physically attending information/education sessions provided by the PPTRP on civic journalism and/or public governance, as well as simply visiting the website to make use of the resources on corruption and responsible, transparent governance. The multiple areas for participation made it possible for ordinary Filipino citizens, of varying capacities, to contribute to the project through submission, education, or both.
The initiative was made accessible on a relatively informal level, in that any Filipino citizen could access the website or attend information sessions, so long as she or he also had access to the Internet and basic literacy skills. However, Pera Natin ‘to! and the PPTRP were organized initiatives with institutionalized funding (as opposed to largely donor or crowd funded), and this provided a structure and a certain degree of resources to an open, informal platform for civic participation.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
As an online journalistic platform, Pera Natin ‘to! and PPTRP aimed for the construction of citizenship within local Filipino communities. Its goal of increasing citizen awareness on public accountability, government finances, and bureaucratic practices within local government was without a doubt reached as the project proved to be a site of interest shortly after its launch. Within its first 6 months, Pera Natin ‘to! attracted nearly 1.3 million visitors, and more than 1000 regular unique visitors into November 2010 - though official figures on how many cases of corruption were reported could not be found before the website became non-operatioal, the initial increase in website traffic suggests that the project had become one of the most popular resources for reports on local government practices. 
The project has also been replicated by a local transparency group operating in various cities in the Philippines, and a similar imitative in Cambodia is also reported to have contacted the PPTRP for guidelines on expanding civic awareness on local government practices. In a short period of time, Pera Natin ‘to! and its larger operational group, the PPTRP, rose as primary figures in non-governmental movement towards increased civic participation through public awareness of civil society matters.
Pera Natin ‘to!’s main endeavour, which called for more accountable states and politicians, addressed the phenomenon of government officials’ names and/or photos appearing on signs next to public infrastructure. Much of the credit for new public infrastructure was therefore given to the local politician whose name and face would appear on a nearby billboard though it is taxpayer money that flows into these local ventures. Through a petition posted on Pera Natin ‘to!’s homepage and photos of billboards with local politician’s faces circulating from the project’s social media, awareness of this issue was raised, and the project’s efforts are believed to be the driving force behind the drafting of the new Congress Bill, which would declare the likeness or names of government officials near government projects to be illegal. As of 30 August 2016, the bill remains pending in Congress. 
The negative outcomes of this project largely originated from its short duration, and are the counterparts to the outcomes listed above. Firstly, though much of the knowledge that was available on Pera Natin ‘to! had been crowdsourced (thus making the existence and discovery of this knowledge independent of the associational PPTRP), those who turned to the website for local reports and information on government practises become reliant upon a functioning, updated version of the website. In this case of civic participation, it is not so much a question of who is providing the knowledge, but rather how; to be an effective vehicle of change Pera Natin ‘to! had to be maintained and updated for its contributors and readers. Unfortunately, the duration of the project left much unrealised potential for continued civic journalism in local Filipino communities, and newly engaged citizens would just as soon have found themselves upon a long outdated platform.
Like the reliance on the knowledge platform, the second negative outcome of Pera Natin ‘to! sprung from the brevity of the project. Though the project had a promising start in attracting civic engagement and public interest in its cause, the closing of the PPTRP made it much more difficult to not only pursue cases of corruption, but also to lobby government officials or civil servants for more transparent governance. If not for the website’s initial popularity and educational and journalistic potential, the project would have been a prime example of tokenistic civic initiative. However, its short-lived, albeit genuine, outcomes of fostering dialogue and awareness show promise for the future endeavours. Taking again from the PPTRP Handbook for Pera Natin ‘to!, the PPTRP acknowledged a deep potential and civic capacity to bring about the transparency and accountability demanded from government figures. The online platform thus provided an opportunity to amplify these voices and to make the most of citizen capacity in the Philippines: “Some of the best ideas may come from those quietly working already in the field of public finance. There is plenty of space for all and there are countless elected officials, civil servants and auditors quietly working around the country for the good of society and not themselves”. Ultimately, the creation of a space to facilitate dialogue can be considered a positive outcome in itself, as initiatives like Pera Natin ‘to! help to build a deeper sense of citizenship amongst Filipinos who are routinely closed off from the activities of their government officials. “From discussion and debate come ideas and solutions,” as cited in opening pages of the PPTRP handbook, and indeed, such dialogue can bring about the beginnings of a stronger, sustained civil society.
As of January 2013, the PPTRP Facebook page, as well as the Pera Natin ‘To homepage, reported securing “partial funding” for a new, three-year project, the Citizen Action Network for Local Accountability (CANA). CANA, which is in part funded by the European Delegation to the Philippines, aims to continue the work of the PPTRP/Pera Natin‘To! by setting up 28 local citizen action groups for accountability in the Philippines in the hopes of working across both local and national levels for participatory democracy. With the success of the initial outreach of the PPTRP and the Pera Natin ‘To! project, the working groups behind these initatives were able to forward these efforts and launch this subsequent participatory project on a larger scale.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
A treasure trove of information, Pera Natin ‘to! was highly accessible to the Filipino citizen, given that one had access to the internet. The homepage was decorated with the site’s most recent blog posts, links to social media, external learning resources on Philippine political structure and public finances, guides to safe investigative journalism, and pointers on basic legal jargon. The website was available in the Philippines’ two official languages- English and Tagalog, making it possible for Filipinos with or without a strong grasp of English to get involved in the initiative. The availability of information on the project’s website also made it possible for interested citizens to educate themselves about the Philippine legal and political system, as well as the basics of investigative reporting.
Though access to internet was “not a major concern,” according to Fajardo, many regions in the Philippines do not have consistent access to the internet. Remote communities, which are just as prone to cases of corruption and local government mismanagement, turn to radio as the popular medium for news reporting- rendering citizens within these communities largely incapable of contributing to the project or accessing the civic education available on the website. Nonetheless, Pera Natin ‘to’s digital medium still remained to be the most accessible vehicle for civic participation and public accountability for major Philippine cities and regions in the south of the country.
Perhaps the most pertinent challenge to the initiative’s success, however, was the danger involved in investigative reporting. Pursuing cases of corruption, secrecy, financial mismanagement, and/or even lifestyle checks of local politicians poses threats to the citizens involved. Threats to personal security can take the form of actual physical danger, blackmail, or social exclusion. In response to these security concerns, the PPTRP held training sessions for journalists and non-journalists, and also offered several handbooks on civic and investigative journalism to educate those willing to contribute to the initiative.
The lack of legal access to government documents also posed a problem for those contributing to Pera Natin ‘to!. In order to obtain information on government contracts and transactions, those reporting a case had to find alternative ways to gain access to these documents, which often involved pursuing lengthy paper trails. It was for this reason, and in general interests of government transparency that one of Pera Natin ‘to!’s primary campaigns involved lobbying Philippine agencies and institutions to make Statements of Assets and Liabilities of Net Worth (SALNs) of public officers and civil servants accessible for all to see and publish.
Like many smaller initiatives by civil society organisations, Pera Natin ‘to! quickly fell into disuse after a decrease in funding and the eventual closing of the PPTRP. The limited timeframe of PPTRP activities meant that Pera Natin ‘to! was unable to follow through with much of its initial actions; a year is a scant amount of time for journalistic investigation, let alone further pursuit and monitoring of local government activities. Though the initiative could be seen as a tokenistic project supported by local media organisations, USAID, and the American Bar Association, as yet another participatory standard to be checked off the list, Pera Natin ‘to! showed much potential to be discovered, had it been allowed to continue on and pursue its cause past its dictated closing date.
Though the PPTRP was a small, non-governmental initiative, Pera Natin ‘to! showed much potential in its first and only year of operation. The use of the internet as the initiative’s sole medium proved to be a successful decision in project design, as this made information on local governance widely accessible for urban and peri-urban Filipinos who had access to an internet connection, and who could easily attend the information sessions on civic journalism. Its form was not explicitly ‘activist,’ nor did it adhere to conventional notions of the organized protest/ physical social movement, since the project did not directly encourage mass mobilisation nor demonstrations in the name of civic welfare. Instead, with the construction of citizenship as the base of the project, Pera Natin ‘to! and the PPTRP prioritise the creation of a vigilant, educated civil society capable of standing up to local government in cases of resource mismanagement. Pera Natin ‘to!’s value lies in its power to incite change through discussion and whistleblowing, through its call to make Filipino citizens more aware of government activity on a local scale.
In the midst of corruption, financial mismanagement, and a sweeping realm of governance where transparent practices do not exist by rule but rather as exceptional cases, the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project and Pera Natin ‘to! showed a promising start as non-governmental initiatives with a vision to widen local democracy in the Philippines. Considering its operational length of about a year, it is too soon to tell if the initiative would have run into legal troubles or threats to its journalistic investigation later down the road. Rather, Pera Natin ‘to!’s greatest obstacle was its duration. With an extended operational plan and a larger team to sustain the project’s future growth, Pera Natin ‘to! and the associational PPTRP could have led to more empowered citizen participation and deeper civic engagement. Even with willing and enthusiastic citizens, it takes time to educate individuals and raise awareness above a basic understanding of local governance. The pursuit of investigative journalism and paper trails is also time-consuming, if it is to report accurately and safely. In addition, had Pera Natin ‘to! been allowed time to grow its online network of partners, the project would have been able to reach a larger audience and attract even more traffic than it was able to garner following its launch.
Pera Natin ‘to! spoke to alternative forms of citizen participation that prioritise an informed population. It was a vehicle of citizen participation that does not rely on government recognition of citizen status, and instead showed “bottom-up” initiative from citizens who demand a more accountable government. The presentation of facts and the exposure of government practices is far from a passive endeavour; in its journey for increased civic awareness and transparency Pera Natin ‘to! sought to upset the status quo of government obscurity and set the foundation for a deeper democracy. Despite its shortfalls as a time-limited project, the initial success and attention garnered by Pera Natin ‘to! allowed itw organizing team to found a larger network for citizen engagement that aims to build a more sustainable network for participatory action. In pursuing the mission of the government accountability and citizen action, the forces contributing to CANA’s efforts continue the bottom-up, capacity-building work of the PPTRP and Pera Natin ‘to!.
- The World Bank. “Combating Corruption in the Philippines: An Update.” Philippine Country Management Unit, East Asia and Pacific Regional Office. 30 September 2001.
- Fajardo, Rorie. Interview with Sopheap Chak. “Pera Natin ‘to!.” The Technology for Transparency Network, The Technology for Transparency Network. 17 Nov 2010.
- American Bar Association. “Anti-Corruption Reporting Project Launched in the Philippines.” The American Bar Association. April 2010.
- Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project. “Pera Natin ‘to! Citizen Action for Good Governance.” Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project. Quezon City. 2011.
- http://peranatinito.net/ - Pera Natin ‘to! Homepage
- Davis, Alan. “Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP).” The Communication Initiative Network, The Communication Initiative Network. 21 Mar. 2011
- Senate of the Philippines, 17th Congress. “Declaring as Unlawful Any Government Projects To Be Named After Government Officials.” Filed by Joseph Victor G. Ejercito on 25 Aug 2010.
- Pera Natin ‘To! “About” page on Facebook. Accessed 15 April 2018. https://www.facebook.com/pg/Philippine-Public-Transparency-Reporting-Pro...
- The Institute of War and Peace Reporting. “New Citizen Action Network for Philippines.” The Institute of War and Peace Reporting. Philippines. 1 July 2013.
http://peranatinito.net/ - Pera Natin ‘to! Homepage (now defunct, as of 26 March 2018)
http://www.mindanews.com/ - Mindanao News Webpage
https://ccjdphils.wordpress.com/ - The Center for Community Journalism and Development Webpage
https://twitter.com/nujp?lang=en – Official twitter account of national union of journalists
https://iwpr.net/ - Institute of War and Peace Reporting Webpage
https://iwpr.net/sites/default/files/download/publication/pptrp_handbook... – Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project Handbook for Pera Natin ‘To!