Obama lauds Phl reforms

- Delon Porcalla -

NEW YORK (via PLDT) – US President Barack Obama congratulated President Aquino on Tuesday for the reforms he has set in motion in the Philippines, and expressed hope that they could talk longer next time around.

The two heads of state met at the launch of the Open Governance Partnership (OGP) here. They sat next to each other during the event, which was attended by representatives of 46 other nations. The new partnership aims to promote transparency and accountability in government service.

“When the session was over, he congratulated us for our achievements in our first year. He (Obama) said, ‘I understand there have been those that have been pushing you back,’ ” Aquino told Manila-based reporters.

He said Obama was apparently referring to officials of the previous administration who are under investigation for corruption and who are blocking the administration’s reform efforts.

“He gave a compliment on the achievements that we’ve brought the first year. I guess Honolulu would be a smaller group and we’ll have more time to talk there,” Aquino said, referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Hawaii in November.

Aquino said he invited Obama to visit Manila but the US president, pressed for time, made no commitment. Aquino said the matter was best left to the foreign affairs departments of the Philippines and the US.

“I understand he talked before the UN here and everybody wanted to have two minutes with him,” Aquino said. 

To prove that his administration means business in its fight against corruption, President Aquino declared here at the OGP forum that he has formulated an action plan to be unveiled in January next year.

In his speech, Aquino said heads of state that included US President Barack Obama, Aquino said government institutions would eventually comply with international standards regarding transparency in transactions.

“We have created a roadmap called the 2012 Philippine Government Action Plan to ensure that our government institutions are at par with international transparency standards,” he said.

Obama and Aquino sat next to each other during the OGP forum.

The Philippines is one of eight countries that are members of OGP Steering Committee. The OGP forum is co-headed by Obama and Brazil President Dilma Rousseff.

The other members are: Indonesia, Mexico, United Kingdom, Norway and South Africa. Members of the steering committee were selected based on fiscal transparency, access to information, and disclosure of officials.

An advocate of good governance that underscores anti-corruption agenda for countries, the OGP is a new multilateral initiative to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

Aquino said the action plan is a product of consultations made by his officials with civil society organizations and business groups that promote open and good governance, and acknowledged that “this action plan is a work-in-progress.”

“The long-standing culture of corruption and concealment that had taken root will take time to change. But rest assured, before its implementation in January 2012, the plan will have gone through even deeper consultations,” he said.

From the time he started a so-called house cleaning in June 2010 since he assumed office, Aquino disclosed that his government intends to correct the mistakes of the past and prevent them from happening again in the future all in the name of accountability.

“We have taken a two-pronged approach, focusing on the curative and the preventive. As we vigorously pursue our campaign against those who abused power in the past, we are also strengthening institutions through Open Government,” Aquino explained.

He said that these efforts are indicators of how serious the Philippines is in transforming the system from one that operates through secrecy, impunity, and collusion, into a government that embodies transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement - a government that truly exists for its people.

“If our citizens could engage in this way, then I am certain that we will achieve our collective goals sooner rather than later. I believe that if any citizenry can be actively engaged by its government, then it can only have positive effects on the people,” said Aquino.

Aquino also told guests at another forum dubbed as “The Power of Open: A Global Discussion” that was held at the Google headquarters in New York, that allowing constituents to engage in a feedback mechanism among government programs would remove doubts about misfeasance and create an environment where trust is established.

“A continuing conversation between government and its citizens builds a positive, powerful connection between individual leaders and citizens, fostering the reintegration of government with society as a whole,” he pointed out.

He said a policy for transparency, like what he is doing in his administration, prevents temptation among those in power to engage in crimes.

Aquino said technology, particularly the Internet, could be an avenue to give the people updates on government’s affairs, and allow citizens to give feedback.

“This sense of partnership makes us better equipped to navigate the turbulent waters in our age of flux. We have seen the manner in which social media can expose corruption and other abuses, and arouse public opinion to mobilize and reclaim their government.”

Aquino enumerated several programs that his government undertook to keep the citizens informed, among them a website where people can report public officials’ misuse of funds, a Palace portal and another one that details government allocations.

He cited the case of National Hero Jose Rizal who warned of the consequences of government being “blind and deaf to the grievances of the people.”

“His (Rizal) exposing the injustices in Philippine society ignited the Philippine Revolution against Spain,” said Aquino.

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