CANA News and Events

Newbie Tulunan mayor accepts call for open government 

Tulunan Mayor Reuel Limbungan

By Abner P. Francisco

TULUNAN, North Cotabato – Eleven days after assuming post, Mayor Reuel Limbungan accepted the call of local transparency group WATCH North Cotabato for an open and responsive local government all throughout his term.

WATCH North Cotabato is composed of journalists, religious leaders, teachers, and citizens at large concerned with helping reduce corruption in local government. It partners with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) for the project Citizen Action Network for Accountability-Scaling Up (CANA-Scale Up) with support from the Making All Voices Count

WATCH North Cotabato on July 13 conducted a roundtable discussion with Limbungan, a first-term local chief executive of this second class municipality in the latter’s office, on the status of the local government’s financial transactions. Limbungan is the first local chief executive in the province to accept WATCH North Cotabato’s proposal for an interfacing with media and CSOs on public fiscal issues which directly affect citizens.

The group attempted a similar proposal last year to the local government unit (LGU) of Kidapawan, but was denied.

Limbungan said he welcomed citizens’ initiatives like this. “Media, civil society and the public are always welcome to look at our records. It helps that there are groups who look at our records so that we will be extra careful with our actions,” he said.

In response to WATCH North Cotabato’s call, Limbungan provided the group access to key financial data such as the annual budget, Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), savings, loans, gender and development funds, and disaster risk reduction and management fund, among others.

The group was also provided access to data on project contracts which were previously difficult to look into, including the amounts, name of contractors, terms and conditions, and the status of implementation.

Government projects are now strictly required to put up signages bearing the details of the projects specifically the costs, time frame, names and addresses of the contractors.

Records showed that Limbungan’s predecessor Lani Candolada, who ruled Tulunan from 2007 to 2016, left the LGU an outstanding bank loan of PhP 62 million for the construction of the municipal hall and purchase of four heavy equipment – a financial decision which the public perceives as unnecessary and excessive. The amount excludes annual interest rate which also needs to be paid until 2022. 

Limbungan assured WATCH North Cotabato the LGU under his leadership will not enter into another loan. “We don’t want to add to the financial burden of the LGU, which is already paying huge amounts from the regular budget for the monthly amortization.”

Limbungan said he prioritizes improving the delivery of basic social services, such as:

• Putting a ceiling from June 2017 on elementary and high school fees to avoid excessive fees;

• Increasing subsidy to public elementary and high school students also by next school year, requiring elementary students to pay only a maximum of PhP 200 per year, and PhP 100 for high school students, way below than the PhP 900 to PhP 1,200 each student currently pays for fees;

• Use of ambulance for free, thus becoming the second LGU to provide such service next two the LGU of Makilala; the rest of the 16 LGUs of the province ask patients to shoulder fuel costs when using the government ambulance; and

• Allocating PhP 6,000 burial assistance to indigents.

The mayor also agreed to the group’s proposal to check LGU financial records annually and compare with the baseline data.

The half-day roundtable discussion also gathered representatives from media and CSO including DXND Radyo Bida, Charm Radio, Radyo Ukay, Energy FM, Good News Network (GNN-FM), Mindanao Express Newspaper, Network of Women, Labugal Tribal Association, Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Southern Philippines Methodist College Inc (SPMCI). 

From the LGU, also present were Councilor Emeliano Ortizo, Treasurer Eseraldo Aguilar, Accountant Sheryl Mendoza and Budget Officer Arly Landingin. 

WATCH North Cotabato plans to conduct similar interface meetings with the mayors the other towns within July.

 

(The author is the Program Director of dxCA Charm Radio in Kidapawan City.)