TWELVE years ago, a non-government organization (NGO) called the Sikap Yaman Foundation received P6 million from the Bogo Municipal Government. It was supposed to use this to provide fertilizers to corn and rice farmers in that northern Cebu town.
It failed to do so. It failed, according to the Commission on Audit (COA), to account for how it had spent the funds, what projects it had pursued, and what it had accomplished with those projects, if there were, indeed, any.
Provincial Board Member Celestino Martinez III was mayor of Bogo at the time the transaction took place. Now, the Office of the Ombudsman wants him dismissed from public service because of what happened—or more accurately, what didn’t happen—in that 2004 transaction.
What was it that made 2004 such a busy year in Cebu for questionable NGOs? It was in that same year that the anti-graft office uncovered Perdido Lex, a foundation that received a total of P4.1 million from the Cebu Provincial Government. It had obtained various amounts since 2002 even if—the ombudsman’s office later learned—the foundation never submitted progress reports on what it was supposed to be doing. Neither did it liquidate the taxpayers’ funds it had received.
This later led to a formal investigation on then Cebu vice governor John Gregory Osmeña, from whose office the funds had been released. One of the names listed as the foundation’s incorporators was that of his caretaker.
Authentic NGOs perform a valuable service. They enable public goods and services to reach communities, using an established network that already knows these communities well. When NGOs do honest work, they are open to being held accountable. It’s part of how they operate.
But if there’s anything the Sikap Yaman and the Perdido Lex cases teach us, it’s that not all NGOs are authentic or honest. They’re not the only cases. From 2007 to 2009, a special COA report showed, seven lawmakers from Cebu directed a combined P188.6 million to nine NGOs that were not legally authorized to receive those funds. Two of the lawmakers explained that they had dealt only with government-owned corporations, which handed the money to those NGOs without telling the congressmen about it.
Those nine NGOs were not among the dubious groups that Janet Lim-Napoles allegedly organized, which suggests that the problem is larger than we think, the practice more widespread. Surely there’s something the community of legitimate civil society groups can do to help local governments avoid those shifty, dubious NGOs?