Another Threat to Accountability - This time on Public Procurement

By Joy Aceron

As we continue to confront the threats to press freedom, the danger of an exclusive and fast Constitutional Change process that attempts to remove certain human rights and accountability provisions in the Constitution and the prevailing impunity in the implementation of the government's Drug War, there is another challenge that democracy defenders concerned about the Philippines must also contend with: a possible threat to open, transparent and accountable public finance management, specifically procurement.

Latest news have reported that the Philippine government intends to challenge the public/ competitive bidding policy under the Government Report and Procurement (GPRA) Act, replacing it with a method called a Swiss challenge. According to news reports, "Under the Swiss challenge system, a government agency that receives an unsolicited proposal for a project from a private group invites third parties to match or offer a better proposal. The original project proponent would be allowed to match that counterbid or improve on it." The President finds this better than the current system that he describes as "a policy of lowest bid …that dragged us into corruption." (See

It is not the first time that the President criticized the GPRA and has taken actions to undermine it. On 17 July 2017, President Duterte signed EO No. 34 that overrides a requirement in the GRPA. As per the said EO, government procurements worth Php500 million (US$10 million) and above would no longer need the approval of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB), a requirement in the GPRA.

The government is using the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) law to justify the use of the Swiss challenge method. Republic Act No. 6957 or the BOT law provides "that national government can enter into a public-private partnership for flagship infrastructure projects to speed up their construction. The bidding process is not required under this arrangement." (See and

There has been no discussion on how to ensure accountability in utilizing this method. Whether this is legal has yet to be settled. The extent and effectivity of the use of the Swiss challenge method is also unclear.

The safeguards of the GPRA are there for a reason: to limit discretion that, in the past, resulted in big corruption. (See

While the criticisms about the GRPA - that after years of implementation, corrupt contractors have already adapted and learned how to go around the safeguards - are valid and need to be addressed, taking an action that undermines an existing law, is not subjected to public scrutiny and without clear accountability measures is a red flag that needs urgent attention.