Co-Constructing Accountability

Opening Remarks in the Multiply-Ed National Multisectoral Conference

Marco Polo | 7-8 August 2023


Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.

Thank you to all our guests for honoring us with your presence, and thank you and congratulations in advance to all who form part of the growing movement of Multiply-Ed. Ang lawak at lalim na ng ating gawain at lalo pa natin dapat itong pag-ibayuhin. 

Welcome everybody to the National Multisectoral Conference of Multiply-Ed. Today, we are meeting to look into what Multiply-Ed has accomplished since it started in 2021 in the middle of the pandemic, the actionable evidence it has generated through participatory monitoring, and its analysis and recommendations crafted through the youth-led, multi-level and multi-sectoral processes it conducted. We are looking forward to the response, most importantly the commitments, of our national-level duty-bearers. There are aspects to the problems on the ground that only the national-level government can address, so we hope our government officials from the central government agencies can help us find and carry out solutions. 

But before we get on with that, allow me to foreground the event on the most important reason that we are undertaking this initiative and the ideas that frame our actions. 

The Department of Education’s Basic Education Report released in January 2023 pointed out that “the lack of school infrastructure and resources to support the ideal teaching process is the most pressing issue pounding the Philippine basic education;” acknowledging the low academic proficiency of Filipino students. The President's State of the Nation Address recognizes the need to put learning recovery at the forefront of our education agenda, to make learners more resilient and for the  K-12 curriculum to be “recalibrated…to ensure that it would always be relevant, responsive, and at par with international standards.”

With the recognition of the current top political leadership of the fundamental challenges confronting the education sector—which the different sectors of the country spearheaded by the students have been raising for quite some time now—a clear consensus is emerging: the country faces an education crisis. 

It is a good first step to acknowledge that there is a problem. The next step is to find solutions and act on it. This is easier said than done. As mentioned by Mayor Vico Sotto in the NCR Multisectoral Conference last May, it took decades for recommendations by the first Education Commission to be acted upon and carried out; and some remain just proposals to this day. 

With the new and worsening challenges of today (including climate change that is making disasters more unpredictable and more damaging, and social media that makes it easier for false and incorrect information to be disseminated and to dictate public opinion, on top of the age-old problems of poverty, weak institutions and corruption) reforming the education would certainly be harder than ever. 

We are here today to be part of efforts to confront that challenge. The question is how. 

We have three key ideas on which this event today is premised and which offer the frame in answering the question of how: 

First, Participation and Inclusivity.

Because the challenges of today are new, more complex and perpetually evolving, the government will need all the help it can get. But it needs help most from those who are already offering their help, particularly from the sectors most affected by the problem. In education, the ones most affected are the students, especially the most marginalized, youth who are the poorest, with disabilities, girls, and the LGBTQIA+. Also most affected are those on the ground implementing policies crafted at the top. Those stakeholders need to be involved in finding solutions. 

In one regional multisectoral conference that we conducted, one of the government officials said as a comment the need for X-Ed to go deeper with its analysis and recommendations. I would like to share what I gave as a response to this comment from a government official. The groups working on what we are presenting here have been working on education and accountability reforms for decades. This work is a continuation of years and years of advocacies and knowledge building by movements. For instance, when we underscore the strengthening of transparency, participation and accountability (TPA) in the agenda, that is a product of deep introspection of what can be our tentative response to a huge, complex and ever-evolving problem given the context and evidence. Movement knowledge rooted from its vast experience needs to be recognized and included in policy conversations and reforms must be informed by movement-based approaches. There is power and knowledge in movements, especially if the agenda is change for the better. 

The second idea is Synergy - pagtatagpo, pagsasanib in Filipino. 

I already exhaustively discussed this in my previous opening remarks, but I would like to underscore one synergistic aspect of this initiative, ang isang pagtatagpo at pagsasanib, that we want to be fulfilled and advanced through this event: the interfacing of national and local policy actors. 

Governance and policy-making are structured consisting of different levels from the national to the very local. The assumption is that there is coordination, interfacing, synergy among the different levels of governments - making the work of the national relevant and responsive to the ground and vice versa. 

The reality, though, is that the government's multi-level structure has been more about hierarchy and control rather than synergy, collaboration and interfacing. And our experience of what we call “squeezing the balloon” wherein our accountability efforts result in different levels of government deflecting accountability by pointing to other levels of government or other government offices is a testament to it. So, while the government is indeed structured as multi-level, there is still the need to facilitate synergy, collaboration and coordination of the different levels of governments. 

I mentioned at the start that there are issues and problems only the national government can address. This event will surface these and we hope that the national level government offices that are present will take on the challenge of addressing these issues and problems. The recent paper released by my other organization, a partner of Multiply-Ed too, Accountability Research Center (ARC) written by Abrehet Gebremedhin calls this “escalation - the process by which citizens’ unaddressed claims move upwards to those with greater decision- making powers, which is an important mechanism for accountability.” May this event show that our partners in government handle escalation on education issues raised through X-Ed with resolve, competence and commitment. 

The third is Accountability. 

We have been saying that accountability is a necessity in a democracy because ‘public office is a public trust.’ We have been saying that our proposition is the societies have been failing, democracies have been failing because governments have been failing in enabling accountability. 

We have been saying that the kind of accountability that we are putting forward is constructive accountability—that our monitoring is not fault-finding nor witch-hunting. It is meant to help improve governance. 

One aspect of constructive accountability that we need to further underscore is the processes and actions that come with it. 

Constructive accountability, as we understand and practice in Multiply-Ed is about co-constructing accountability. The operational term is co-constructing. Together, we co-construct how we will account the exercise of power, how programs and services have performed, how we fared in achieving our shared responsibility and our collective accountability. 

We who co-construct accountability are part of a movement. Such is movement-building that traverses state and society. The divide is not between government and civil society. The divide is between those who are pro-reform, pro-accountability, pro-social justice and pro-democracy on the one hand and those who are against it. 

Participation and Inclusivity. Synergy. In Constructing Accountability. May these ideas inspire and power up our gathering today patungo sa isang Malaya, Makalidad at Makabuluhan na Edukasyon. 

Padayon tayong lahat! Mabuhay!