Releasing the Names of Social Amelioration Beneficiaries can be an Effective Accountability Measure

Joy Aceron*

A crisis situation can worsen government’s inefficiency and abuse of power. This, in turn, makes it harder for societies to respond and recover from disaster in a way that takes care of the victims and the most vulnerable who suffer most. This makes transparency, participation and accountability (TPA) measures extremely critical during crisis situations.

However, not all TPA measures are equally effective. And for TPA measures to be effective, they need to employ integrated approaches that enable both the demand side of accountability (citizen voice) and the supply side (government’s capacity to respond). (See Jonathan Fox’s research or my book on vertical integration:

TPA Measures in the SAP

The Social Amelioration Program (SAP) under the Duterte Government’s COVID-19 response targets to provide PhP5,000-8,000 emergency assistance to 18 million Filipinos needing help the most.

The SAP will be subjected to the usual auditing process of the government, which is ex-post facto or after the implementation. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) are assuming the role of oversight on local governments’ implementation of the SAP. Both national departments have set up their hotlines for complaints and issues on local governments’ compliance to SAP guidelines. The Executive is also required to report the accomplishments on its COVID-19 response to Congress on a weekly basis under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Law.

By far, one of the most promising TPA measures introduced in the SAP is the requirement for barangays to publicly release the names of SAP beneficiaries.

A DILG Advisory on the “Implementation of SAP and other PPAs Against COVID-19” dated April 3 provides that all local chief executives must “ensure that barangays publicly and conspicuously post the names of the beneficiaries listed, for transparency purposes.”

This requirement makes public those who are included (and excluded) in the list of SAP beneficiaries that has been one of the biggest issues in government’s COVID-19 response. It also makes public those who supposedly received social amelioration assistance. This automatically allows public checking of the list vis-à-vis guidelines on who are the eligible beneficiaries, and social audit of who were reported to have received amelioration against those who actually received it.

Relevant Experience Abroad

Making the list of beneficiaries public could enable a community audit much like the social audit done by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a broad right to information movement in India. Names of the beneficiaries in an employment program for the rural poor were announced in community/ public assemblies that served as an immediate auditing process.

Consider this account of MKSS’ social audit:

“They realised that information is at the core of their empowerment. The process of verification, inquiry and auditing of records was demystified. Public readings of informally accessed development records had dramatic outcomes.

“As the names were read out from government labour lists, the responses were immediate and galvanised the people. Information about payments made to dead people and non-workers propelled residents to testify in the Jan Sunwai [a grievance redress system].

“ These included serving government and armed forces personnel and names randomly copied in serial order from electoral lists. Even animals absurdly enough found their way into the lists of workers. Unfinished buildings without doors, windows or a roof were shown as audited and ‘complete’. Ghost names and ghost works were exposed. Fake development works paid for and ‘completed’ on paper enraged local residents.” (

The MKSS’ social audit involved gathering and collating of information about the government program, dissemination of information and conduct of public hearings and follow-up of government response. (See here for more on social audit methodology:

The MKSS campaign did not only help claim rural poor’s employment entitlements, it also pushed for the integration of social audit in the government’s employment program, sustaining TPA gains.

Advancing Accountability Does Not Violate Privacy

There is a question of whether the release of the names of the SAP beneficiaries is violative of the Data Privacy Act of 2012 that protects “individual personal information in information and communications systems in the government and the private sector...”

The principle ‘public office is public trust’ is foundational in Philippine legal-institutional framework. Proactive disclosure of the names of the beneficiaries of the social amelioration program checks government’s exercise of power. It does not curtail an individual’s right.

Legally, it can be argued that public posting of the names of SAP beneficiaries is part of the exemptions provided in the Data Privacy Act of 2012, specifically Sections 4c and 4e.

SAP is a “discretionary benefit of a financial nature...” (Sec. 4c) and DSWD is a regulatory agency of social welfare programs (Sec. 4e) that is mandated to check whether local governments are delivering social welfare programs (such as SAP) according to standards set by DSWD.

Enabling ‘Integrated TPA’ in SAP

While the posting of SAP beneficiaries’ names publicly is arguably one of the more promising transparency measures adopted by the government so far under its COVID-19 response, there are several pre-requisites to turn this into a working transparency measure that leads to accountability. Crucial are information, mechanisms, citizen capacity to demand and government capacity to respond. Specifically, these include the following:

  • Local governments and barangays need to be widely informed of the requirement to publicly disclose the list of SAP beneficiaries.
  • People need to be widely informed of this as well.
  • People need to be enabled to demand this from their barangay.
  • People should have an effective and responsive means of redress if their barangays did not listen or if there’s a threat of reprisal. The grievance redress can be both public or civil society-initiated/ private.
  • The criteria and qualifications for eligible beneficiaries should be clear.
  • The process for identification and validation of beneficiaries should be clear.
  • The amount of assistance should be clear.
  • People should know of the standards (such as the criteria, amount and process) that have been set by the national government.
  • People should have a way and space to report complaints and/ or aggregate their findings, raise it to decision-makers and generate response from decision-makers.
  • Local governments and barangays must have the capacity to respond appropriately to citizen findings and complaints (this includes basic openness and competency to handle participatory processes).
  • There should be corresponding corrective measure and/or sanction to deal with non-compliance.

Proactive disclosure of information is a big step forward, but it does not guarantee accountability that checks the government’s exercise of power in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a need to enable both citizen voice and government’s capacity to comply and respond which require proactive actions and support from the government, civil society and development partners.

*Joy Aceron is convenor-director of G-Watch ( and research fellow-adviser at Accountability Research Center (