Partnership Kicks Off Citizen Geotagging in Oriental Mindoro, Philippines

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The Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the World Bank (WB) partner with civil society organizations (CSOs) through the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) for the monitoring of the infrastructure component of the PRDP using the geotagging technology. This aims to boost transparency and efficiency in the implementation of the projects.

On September 22-24, 2014, around 80 representatives from national and Region IV offices of the DA, local government unit of Oriental Mindoro, civil society organizations and the academe, gathered in Benilda ng Bancuro Resort, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro to learn how geotagging can be used as a tool for citizen-monitoring of the soon-to-be-constructed farm-to-market road (FMR) traversing Barangays Bagong Silang and Macatoc in the municipality of Victoria, Oriental Mindoro.

The three-day activity focused on how the civil society and community members can take an active role in the implementation of the PRDP in their community.

DA Director Arnel de Mesa provided an overview of the PRDP. PRDP is six-year rural development project under DA worth over P27.5 billion will be funded through a loan from World Bank worth P20.56 B, and P7-B counterpart from the Government of the Philippines (GOP) and Local Government Units (LGUs). The Bagong-Silang-Macatoc FMR was the first infrastructure proposal approved under the PRDP. It aims to serve the calamansi industry in the province which produces more than 50% of the total national production.

On the part of the civil society, ANSA-EAP Executive Director Dondon Parafina discussed social accountability. He emphasized that the community should constructively engage with the government especially in the monitoring the latter’s use of public resources and delivery of services. As the beneficiaries of government projects, the citizens must also take ownership and be stewards of these projects starting from the planning up to completion.

Towards this end, a crash course on geotagging was delivered by Engr. Samuel Belamide, head of the DA Good Governance Unit, to the participants. Equipped with their mobile devices, representatives of the local chapters of KAF-CODE Inc., and PAKISAMA – Young Farmers Organization and the Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Technology learned the basics of geotagging.

Geotagging is the cost-effective way of using geographic positioning system (GPS) technology and web-based mapping to aid project supervision. The essential requirements are a GPS enabled android cellphone or tablet, and access to free internet based applications. The use of the ICT application allows the geotagged object to be easily and accurately located on Google Earth, enabling government authorities as well as interested citizens to “virtually” monitor and evaluate regularly the progress of the projects.

According to Noel Sta. Ines, WB procurement specialist and a champion of the geotagging technology, geotagging was first used by the DA in 2010 to address the difficulty they were then facing in monitoring the WB-assisted infrastructure projects being constructed in some remote and conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. To mitigate the risks involved in having to ask their staff to go to the project sites, DA required the contractors, in order to claim payments, to regularly submit progress reports of the project through geotagged photos.

The DA experience has proven geotagging to be a very potent transparency and project monitoring tool, hence its continued and expanded use in the PRDP, also a WB-assisted government program.

Much to the surprise of the participants, geotagging is not as sophisticated as they expected. The familiar question why it is not being used across government agencies was also floated to which Mr. Sta. Ines responded by saying that little by little, geotagging is being introduced to other government agencies whenever doors open.

In the afternoon of the second day, after everyone has already been oriented with the basics of geotagging, the entire team went to the project site in Macatoc, Victoria to experience firsthand how geotagging works. Despite the scorching heat of the sun, participants enthusiastically walked half of the stretch of the 2.8 kilometer road project. Taking photos at 50-meter intervals, the participants began to fully realize how by simply taking photos they can help ensure that the road project will be constructed efficiently and with the quality expected of it.

Although road construction is a technical work which only engineers fully understand, the participants were taught some basic construction red flags which can guide them in monitoring the project. The contractor of the project also provided the participants with the list of required equipment and introduced their personnel who should be at the site during the entire duration of the project.

After the actual site visit, the participants provided feedback on their experience. For the most part, the participants were glad that such technology is made available to them and even expressed their excitement in doing other rounds of visit at the site when the construction is already on-going. However, true to its purpose, the participants also raised some issues which they were able to gather from the visit. One participant brought up his concern about an existing bridge which will be hit by the construction. He wanted to know whether or not the bridge will also be widened in order to conform to the width of the road that will be constructed and if so, whether or not the cost of its demolition is already included in the project cost. Although the question was not directly addressed at the time, the LGU of Oriental Mindoro assured the participants that the issue will be studied and discussed further.

The last day of the event was dedicated to planning the next steps and how this engagement between the civil society and the government will be made more sustainable. The participants from MinSCAT presented their plan of institutionalizing the engagement by entering into a formal agreement with ANSA—EAP and the LGU of Oriental Mindoro. They floated the idea of cascading further what they learned to other organizations in the school and incorporating geotagging in their NSTP curriculum. The group came up with a protocol on how the CSOs will operate as a third party monitor and everyone was in agreement that ANSA-EAP will be the lead organization who will coordinate with the DA central office all matters concerning the project.

To cap the event, the CSOs, DA and the LGU of Oriental Mindoro, signed up in a pledge form to manifest their commitment in doing further geotagging works and continuing the engagement of CSOs until the completion of the project.

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