In the 1990s, the education sector in the Philippines faced a major crisis. The Department of Education (DepEd) was accused of extensive corruption, in particular in the field of textbooks procurement (according to Philippine law the government is obliged to provide students with free textbooks) (Ramkumar 2010). At least three forms of corruption were suspected: officials were awarding overpriced contracts to unqualified bidders, suppliers were not honoring their contracts (many textbooks remained undelivered even after the government had paid for them), and some vendors were providing books of poor quality (Ramkumar 2010).
DepEd has introduced in the past decade a series of reforms to deal with these problems. As part of these reforms, the department encouraged the engagement of civil society in monitoring public service delivery in the education sector. Efforts to improve the governmental procurement process played a major role in these developments.
In October 2002, then Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus initiated Textbook Count, a program that sought to address concerns on the transparency, accountability and efficiency of the procurement process for textbooks. The program aimed to engage CSOs in monitoring the full textbook procurement cycle, from bidding to production to final delivery. The timing of the project was tied to a large DepEd procurement of textbooks–37 million books and teaching manuals were purchased and procurement contracts were awarded to a variety of suppliers (Leung 2005, Textbook Count 2003). Such a large a purchase made it necessary to monitor the quality of the textbooks and their timely delivery to over 5,000 delivery points. As DepEd lacked the personnel and the funds required for such an endeavor, it decided to cooperate with CSOs.
The participation of CSOs in the project was formalized with the signing of a Commitment of Support and Cooperation between DepEd and a Consortium of over 30 CSOs, including good governance advocacy groups, education-oriented alliances, faith-based (Christian and Muslim) organizations, and student and youth sector groups. The consortium was brought together by Government Watch (G-Watch), an initiative of the Ateneo School of Government in Manila. The CSO monitors were expected to take part in the different stages of the procurement process: (1) as observers during the pre-bid conference, bidding, and post-qualification process, (2) as members of the quality control inspection team in warehouses and printing presses, and (3) as on-the-spot monitors during actual deliveries.
As part of the initiative, G-Watch engaged volunteers who monitored all stages of the procurement process. The monitoring program began with DepEd’s solicitation and assessment of bids. G-Watch observed all stages of the bidding process, including the pre-bid conference, the opening of tenders and the evaluation of their content, pre-award deliberations, and the issuance of contracts. Volunteers examined whether those submitting bids had complied with all bidding requirements, such as demonstrating that they met all financial and technical eligibility criteria. After textbook suppliers were chosen, G-Watch helped DepEd organize trainings for volunteers on book production and the printing process. This allowed the volunteers to visit the printing presses of the suppliers and inspecting, according to a pre-set checklist, their activities.
The most challenging aspect of the project was to monitor the delivery of the textbooks. Previously, textbook suppliers would provide DepEd a general timeframe for their deliveries and, as a result, delays were common. As part of the Textbook Count program, DepEd required suppliers to synchronize their delivery schedules with volunteers on the ground, so that the volunteers would be able to personally observe the deliveries. Accordingly, DepEd provided G-Watch a list of the locations for textbooks deliveries and a timetable. The presence of volunteers in these locations put significant pressure on suppliers to comply with the delivery schedules. While delays still occurred at least in one-third of the locations and volunteers were not able to observe all the deliveries as planned, this was a considerable progress compared to the situation in the past (Ramkumar 2010).
As part of the project, G-Watch introduced an innovative approach to volunteer mobilization. In the first monitoring round in 2003, Namfrel—an election watchdog group—undertook the responsibility of mobilizing field volunteers. In 2004, G-Watch turned to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of the Philippines, along with other civil society organizations. The volunteers would wait for the delivery of textbooks in schools according to a predetermined schedule, and upon their arrival, check and count the amount of the delivered books. After one year of operation, Textbook Count added another feature—it partnered with Coca Cola to use its vehicles to transport books to far-flung villages.
Outcomes and effects
The Textbook Count program led to a number of accomplishments. First, the cooperation between DepEd and G-Watch shortened the bidding process from 24 to 12 months, and cut the average price of a textbook by 40% (Parafina 2006, at 4), resulting in savings of approximately US $1.4 million (Ramkumar 2010). The participation of volunteers in inspection allowed the identification and replacement of more than 60,000 defective textbooks. Nearly 6,000 volunteers from civil society groups joined in a massive, nationwide effort over the four months during which textbooks were delivered to 4,800 locations (Ramkumar 2010). G-Watch estimates that volunteers were present at approximately 76% of the delivery locations and checked the delivery of more than 750,000 textbooks.
The project also encountered several challenges—difficulties of communication between suppliers and volunteers, inadequate reporting of poor quality textbooks, and difficulties with deliveries to far-flung locations (those were partially solved as part of the cooperation with Coca Cola) (Ramkumar 2008).
- Leung, G. (2005). Textbook Count and Civil Society Participation: Effecting System Reforms in the Department of Education. Case study prepared for the Government Watch, Ateneo School of Government.
- Parafina, Dondon (2006). “Seven Years of G-Watch Partnership with the Department of Education: Lessons on Gaining Official Support for Social Accountability Initiatives.” Working Paper.
- Ramkumar, V. (2008). Our Money, Our Responsibility: A Citizens’ Guide to Monitoring Government Expenditures. International Budget Partnership.
- Textbook Count 2003: Final Report of the National Textbook Delivery Program of 2003, Office of the Undersecretary for Finance and Administration; prepared by the Instructional Materials Council Secretariat (IMCS), September 2004.