How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

Innovation is very important. In the Philippines, there is huge potential for technology to create innovations which can improve the way that business is done in government. Technology facilitates linkage-building between government and citizens for an improved public service delivery. A public sector that does not adopt to the changing circumstances will become too rigid rendering it incapacitated in delivering goods and services.

I am the Undersecretary of the Information and Communications Technology Group and Chief Information Officer of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). I spearhead ICT innovations at the DBM where I was given the responsibility of managing and developing systems needed for the modernisation of the Public Financial Management Program (PFM).

My organisation continues to improve Public Financial Management through its commitment to ensure that public resources are allocated, managed and spent in a timely and effective manner. Technical reforms are necessary to ramp up spending on the infrastructure and human capital development on the way to achieving rapid and broad-based growth.

These technical reforms include the Budget and Treasury Management System, the Modernised Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System, and Project DIME.

Budget and Treasury Management System (BTMS)

The need for an integrated financial management system in the Philippines was formally recognised in 2011. The Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022) includes as an objective the implementation of a Budget and Treasury Management System that would provide an integrated systems environment, produce timely reports needed for decision-making and internal controls, and generate efficiencies in the management of public finances. BTMS enables interoperability among separate government systems for a whole-of-government approach to public service delivery.

Modernised Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (mPHILGEPS)

Every government service or project requires contracts, from the construction and maintenance of roads, schools and hospitals; the generation of electricity; the exploitation of natural resources; to the delivery of textbooks and medicines. The Philippine government spends a huge amount every year through public contracts and this is an area that is very much prone to corruption; thus, it is important that controls should be in place.

DBM promotes proactive and more effective disclosure and participation in public contracting, at all stages of the contracting process and in all types of contracts, for better service delivery and sector investments. Moreover, we believe that technology is a development tool that strengthens the procurement process by increasing the efficiency, effectiveness, competition, and transparency, enabling us to achieve the best value for money.

Our existing procurement system is being modernised to be more transparent using upgraded technology. Online shopping for common-used supplies and equipment will be possible using a virtual store and e-wallet. An e-marketplace where merchants can post their products for use by government agencies, and an online contract management will also be made available.

As part of our commitment to Open Government Partnership (OGP), mPHILGEPS will comply to Open Contracting Standards to support stakeholders from the public, private and civil society organisations (CSOs) for disclosure of accessible and user-friendly contracting information and data, effective monitoring of the award and execution of contracts, and assurance that citizens’ contracting concerns are addressed by governments and companies in a meaningful way. It is noteworthy that this track will address the monitoring of achievement of organisational outcomes of a project through the CSOs participation representing the beneficiaries of our government programs.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?

Project DIME is my most exciting project. The DBM has a programme that utilises technology to ensure transparency and accountability in the implementation of programmes, activities, and projects dealing with physical infrastructure targets. This is called Project DIME, which stands for Digital Imaging for Monitoring and Evaluation.

It aims to monitor in real-time selected high-value government projects by comparing fund utilisation vis-a-vis physical accomplishment through the use of various Digital Data for Imaging technologies (DDIT) such as drones, lidars, and satellites, as well as geo-tagging applications. The use of such technology is necessary in overseeing projects in far-flung areas wherein in-person physical inspection would prove difficult.

Citizens outside government can also take part in keeping implementing agencies accountable for unfinished projects in their vicinity by uploading their photographs of these projects with date, time, and even GPS coordinates to the DIME portal.

In 2018, we are monitoring 75 major projects. These comprise the construction of access roads leading to airports and seaports, new facilities of the health department , railway projects ,greening and irrigation.

This project, coupled with the use of mPhilGEPS, will address the deliberate secrecy in many transactions between the government and the private sector in the past, which had drained the government coffers, with the people left with unfinished or even ghost projects.

The use of these digital tools means that procurement and implementation of public projects will be transparent, so contractors and government officials, whose personal contacts are also diminished, would always be on their toes.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?

My piece of advice for all agencies undertaking reforms is to make reforms permanent. The technical reforms would fall short without having them institutionalised and made permanent through legislation. With congressional approval and the signature of the president, it will be ensured that these reforms will be enforced regardless of who sits as President.

In our case, we are advancing a Budget Modernisation Bill to institutionalise our technical reforms. This Bill seeks to strengthen the government’s accountability to the people for its use of public funds through greater transparency and facilitates the delivery of public goods and services through a more efficient budget system.

It makes budget reforms thus far established irreversible, including the one-year validity of appropriations, the integrated financial management information system (IFMIS), the core of which is the BTMS, mPhilGEPS, and Project DIME.

The Bill will also push for a more results-focused budgeting system while at the same time strengthening the discipline of government to implement the annual budget as it was legislated.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?

Technology trends point to several significant tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, blockchain technology, machine learning, and chatbots. In 2019, my interest is particularly to implement blockchain on the area of stock control of commonly-used and non-common-use supplies and equipment of government agencies under the Warehousing and Inventory Management Systems (WIMS) of the Procurement Service. In the long term, WIMS will be interfaced seamlessly with mPhilGEPS.

Furthermore, an essential technique we deem important is the use of AI in Project DIME. Instead of adding more personnel to monitor high value projects, AI can assist in this endeavor.

What are your priorities for 2019?

For 2019, my priority for the DBM is to mandate the use of BTMS for the whole of government because by subjecting expenditure items in the budget to a rigorous, automated control regime, we aim to ensure budgetary information is uniform across agencies and budgeting units, and readily available for public financial management purposes. The ease of retrieving and processing budget information will be very helpful insofar as improving how we come up with expenditure targets.

Another priority is to pioneer and mainstream the use of civic technologies for governance innovation on a national scale in the Philippines. To start this ambition, DBM will look into interfacing Project DIME and mPhilGEPS with a new civic technology called DevLive (Development Live), which is a mobile application for government and citizens’ reporting and monitoring of the progress of government projects in coordination with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

DevLive covers monitoring and reporting for infrastructure projects under the Assistance to Municipalities Program as well as the Support to Local Government Program. On the other hand, Project DIME covers monitoring high-value projects funded under Government Appropriations Act (GAA). We will explore the integration of the citizen feedback system of DevLive with that of Project DIME.

What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?

First and foremost, what helped me the most throughout the course of my career is my very long experience in the field of ICT. I was formerly the Deputy Commissioner of the BIR where I became Project Director of the biggest IT project in government, the World Bank-assisted Tax Computerisation Project.

I attended several trainings, seminars, study tours and workshops abroad. The more significant trainings and learning interventions include a one-month Comprehensive Course on Information Technology in Harvard University, USA (1994); the Automatic Exchange of Information Training on Confidentiality and Data Safeguards in Australia (2016); and Fiscal Policy and Public Financial Management Training Course in Georgia State University ( 2015).

More recently, I have attended a study visit on debt and cash management and capital market development in South Africa (2017) and the Better than Cash Alliance Peer Exchange in Brazil on Scaling Digital G2P Social Payments. I have also participated in Open Government Partnership (OGP) summits to discuss open contracting and public procurement in Indonesia and the US. Over the last two decades, I have participated in cooperation programmes to observe the modernisation of systems in the US, Canada, New Zealand, UK, Korea and Kenya.

In July 2003, I was named one of the most powerful women in IT in the Philippines. I am currently the President of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) Forum, an organisation of all CIOs in government. I also received a first prize award in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Digital Opportunity Center (ADOC) competition on Electronic Filing and Payment System (eFPS) of the BIR in August 5, 2005. In 2008-2010 I served as technical adviser in the Automated Election System (AES) for 2010 National and Local Elections. For three months in April – June 2006, I was seconded to the Asian Development Bank as an Information & Communications Technology Expert to Kyrgyz Republic to conduct a technical mission on the modernisation of their Revenue Administration.

I am a graduate of Bachelor of Science degree major in Statistics in 1977 and received an M.S. Industrial Engineering degree in 1981 both from the University of the Philippines.

Secondly, what also helped me is the way I balance my work and family. I am very fortunate to have a supportive family who understands my work as a government official. At the same time, I see to it that my official function does not interfere with the way I handle myself as a wife and mother. I know how to handle my responsibilities as a leader and manager in the organisation as well as a wife and mother in the home.

What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next ten years?

In the next three years, I will say goodbye to government service. Yet it does not mean that I will say goodbye to my chosen field of ICT. I will spend time to update my knowledge in the interesting field of data science and analytics and endeavor on consulting and the academe.

Coffee, yoga, music… what powers you through your day?

Through the day, in the office or in meetings, indeed drinking coffee powers me up. While I am in my office alone, I dread silence; therefore, while finishing my tasks, I like watching CNN Philippines on the side.