Rowena Candice M. Ruiz, Executive Director, Government Procurement Policy Board, Technical Support Office, Philippines

By Ming En Liew

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

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

The use of technology in the work of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) and its Technical Support Office (TSO) is evident in the way procurement policies and rules are recommended and crafted.

I always advocate for evidence-based policy making in the public sector. Policies should not be based on the loudest voice in the room but instead, be data driven. Policymakers ought to shape the world on the basis of what has happened, is happening and may happen, all from a circumspect and strategic use of data and technology. Data analytics works not only downstream to empower the public, but more so upstream to support an enabling environment.

Leading a procurement organisation such as the GPPB-TSO demands timely and efficient intervention and approaches in providing support to all our more than 50,000 stakeholders. In doing this, we need to be able to sense emerging trends, identify red flags as well as best practices, and enable an environment of trust and accountability to permeate. Without which, we have lost the battle before we even began our quest in pushing for the needed procurement reforms.

We cannot do this alone, we  need to collaborate and reach out to our stakeholders. This is where we leverage technology and the many digital transformations in our midst to capture real-time data, collaborate effectively, provide open and  transparent spaces and platforms to make procurement policies responsive, agile, and innovative.

When I was thrust at the helm of the GPB-TSO in October 2018, I knew that technology will be the support structure that carries out my visions. I recognised the need for a Public Assistance Team early on that can develop a Query Management System for the thousands of queries and requests for clarifications sent to us.

Public service should not be a privilege that eludes many, but should be open and available for all. During the pandemic, we used technology to ensure business continuity by offering digital walk-in consultations and Online Ugnayan (‘ugnayan’ is Filipino for coordination or correlation) to our stakeholders.

Policy wise, one of the first measures I initiated in 2018 was the use of videoconferencing in the conduct of procurement activities which was delayed due to absence of officials. This allowed them to constitute a quorum to do business virtually, without being physically present during  meetings. This was complemented by the use of digital signatures in all procurement documents. We are perhaps the first to do so in the Philippine government. Both initiatives somehow prepared our procurement system for the new normal of government operations brought about by the  pandemic.

It was also in 2019 that we sought the help of the United Nations Development Programme to develop a procurement dashboard covering data on procurement posted and submitted by procuring entities. We were able to launch this in February 2020.

The dashboard was useful in identifying gaps, red flags and assessing the type of intervention needed, be it in the review of our legal framework or re-design of our capacity development program. To date, we have iterated the process with pilot agencies of our Procurement Diagnostics initiative (formally called the Interim Review of Procurement Performance).

While working on this, we have parallel efforts to address the timely posting of blacklisted entities with the in-house development of our Online Blacklisting Portal. The Portal provides real-time information on blacklisted entities which made post-qualification proceedings possible  despite quarantine restrictions.

This was followed by another in-house initiative – the development of our Online Training Management System. The system serves as a central repository of information of government procurement practitioners. It also comprises an online platform that paved the way for our online learning program called the Digital Learning Series.

All these laid the foundational work for 2020, when the pandemic struck. Easily, we saw the need for an open platform to enable a more transparent Covid-19 procurement with the development of the Online GPPB Portal, developed with the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Because expediency can NEVER trump transparency and accountability, the portal serves as a repository of procurement projects undertaken through Emergency Procurement under the Bayanihan Act to promote accountability and transparency among government procurement practitioners.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

Overall, I think ensuring business continuity amidst the pandemic enabled procuring entities to bounce back from last year.

Project wise, this year we further developed the GPPB Online Portal alongside USAID to automate the preparation of the simplified Philippine bidding documents. This allowed for time savings and minimised errors and overlaps.

I also take pride in pushing for the streamlining and harmonisation of the Guidelines on the use of Community Participation. We made procurement more inclusive by mainstreaming the participation of local communities in the government bidding process, including the institutionalisation of direct purchase by procuring entities from local farmers and fisherfolks.

From a mentorship perspective, I am equally proud to have curated a series of leadership sensing experiences for my team. I am also proud of providing them the needed support, including health break sessions, mental health checks and counselling sessions, as we all battle it out with the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? 

I would say the ability of disruptive events and technologies to open doors and opportunities that one would not explore otherwise. I am still in awe at how positively adaptive Filipinos can be, and how we embrace every obstacle with a big smile and an open heart. It is unexpected because the world went down on its knees due to Covid-19, but the same destructive force carried us through with a stronger and more positive resolve than before.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

Seeing my team grow from every challenge, yearn for further learnings, and simply inspire others to serve. It makes up for all the efforts and patience in mentoring and sharing life experiences with them.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

I would like to see the mainstreaming of data analytics in procurement monitoring to better inform policymakers. I would also like to see the integration of all procurement data in an open platform for greater transparency and accountability.

What are your priorities for 2022?

I firmly believe that 2022 will be the year we reclaim our bearings and continually forge ahead with the many reforms I set my sights on way back in 2018. Our ongoing automation project and use of data analytics in procurement monitoring alongside the enhancement of the Philippine Green Public Procurement roadmap is at the top of my list. These will lay the groundwork and open further opportunities for the Philippines to innovate, adapt and transform our public procurement system.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

My late father has always been my inspiration. He has inculcated in us the values of hard work, integrity, competence and fairness. My mom, on the other hand, has always grounded me. She taught us simplicity and humility. All these strengthened my resolve and anchored me firmly as I  traverse life in public service.

What gets you up in the morning?

The opportunity to make today better than yesterday. For me, each day is a chance to inspire, enable, and empower others to make things better.