The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is now scrutinizing the “too stringent” list of documentary requirements that civil society organizations (CSOs) such as cultural, theater and writers’ groups need to submit before they can obtain financial grants from the government.
Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said her office is now looking into the issue of accreditation of CSOs (a requirement before these groups can avail of grants from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts or NCCA) following “various inquiries” from these groups and media regarding the requirements.
“We are reviewing the process also in accordance with the instructions of President Rodrigo Duterte to cut red tape,” she said in a statement e-mailed to Inquirer Lifestyle.
The lengthy list of requirements for accreditation was drawn up to prevent a repeat of the so-called Napoles scam, where businesswoman Janet Napoles allegedly created bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that received billions of pesos in financial aid from the government’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Budget crafters of then President Benigno Aquino III formulated a provision that now requires all CSOs to first submit these requirements before they are accredited by the DSWD. This accreditation, in turn, would be given to the NCCA before the financial grant is released to an accredited CSO.
Social Welfare Undersecretary Mae Templa, focal person for the department’s programs and services, gave a list of the paper requirements asked from CSOs.
The items include, among others: certified true copies of registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission, labor department and other agencies “as the case may be”; an original Certification of No Derogatory Record issued not more than three months before the date of application by concerned government agencies; a valid business license issued by the local government; certified true copies of audited financial reports; certified true copies of annual income tax returns; a list of projects and programs previously and/or currently implemented by the CSO with the government; a location sketch, photographs of principal and satellite offices and a “certificate of good standing.”
While the submission “may take as long as 20-30 days,” Templa said the documentary requirements, once given, would no longer be required from applicants seeking renewal.
Steven Fernandez, artistic director of the Integrated Performing Arts Guild (Ipag) based in Iligan City, pointed out that while the DSWD requires a business permit as the final step for accreditation, “The irony… is that the organizations we set up have never been for-profit ventures.
“But there was no other choice,” he added. “Finally, the local government [even] gave us a plate we should hang outside our office that indicated we were a ‘business’—in a sense some deception here—subsequently mandating that we pay annual income taxes taken from profits,” he said in a solicited e-mail.
Ipag is a resident performing arts company of the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology whose “biggest supporter” is the NCCA.
Fernandez stressed that many of Ipag’s national and international projects, including the implementation of major festivals, were supported by grants from the NCCA. “The NCCA supported the Ipag experiment of developing a sustainable community theater, granting funds for the guild’s operation for five years. What the Ipag is now—perhaps the most sustainable performing arts company outside Metro Manila—has the imprimatur of the NCCA.”
‘At a loss’
For projects slated this year, Fernandez said Ipag met the end of August 2015 deadline and received approval notices for its projects in letters received last January.
One project aims to assess the culture and arts education programs in Mindanao in order to formulate a framework for culture studies. Another would use a “landmark production” to initiate dialogues for peace.
Normal NCCA procedures meant Fernandez, et al. would have started the projects right away. But the DSWD requirements hampered “immediate implementation.”
“We were at a loss why the DSWD layer mattered in our work. We were informed that this was a requirement set by the DBM (Department of Budget and Management), an offshoot of the scandalous Napoles thievery of government funds. She dealt with hundreds of millions among the top solons; we were negotiating only for thousands—still, our taxpayers’ money—to help art and culture grow in our parts,” Fernandez said.
Despite accomplishing all steps, he added that the local and regional DSWD offices in Mindanao “could not resolve accreditation because these units had to take word from their central office in Manila. Besides, the DSWD wanted to know if we existed, so they again waited for word from Manila for a team to inspect our physical existence,” he complained.
Fernandez said that while the NCCA had its own checklist of requirements, the DSWD’s separate set showed an apparent lack of coordination since the DSWD “was not aware about what the steps for art groups were all about.”
Under the law, Congress cannot by itself amend or delete Section 66, the provision requiring DSWD accreditation for CSO financial grants. It is only Malacañang that can do so, said Yolanda Doblon of the Senate’s legislative budget research and monitoring office.
Social Welfare Secretary Taguiwalo said that during her first week as DSWD chief, she already met with NCCA officials on the issue. She was briefed about the “various concerns” of both private and government organizations about accreditation guidelines then.
Taguiwalo acknowledged that even before DSWD accreditation became a requirement for grants to CSOs, the NCCA “already had a stringent system” of accreditation in place since 1998 for cultural, artistic and academic organizations asking for financial support. But with the new guidelines issued by the Aquino administration, CSOs already vetted by NCCA still had to undergo the DSWD wringer, she noted.
The secretary added that while the guidelines were drawn to prevent a repeat of the Napoles scam, “there are also valid and compelling reasons to review the DSWD’s accreditation process for CSOs because it’s very evident that it is too stringent and has an effect of discouraging CSOs that have programs that genuinely seek to help their members or even the public at large.
“We are one with [nongovernment organizations] and partner agencies in the goal to make the process of accrediting CSOs easier and less circuitous, but we must also ensure the 100-percent credibility of the CSOs and what their services are to the public or their specified beneficiaries or audiences,” Taguiwalo stressed.
She noted that the DSWD’s role was previously limited to accrediting private social welfare organizations and institutions “as a regulatory body.” The new job of scrutinizing nonsocial welfare entities like artists’ groups is new and was not included at all in its portfolio before.
Ipag’s Fernandez urged the government to draw this clear distinction between CSOs and art and culture groups, and if possible, to ultimately remove the responsibility of accreditation from the DSWD.
“The arts direct themselves to the nurturing of intangibles like heritage and the communal identity. Creative expressions and the imagination are conduits that shape culture for our national good,” he explained.
“Social welfare is economic feeding, the guts meeting the basics. Our accreditation should be managed by institutions that are fully aware of our extraordinary roles as shapers of the national spirit. The DSWD knows little or nothing about what we do. Having it accredit us is a non sequitur,” Fernandez added.