Rappler’s #BudgetWatch combined data journalism and online civic engagement campaigns to examine the Philippines’ 2021 national budget. In executing the project, we published several stories on the misplaced priorities of a pandemic budget. We also amplified stakeholders’ voices in a series of online fora. Our partners submitted to Congress the recommendations drawn from the webinars as proposed amendments to the budget bill.
Rappler, in partnership with budget watchdog Institute for Leadership, Empowerment and Democracy, conducted 8 webinars with stakeholders in education, health, and labor, among other sectors, for in-depth discussions on programs that should be prioritized in the 2021 budget. Among the recommendations – which were adopted by two Philippine senators in their amendments to the budget bill – were increases in sectoral budgets and priority to social services and education in the Financial Support to Local Government Units (FSLGU), which funded the controversial P16.44-billion development fund of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
The amendment to prioritize social services and education in the FSLGU were included in the enrolled bill passed by Congress but it was vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte. But there are some wins, such as the departmental budget increases, the biggest of which is the P9.6-billion hike in the Department of Labor and Employment budget.
Rappler used Tabula’s optical character recognition technology to convert scanned printed budget documents into a computer-readable format. These were processed in both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets and were eventually visualized using Datawrapper.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The most challenging part in every data story is acquiring and processing government data. For example, “2021 budget: The battle for ‘pork’,” a story on the alleged pork barrel funds in the budget, took months to complete, given bureaucratic red tape and the Philippine government’s practice of scanning printed documents, particularly on infrastructure projects.
Rappler had to sift through thousands of pages for the stories in this package, only to uncover the government’s real priority in crafting the budget: political accommodation.
What can others learn from this project?
This project shows that the work of the media is important in uncovering the real government priorities in the national budget, as well as in amplifying the voice of civil society in pushing for change. While the Philippine Congress heard us, the work is not yet done. We will still continue writing about stories on the budget to hold officials accountable.