August 24, 2019

by Jennifer Guste

Last month, in New York, state delegates met in a high-level political forum (HLPF) on sustainable development under the support of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO). The HLPF is the UN platform for following up and reviewing member countries’ progress in achieving the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or Agenda2030. The SDGs are a follow through to the still unmet millennium development goals of eradicating global poverty and hunger.

Governments meet every three years at the HLPF to report on their achievements through a presentation of their respective voluntary national reviews or VNR. The VNRs are reported and submitted by participating governments during the forum where the focus SDGs are reviewed and discussed in depth. The first reporting happened in 2016, and this year’s HLPF is the second reporting process with the theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality“.

The focus SDGs for 2019 are SDG4 on quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all; SDG8 on decent work for all and promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth; SDG10 on reducing inequality within and among countries; SDG13 for climate action; SDG16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions; and SDG17 on strengthening means of implementation and revitalizing global partnership for sustainable development.

The Philippines has volunteered for the second time to present its “progress” on the SDGs. Its call to action #LeaveNoOneBehind is catchy and brings hope to someone like me amid the two and a half decades of witnessing how efforts of government including those of civil society and private businesses have fallen short of resolving widespread poverty and chronic undernutrition of the young and old alike, while the gap between the rich few and the millions of poor Filipinos continued to widen.

At the onset of the SDG process of implementation, the government conducted several multi-stakeholder consultations across the country involving civil society organizations (CSOs), private business, the academe, government agencies, and institutions. The consultations involved identifying indicators for monitoring progress in the SDGs. Still however, only a few groups were consulted especially among the CSOs. Even those consulted observed the apparent exclusivity of the process. There were last minute invitations for the Philippines VNR consultations and workshops. The CPDG was among the few CSOs who managed to get invited to the last major consultation last April.

The Philippines’ 2019 VNR reported initial “progress” on the SDGs. However, many indicators are missing – indicators that would show the real conditions of many Filipinos. And so, CSOs are joining hands to discuss these indicators and are recommending policies that would help in achieving the genuinely sustainable development that Filipinos aspire for. Among the many efforts of CSOs in contributing to the development process was the consultation and workshop by members of the Coordinating Council for Peoples Development and Governance (CPDG) with the IBON Foundation last 10 June 2019. One of the main outputs of the consultation is the unified CSOs comments on the Philippines VNR 2019.

CSOs are one in asserting that “there should be substantial quantitative and qualitative improvements in the lives of the tens of millions of poor Filipinos and significantly reduced inequality before claiming progress in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDG). The Filipino people’s aspirations for genuine national progress and economic sovereignty need to be addressed in a more all-rounded way. Also, the Filipino’s right to development and their status as partners in development need to be recognized for progress to be sustainable and long-lasting.”

The CSOs’ main messages to the Philippines VNR were presented during the country’s presentation of its review in the July 2019 HLPF.

Meanwhile, in a recent policy forum, civil society organizations, people’s organizations and government agencies and development institutions came together to reexamine where current government policies are with regard to Philippine commitment to achieving the SDGs. The CPDG narrated how in terms of social and public services access, jobs, and disaster resiliency, and even democratic processes, Philippine government policy needs to sway from the market-oriented framework to be able to genuinely address the structural roots of poverty and inequality.

We remain hopeful that the Philippine government as well as all the governments in the world will genuinely heed the peoples’ true aspirations for development and not leave anyone behind. It could start with opening its doors to civil society participation in the upcoming review of the roadmap for the SDGs, the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022, in September 2019. For transparency and accountability, the Philippine government should also open its doors to the UN investigations on alleged human rights abuses in relation to its war on drugs, violations of workers’ fundamental rights, attacks on development workers, and killings of farmers.


In a June 2019 workshop, CSOs identified additional indicators and targets for the goals for the 2019 focus SDGs, based on the Filipino people’s conditions.


“Poverty and inequality persists amid reported progress in the SDG implementation. We must analyze from the Filipino poor’s perspective.” (Liza Maza, President of We Govern)


“Problems in methodology in key areas such as determining poverty incidence and monitoring unemployment fail to show the real situation. Thus, policies may be incorrect.” (Sonny Africa of IBON Foundation)


Workshop Group No. 3 on SDG13 and SDG16. “We must invest on mitigation, adaptation, and building communities’ resilience to ensure that the people are wholistically and strategically strong and protected and able to withstand and rise up from whatever impacts of subsequent climate risks and hazards” (Anya Mendoza, Climate Change Network for Community Based Initiatives)


Workshop Group No. 1 on SDG4 and SDG10. “Indigenous peoples should be part of crafting the ancestral domain development plan. The free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process must be respected.” (Kakay Tolentino of BAI Indigenous Women’s Network)


Workshop Group No. 2 on SDG8. “The Philippine unemployment situation did not really improve. Precarious working conditions persist (for example, contractualization). There are increasing violations of workers’ rights through violent dispersal of strikes, red-tagging of unions and killing of union leaders.”


“CSOs advancing sustainable development even before 17 SDGs were crafted for Agenda2030, are under attack. We are partners not enemies.” (Cielito Perez, Center for Women’s Resources)


“Solar power and wind power should not encroach on prime agricultural lands and should not be a basis either for exemption from land reform.” (Dr. Chito Medina, Consultant of MASIPAG)


CPDG members work together to engage government and development partners in development effectiveness to bring forward the people’s agenda for genuine change.