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April 13th, 2016

Textbook Count 1-2-3. School supplies in the Philippines.

In the 1990s, the Philippines government was corrupt, and the Department of Education among the worst offenders. In high schools, the shortage of textbooks was so great that eight children had to share a single copy. After Congress passed the Government Procurement Reform Act, the education department set to work to provide the right number of high-quality textbooks to the nation’s schools. A crucial aspect was mobilising civil society NGOs to check that suppliers were delivering what they promised, a key monitoring initiative being Textbook 1-2-3.

The initiative

The wider context for reform was set by the government. “In 2001, a new government assumed power and a new minister was given the responsibility for the department ... The Government Procurement Reform Act was quickly passed by the Philippines Congress only months after the change in political leadership, which was further pushed by  Procurement Watch Inc. (PWI), an anti-corruption NGO.” [2]

The response was a new procurement programme, Textbook Count 1-2-3. “From 2002 to 2005, Juan Miguel Luz, a senior official at the Department of Education of the Philippines, led a nationwide drive to ensure timely procurement and delivery of textbooks to the country's 40,000 public schools.” [3] The tendering process was tightened so that the Department “really selected the best qualified suppliers and then ensured the books were delivered to the districts where they were needed”. [4]

The basic objective was to introduce a more transparent procurement procedure between the Department of Education and the various educational publishing companies. This was to lead to a more reliable supply of relevant, high-quality textbooks. Textbook Count 1-2-3 monitored the delivery process.

The challenge

In the 1990s, entrenched corruption in the Philippine Department of Education meant that it struggled to deliver basic services. Not enough textbooks were bought and delivered to schools, and those textbooks that did reach students were of poor quality. “In 1999, journalist Yvonne T. Chua’s seminal book about corruption within the department, ‘Robbed: An Investigation of Corruption in Philippine Education’, spotlighted the severe shortage of textbooks in public schools. The author noted, ‘The shortage of textbooks in nearly all the 40,000 public schools is so critical that, on an average, one textbook is shared by six pupils in elementary schools and by eight in high schools.” [1]

The public impact

NGO's such as PWI and G-Watch were instrumental in reinforcing the Department of Education's own efforts. “Inspections by civil society organisation monitors in the textbook production process also increased the quality of textbooks. Just five percent of all production was recommended for repair or replacement in 2005. The consortium of civil society organisations was able to be present at 71 per cent of all deliveries.” [5]

One measure of the programme's impact was cost-savings due to the elimination of corruption. “According to the official report of [the NGO, Government Watch] G-Watch, ‘savings' from corruption amounted to USD1.84 million.” [6] The bulk of those savings were in the bidding process: “USD1.5 million [was] saved (the average cost of a textbook before implementation of the NTDP was USD 2.04 and the cost was reduced by 40 percent)”. [7]

The overall result was that “by 2005, textbook prices had fallen by 50%, binding and printing quality had improved, and volunteer observers reported 95% error-free deliveries.” [8] Textbook Count 1-2-3 had made a major contribution: “publishers were correcting errors reported by monitors, leading to a 100% success rate in textbook delivery by the end of Textbook Count.” [9]

Stakeholder engagement

The main stakeholder was the Department of Education, which was supported by the government and Congress, which legislated to combat corruption in procurement through the Procurement Reform Act. There was also support from a number of civil society organisations, as well as the private sector:

“G-Watch, a social-accountability programme of the Ateneo School of Government, a Philippine graduate school for training public servants, conducted a study of 32 school districts.”

“The PWI provided training for members of civil society organisations on how to participate in public procurement processes, that is, how to conduct monitoring and inspection effectively. G-Watch and other civil society organizations ... were beneficiaries of this training." [10]

"The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), had a network of 500,000 volunteers. “Namfrel volunteers had working relationships with teachers or officials in most schools [and] they became involved in Textbook Count 1-2-3.” [11]

“Financial support was provided by the Asia Foundation, a funding agency of the US Agency of International Development (USAID), which saw the innovative nature and the potential of the initiative.” [12]

"The Coca Cola company agreed take school books on their delivery trucks for the normal deliveries of soft drinks to remote schools for no charge. The country now has virtually complete coverage of timely delivery of school books.” [13]

Political commitment

The government was committed to the wider context of anti-corruption reform. “The Administration of President Arroyo promised to implement good governance and institute political reforms that would improve democratic accountability, and this was embraced by civil society organisations nationwide.” [14] Through the Department of Education, the government demonstrated its commitment to greater transparency in the procurement process.

Public confidence

The public distrusted the government because of its history of corruption, particularly in the DoE, and as such would have had little confidence in this initiative.

“In the local survey that placed the Department of Education as one of the most corrupt government agencies, respondents said that the overpricing of textbooks was the most prevalent corrupt practice in the agency.” [15] However, after Textbook Count 1-2-3 had been introduced, volunteer observers at “G-Watch reported 95% accurate deliveries on average by the end of 2003”. [16] Civil society organisations were able to have more confidence in the Department of Education as a result.

Clarity of objectives

The objectives stated at the outset were consistent and maintained throughout the period. These were to remove corruption from the procurement and delivery of educational textbooks to ensure an adequate supply of good quality publications. This required a high level of monitoring by civil society organisations, much of it channelled through Textbook Count 1-2-3.

Strength of evidence

There had been a great deal of research into the problems surrounding textbook production and delivery, for example Yvonne T. Chua's ‘Robbed: An Investigation of Corruption in Philippine Education' (see The challenge above).

The studies conducted by G-Watch in 2001-02 indicated to policymakers the areas on which they needed to concentrate. “ ‘First, 40% of the textbooks were not accounted for,' [G-Watch's former director, Redempto Parafina] recalled. ‘Second, the scheduling of deliveries was messy; there were no clear guidelines on when to deliver and where. Third, the principals were not notified about the deliveries of the books. Fourth, penalties were not imposed whenever there was a late delivery.' ” [17]


Civil society organisations such as G-Watch and Namfrel supplemented the Department of Education in providing the necessary human resources for Textbook Count 1-2-3: “Namfrel accounted for most of the manpower for the delivery phase, with volunteers doing the monitoring work at the educational district level all over the country”. [18]

The USAID's Asia Foundation supported the Department of Education in providing much of the funding. The legal framework was provided by the Government Procurement Reform Act.


As under-secretary in the Department of Education, Juan Miguel Luz, a Harvard public administration graduate, reformed textbook evaluation, procurement, and delivery. “Through … Textbook Count, he created transparent bidding procedures, improved the quality of textbooks, and ensured 100% deliveries. Under his leadership from 2002 to 2005, DepEd and its partners in civil society and local communities successfully completed three annual cycles of the Textbook Count project.

As a former NGO employee himself, he deployed NGOs to help manage aspects of the initiative, for example:

  • PWI “helped members of Congress to draft the [procurement reform] bill, lobbied for its passage, campaigned in the media and assisted in the crafting of the law's rules of implementation and regulations”. [19]
  • Namfrel's experience in managing the monitoring of local elections enabled it to organise the monitoring of over half of all textbook deliveries.


Luz defined metrics that would demonstrate the success or failure of the initiative. “Our metrics were simple,” Luz said. “For us, the measure of success was 100% deliveries to the schools or school districts of textbooks of the quality that we had agreed upon: the right number of textbooks; the right titles; the right weight and quality of paper; clean, neat printing; and quality, sturdy bindings.” [20]


The NTDP and Textbook Count 1-2-3 were aligned with the government’s overall drive for procurement reform. Luz and his colleagues in the Department of Education collaborated very effectively with NGOs in the Philippines, such as G-Watch, Namfrel and PWI to mobilise citizens to participate in vital activities such as monitoring the delivery of textbooks. There was also solid alignment with international NGOs such as the Asia Foundation to ensure that the initiative had sufficient financial backing.

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