Awash in money

Bailiwicks of Aquino, Roxas get big budgets

THE bulk of the P44 billion in Bottom-up-Budgeting or BuB funds has been allotted to traditional bailiwicks of President Benigno Aquino III and the ruling Liberal Party’s standard bearer Manuel Roxas II, such as Central Luzon, Panay and Cebu, Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said  Tuesday.

“A closer look at the regional allocation for the BuB program reveals how it is intrinsically designed to boost the candidacy of former Interior Secretary and now Liberal Party presidential [candidate] Mar Roxas,” Ridon said.

Ridon said Central Luzon was given a total of P1.6 billion in BuB projects spread over several agencies in 2015, and P1.9 billion in 2016.

This is also the case for Panay (Region VI), which received a total of P1.8 billion worth of BuB projects this year, and P2.1 billion for 2016, he said.

Vote-rich Region VII, where Cebu is located, got the largest chunk of the BuB budget. In 2015, Region VII received a total of P1.9 billion in BuB funds, which will only get bigger in 2016, with a total allocation of P2.3 billion, the highest allocation among all regions, Ridon said.

“These are only some examples that show how the BuB is designed to cater to vote-rich regions and traditional bailiwicks of the Liberal Party. Mar Roxas is essentially using BuB projects to woo local support. Even if DILG does not admit it, the figures speak for themselves—BuB is a tool designed for political patronage and muscle-building at the local level,” Ridon said.

But Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said Region VIII, the poorest region in the country following the onslaught of Yolanda, has been granted the highest budget allocation for BuB projects in the Visayas.

“The Yolanda-devastated poor in the provinces of Leyte, Southern Leyte, Samar, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar and Biliran are the intended beneficiaries of the BuB projects in Region VIII. This is why it has the highest funding among the four regions in the Visayas. As a truly grassroots and democratic tool for the people to engage the government to fund their priorities and thereby increase their access to local service delivery, it makes sense that more funds will go to those that need it most,” Abad said as the fourth leg of the BuB Summit opens in Cebu to highlight and track the progress of the government’s participatory planning and budgeting process.

Abad said Region VIII has an allocation of P1.87 billion this year to support the implementation of 1,150 projects, up from P1.83 billion and P622 million in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

The BuB allocation for Regions VI, VII, and Negros Island was at P1.28 billion, P1.52 billion, and P907 million, respectively, Abad said.

The National Economic and Development Authority said the poverty level in Eastern Visayas grew to 54.9 percent in early 2014 from 45.2 percent in 2012, following the onslaught of super Typhoon Yolanda, which hit the region in November 2013.

But according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, Abad said, the economy of Eastern Visayas suffered a reversal as it recorded a 2.3-percent contraction in 2014, from a 4.5-percent growth in 2013. This can be attributed to the lingering effects of the Yolanda devastation, he said.

Ahead of the plenary debate on the budget of the DILG, Ridon said there was a reason why Roxas has been going around the country to promote BuB and even inaugurate completed BuB projects in the past months.

“The Aquino administration is hyping the so-called grassroots approach to budgeting under the BuB program. However, looking at the regional budget allocation for BuB projects shows that its ulterior purpose is to boost Mar Roxas’ candidacy through patronage politics,” Ridon said.

When the mechanism started in 2013, Ridon said, the fund under BuB reached P8.4-billion spread over 595 municipalities.

For 2014, he said, the budget under BuB soared to a total of P20.03 billion spread over 1,226 municipalities, “almost at par with the budget for the now defunct Priority Development Assistance Fund.”

“The BuB mechanism has been given a total P20.9-billion budget in 2015, and is set to receive another P24.7 billion in 2016 that will fund 14,326 projects,” Ridon said.

Ridon also noted the BuB continues to operate in a manner similar to the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, portions of which were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“In the past, we have questioned the manner in which post-enactment cancellation and replacement of identified BuB projects can be done through its implementing rules, a mechanism similar to DAP. In the new implementing rules for BuB under DBM-DILG-DSWD-NAPC Joint Memorandum Circular No 5 s. 2014, such DAP-like mechanism remains intact,” Ridon noted.

Ridon cited Sections 4.2 and 4.3 of the joint memorandum, which allows local government units or LGUs to cancel and replace BuB projects already itemized in the General Appropriations Act, subject to certain limitation.

He said Section 4.2.2 of DBM-DILG-DSWD-NAPC Joint Memorandum Circular No 5 s. 2014 states: “If a project is deemed to be not feasible for implementation upon validation of the concerned participating agency, the project may be replaced with another project that can be implemented by the same participating agency in the same city or municipality, provided that the replacement project has been identified by the concerned Local Poverty Reduction Action Team.”

The cited portion of memorandum is patently unconstitutional as it allows the cancellation and replacement of projects already identified in the national budget, Ridon said.

“The BuB program uses magic words like ‘grassroots’ and ‘civil society participation’ to make it look and sound progressive. Yet, a deeper analysis of this program shows that it is not only a program designed for political leverage, but it also serves as a new way for the Executive Department to usurp the congressional power of the purse,” Ridon said.

Abad denied this, and said the program has managed to strengthen community decision making across the country and delivered concrete projects that improved the quality of life of the people.

“Regardless of political affiliation or parties, the BuB projects are implemented and their effects are felt in communities in many parts of the country. This is the result of successful partnerships between LGUs and CSOs. We hope to build on these successful partnerships to further expand the program and drive participation forward. The real and concrete outcome of this program is strong democracy and strong communities,” he added.

The Visayas BuB Summit will present the status of the P19.98 billion worth of BuB projects in the islands, ranging from projects first implemented in 2013 to those proposed for 2016.

The discussions will tackle strategies to drive participation in the BuB planning process, enhance CSO and LGU partnerships, and speed up BuB project implementation.

In the 2015 budget, Abad said, the BuB program had a budget of P20.9 billion covering 1,590 municipalities and cities nationwide.

The Aquino Administration proposed a budget of P24.7 billion in the 2016 National Expenditure Program  to support the implementation of more than 14,300 BuB projects across the country, he added. With Sandy Araneta

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