As the Supreme Court votes today on the constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a new three-letter acronym BUB (for Bottom up Budgeting) is elbowing its way into the spotlight, with billions of public funds in tow.
A new budget scheme concocted by the administration, BUB could also reach the High Court, once anti-pork crusaders realize that BUB could swindle them of their winnings and succeed in resurrecting the already nullified Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) under a different name.
In a show of both ingenuity and shamelessness, Budget Secretary Butch Abad is also the father and inventor of BUB. In this commentary, I have depended for my information on and I gratefully acknowledge an excellent report by Chito Lozada published by the Daily Tribune yesterday.
Ten changes under BUB
In his report, Lozada disclosed the following developments and changes under the BUB scheme.
1. The Aquino administration— through Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad —is using the national budget as a tool for political consolidation by touting Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB) as a reform in the budgeting process.
In truth, BUB is being pushed as an alternative to the old PDAF system, which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
While the PDAF is now buried and done with, the BUB alternative has found life and is growing bigger in size every year.
2. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) under Abad is now preparing the 2015 national budget.
Under the Budget Call, which is a document that sets out the expenditure parameters and the “indicative budget ceiling” of agencies, results of the BUB exercise will be incorporated into the requested appropriations of 13 participating agencies, but with one notable exception, the housing agencies.
The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) is excluded because it is headed by Vice President Jejomar Binay.
3.This year, BUB funds total P20.1 billion, spread out in 1,226 municipalities. The scheme bypasses legislators and funnels funds directly to LGUs.
4. In terms of funding, BUB’s outlay is bigger than what all congressmen got from the old PDAF system. Many are wondering what our honorable congressmen will say about this.
5. Different local government units and agencies were the recipients of a total of P6.634 billion in DILG assistance from April to June this year. Roxas has been distributing the funds in person and in various regions.
Besides LGUs, police stations are also beneficiaries of the new largesse. The Tribune got hold of a table which showed police stations receiving funds.
6. Funds are distributed under various programs such as the grassroots participatory budget process for water supply projects, grassroots participatory budget process, the performance challenge fund, the DILG’s Oplan Hilamos program, the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Peaceful and Resilient Communities) or PAMANA program, and rehabilitation assistance of areas devastated by typhoon Yolanda.
7. Under the guise of grassroots empowerment, each municipality is asked to draw up a wish list of P15 million worth of projects. In this way, the scheme clones PDAF, but this time the municipal project is not a congressional entitlement but something facilitated by the DILG, so as not to attract attention, the items are not booked separately in the national budget, but dispersed through 13 agencies, and government departments.
BUB requests are prepared under the auspices of DBM and DILG and then attached to the budget of the agencies.
8. In 2013, BUB was renamed as the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process. Sources say its budget for 2015 may go up to P25 billion.
9. BUB is also being used as an organizing vehicle. Under the DBM-DILG-DSWD-National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) Joint Memorandum Circular of November 26, 2013, the drawing up of BUB projects for funding entails consultations with non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs).
The DILG has a major role in naming the organizations to benefit from the scheme. The department will convene the Civil Society General Assembly in cities and towns.
While the selection of most NGOs and CSOs will be done along generic/sectoral lines, the DSWD will remain in charge of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) or conditional cash transfer scheme. Recipients of CCT largesse will be given seats at the table, preparatory to being turned into a voting bloc in the 2016 elections. They’re being told to become active politically to ensure the continuity of the 4Ps assistance to them.
10. Under the BUB scheme, NEDA is demoted from principal economic planner in the region to ordinary member of a DILG-led team. Yet in terms of competence, it is the NEDA that has the staff, the experience and the expertise in making economic blueprints.
The BUB’s main purpose is to consult the public on managing and allocating public funds. In 2013, 595 of the poorest municipalities and cities were able to develop Local Poverty Reduction Action Plans (LPRAPs) after consultation with the civil society organizations (CSOs) and local governments.
In 2014, the coverage of the BUB is being expanded to 1,233 cities and municipalities.
Scheme for political consolidation
Former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has criticized the BUB scheme as inimical to representative democracy wherein citizen voters elect their representative to make policy decisions for them.
Diokno says BUB gives national government officials the power to choose who among the many CSOs can participate in the BUB program.
“This is not a real budget reform but a scheme for political consolidation,” he said.
The BUB scheme, he says, is an extension of previous initiatives to involve the regional development councils in the budget process. Now it is being turned into a political tool to secure the support of favored civil society organizations.
BUB confirms Roxas candidacy
If anything, BUB confirms the candidacy for president of DILG secretary Mar Roxas in 2016, and the full backing of President Aquino for his bid.
All the talk about the administration searching for an alternative to Roxas – including considering the ailing Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago – is just talk and misdirection.
The die is cast for Mar.
His campaign has begun for all intents and purposes.
He will have a base to build on if BUB has its way and does its worst.
And most important, he has plenty of funds to share with local communities under BUB.
As in his invention of the DAP, so with BUB. Butch Abad shows himself as an astute political strategist and a totally partisan public official.
Three questions to answer
But some questions remain to be answered.
First, after the Supreme Court rules today that the DAP is unconstitutional, will Abad be forced to resign, or will he face charges in court? Or will he tough it out, showing everyone his thick face?
Second, what will Congress, especially the Lower House, do now that legislators are totally excluded by BUB from having a say in the distribution of funds and projects to LGUs.
Whatever happened to Congress’ much-vaunted “power of the purse”?
Third, with a consolidated base at the grassroots, will Mar Roxas finally rise in the esteem and estimation of his countrymen? Will he pick up a percentage point or two in the favorability ratings?
All these questions are moot until the full impact of the high court’s ruling on DAP has run its course.
If my “tipping point” forecast was in any way correct, we could be looking at a different political landscape and environment before the year is over.
When the Supreme Court speaks today, it will be as if the Oracle of Delphi had spoken.
When the oracle spoke, Kings listened. Will President Aquino?