TWO top Palace officials on Monday confirmed that former Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd, indeed, promised local officials P100 million each from the Bottom-Up Budgeting (BuB) program, but denied the offer was made to “bribe” mayors into supporting his candidacy.
In separate talks with The Manila Times, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. belied allegations that the BuB is a form of “pork barrel” fund.
Abad noted that the offer made by Roxas to officials of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) was more of a campaign promise.
“He promised that, if and when he is elected President. He said that to demonstrate his commitment to meaningful devolution. He was already doing this when he was DILG [Department of the Interior and Local Government] Secretary,” the Budget chief said.
This paper, quoting a highly placed source, had reported that the Liberal Party (LP), through Abad and Interior Secretary Mel Sarmiento, promised P100 million worth of projects to each mayor who would support Roxas.
The promise was made when the LP standard-bearer met with members of the LMP, headed by Javier town mayor Sandy Javier, at the Resorts World Hotel in Pasay City (Metro Manila) in December last year.
The source, who listened in on the meeting, told The Manila Times that the million-pesos worth of projects would be funded under the BuB.
“It was a day-long activity that happened one Thursday in the first week of December.
They [LMP National Executive Committee officials] had a breakfast meeting with Secretary Sarmiento. In the afternoon, Roxas was there and he practically promised the mayors P100 million for each of their municipalities beginning this year,” he said.
The purported meeting was held at the hotel’s Passion Restaurant.
Coloma explained that the BuB is an item under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) that sets specific guidelines on how local government units can avail of the program.
“This is a regular program funded by the GAA and administered by the DILG. According to Secretary Sarmiento, there are specific guidelines for screening projects that may be funded under the BuB program,” the Palace official said.
BuB is widely perceived as a revived “pork barrel” fund intended for LGUs since the Supreme Court ruled previous development assistance funds as unconstitutional.
Previously known as “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting,” it was renamed BuB in October 2014.
LP spokesman Ibarra Gutierrez 3rd reiterated Roxas has never been linked to any corruption.
“If these ‘unnamed sources’ really had something to back up their claims, then they should come forward. As it is, we’ve repeatedly heard all sorts of unfounded rumors and innuendoes since Mar announced his presidential run, but no real person has actually come forward with any actual evidence. Puro na lang tsismis at paninira [They are all rumors and mudslinging],” Gutierrez told this paper.
“Mar’s record is clear, he has never been linked to any impropriety or corruption in over two decades in public service,” he said.
The Akbayan party-list lawmaker noted that Roxas “is determined to expand the BuB program to allow the poorest LGUs [local government units], working closely with local people’s organizations and civil society, greater access to funds for local infrastructure development.”
“The BuB program is participatory and transparent, it is not local executives who will determine where the money will go, but the people themselves,” Gutierrez said.
Javier also on Monday denied meeting with Roxas in December 2015. The mayor said he and his family were in Japan in December.
“P100 million for each mayor? I don’t know what particular cloud you got that news from.
But that is false news. Sabihin mo sa akin kung sino yun [source]dahil paano ko magiging kasama kung wala ako diyan [tell me who that source is, because I could not be in the meeting if I was somewhere else],” Javier told The Manila Times.
“I was not here in December. I went to Japan with my family. In December, I always go out of the country,” he said.
“Yung [the]bottom-up budgeting is a project of the national government and the local government units. We apply for what we need and if you have a seal of good housekeeping, it is easily approved. It is not because of any political exchange,” Javier explained.
“I don’t want to look bad… Yung sasabihin nila na nangako ng [They’re claiming that he promised) P100 million? Jesus Christ! Hindi ko maintindihan ‘yan eh. Kung sana makausap ko si Secretary Mar tungkol diyan [I don’t understand that. I hope I can speak with Secretary Mar]. I don’t really want that issue,” he said.
Caloocan City (Metro Manila) Rep. Edgar Erice, LP political affairs chairman, also dismissed the alleged promise made by Roxas as “pure gossip.”
“We are confident that our fellow Filipinos will see these innuendoes for what they are — baseless, politically motivated accusations that are totally devoid of merit. In fact, we take these ill-considered attempts at black propaganda as affirmation that his rivals view Mar as the candidate to beat this May,” he said also on Monday.
LP Secretary General Mel Sarmiento denied that the mayors were bribed.
“I was invited by the league for a breakfast meeting in Marriott [in Pasay City]months ago.
Secretary Roxas was not even there. Such meeting was unusual because I was new in DILG. They [LMP] members will ask me questions, and I have to answer them. What I know is that it was before their trip abroad for a learning trip, but I didn’t ask where they were going,” Sarmiento said.
“I remember that they were asking about the delivery of patrol jeeps, and I assured them that those would be delivered within the year. That’s it. We did not talk about the BuB. That [meeting to bribe them]is not true, and I can face God anytime because that is not true,” he added.
“Besides, a BuB budget for every town is only P15 million annually. And that is for all areas, not the mayors,” Sarmiento said.
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, however, expressed concern over the report.
“I believe that the President will not allow such action by Roxas because he is aware that it is prohibited and it is not in accordance with tuwid na daan [straight path],” Escudero said.
Tuwid na daan is the good-governance mantra of the Aquino Administration.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI AND REINA TOLENTINO