MANILA - Lawmakers grilled Interior Secretary Mar Roxas on his alleged "presidentiable pork barrel" in the grassroots participatory budgeting process (GPBP) during his defense of his agency’s budget proposal before the House of Representatives.
Roxas, who is Liberal Party president on leave, is rumored to be seeking the presidency in 2016 but has yet to make known his plans.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) coordinates the GPBP where local government units are given a chance to nominate their own priority projects.
For 2015, municipalities have P12 million worth of projects while cities have P30 million worth of projects. This is lower than the P15 million per municipality and P50 million per city in 2014.
All in all, the GPBP is about P20 billion nationwide for 2015 - unchanged from 2014. The reduction in allocations stems from the decision to allow all local government units to have a share in 2015 instead of limiting it to only 4th, 5th and 6th class municipalities, which was the case in 2014.
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio noted the DILG's budget grew by P5 billion in 2015 through the GPBP while the budget for the Philippine National Police decreased.
He said a similar provision in the 2014 budget was just at P577 million, thus the item saw a 10-fold increase in the proposed 2015 budget.
"Sa isang taon lang P5 billion nadagdag. Malinaw na DILG siya tagapagpamudmod. Kung DAP tinatawag na presidential pork, itong P5.7 billion tatawagin kong presidentiable pork barrel," he said.
Roxas responded: "Hindi po ito pinapamudmod. Alam po nang lahat...Kung hindi kayo sang-ayon, kayo pumili ano tatangalin dito dahil bawat bayan ang namili ano kanilang priority. Hindi kami nagpapagawa."
He also said that all LGUs are included in the GPBP under the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said the DILG has a pivotal role in the implementation of the grassroots participatory budgeting process.
He cited a joint memorandum circular of the DILG together with the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Anti-Poverty Commission that says the DILG heads the "monitoring of the progress of the implementation of Grassroots Budgeting Projects and undertake internal evaluation of the program."
For 2015, there is a P20.9 billion budget for GPB projects in 1,633 cities and municipalities, of which P5.67 billion is directly under DILG to provide for the "provision of potable water supply and other poverty reduction priority projects in pre-identified LGUs."
SIMILAR TO DAP
Ridon asked Roxas if he is aware of GPB's similarity to the disbursement acceleration program, and the mechanism's possible unconstitutionality.
He said that under the National Budget Memorandum No. 121 issued on March 18, projects under GPB can be cancelled and replaced even after the enactment of the General Appropriations Act.
"That means that the GPB, like DAP, is patently unconstitutional as it allows the cancellation and replacement of projects already identified in the General Appropriations Act,” the lawmaker said.
Earlier in the hearing, Roxas explained to Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan the mechanics behind the GPBP. The GPBP allegedly allows LGUs to realign funds as savings without congressional authorization, much like the unconstitutional DAP.
Roxas presented a detailed list of GPBP projects.
"Nandito ho lahat ng P20 billion sa GPBP listed by town, by agency and by project. Hayag po ito. Di tinatago ito. Nagkaroon po ng pagbawas sa total projects pero total amount per LGU last year there were 1,200 LGUS nakapaloob sa GPBP. I mean 2014 more or less 200. Kung ikaw ay siyudad, P50 million worth of projects ang mapupunta sa siyudad. Kung ikaw ay bayan, P15 million mapupunta sa bawat bayan. LGU mamimili ano ang kanilang priority at saan mapupunta ang perang ito," he said.
Roxas explained the DILG doesn't implement all GPBP projects.
Some projects will go to the Department of Public Works and Highways, DSWD, Department of Agriculture and Department of Agrarian Reform.
He said only a portion of water projects will go to DILG.
He said that from 300 LGUs, the P20 billion will now go to 1,600 LGUs. This is the reason why each LGU will get a smaller budget allocation.
"Yung dating P50 million per city, P30 million na lang. At yung dating P15 million per municipality, P12 million na lang kasi mas marami LGUs na tatanggap ng projects mula sa same amount of money," he said.
NOT ITEMIZED YET
Roxas admitted some GPBP projects have not been itemized by LGUs yet.
"Ang problema - nung hingan ang LGUs ano kanilang ninanais na projects, sinubmit nila P15 million worth kasi yan dating halaga. Subalit ngayon dahil sa budget same money pero more recipient magiging P12 million, sa bawat P15 million worth, P10 million sinang-ayunan at nilagay sa budget ng bawat ahensiya. Yung P5 million binalik sa local poverty reduction team. Sa P5 million pumili kayo anong P2 million ang ipapasok na idadagdag. Para di bumalik sa ground zero at maantala, ginawa P10 million okay na, P5 million binalik sa kanila. Mamili kayo anong P2 million ang priority kaya nauwi sa various dahil di pa natatapos pruseso na ibabalik P2 million. Yan yung nakapaloob sa various," he said.
Upon questioning by his own part-mate Congressman Ben Evardone, Roxas said all LGUs will get GPBP projects regardless of political affiliation.
The appropriations committee has asked the DILG to itemize everything before the plenary debates on the budget. Otherwise, those items will be deleted in the budget.
Roxas said: "We will try our best. Kung hindi man okay sa amin dahil last year pa namin ito hingi sa LGUs. Di lang ito sa DILG."
The DILG chief also gave the option to congressmen to nominate the projects in case the LGUs fail to meet the deadline.
Roxas said the GPBP is not pork barrel. He also defended the GPBP from concerns that it may lead to capricious projects since the projects will be nominated by a group instead of a particular official.
Apart from the GPBP, Tinio also questioned the allocation of P4 billion for capacity building for civil society organizations, citing the need to better secure government funds in light of the pork barrel scam.
"I won't be surprised kung yung mga civil society organizations nasa Kompre ng administrasyon," he said, referring to the Koalisyon ng Mamamayan para sa Reporma (Kompre).
Interviewed after the hearing, Roxas explained he merely wanted to clarify the premise of Tinio's questioning.
He also declined to talk about the possible term extension of President Aquino.
In a separate interview, Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said the LP has no party stand yet on term extension. The LP met yesterday to discuss the national budget.
He said the LP will meet again to discuss other matters like the Bangsamoro Basic Law and Charter change.
Quimbo said there must be a decision on Charter change before December or it will be too late.
LP members did not discuss the impeachment in yesterday’s meeting.
Quimbo also refuted claims that GPBP is a form of pork, noting that the Makabayan bloc has been giving different definitions of pork barrel.
He also said Makabayan lawmakers in the last 4 years used some P500 million worth of pork barrel funds.
Quimbo believes Tinio merely wants to shame Congress.
Separately, Tinio said: "Ganito ginagawa ng administration, may palamuti ng reporma pero essentially it's pork barrel. This is another form of pork barrel. We will continue to question this when budget hits plenary."