Let’s Continue to Empower the Basic Sectors (Privilege Speech on the BuB)

Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, I wish to rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege on an issue that is very important, especially now that our government is in the process of fulfilling its mandate, that is, to deliver change in our country.

While President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has boldly promised sweeping political and social changes, he has also displayed some diplomacy and willingness to partner with those committed to continue many of the practices and programs of the previous administration that have been effective.

Among the programs he has committed to continue are the conditional cash transfer program, the country’s defense modernization, and sound economic policies.

However, one program which was viewed with skepticism and planned to be expunged from the proposed 2017 national budget was participatory budgeting or better known as the Bottom-Up-Budgeting or BuB. Many of the stakeholders of BuB such as civil society partners, local government units, and national agency partners, received the initial news with anxiety because they know that the BuB was already showing promise. And if implemented longer, the program would deliver its promise of development to poor and neglected local communities.

However, members from civil society and many local government officials spoke in defense of the BuB that eventually convinced our national government to give the program a second look.

Thankfully, our Interior and Local Government Secretary Mike Sueno agreed to continue a substantial part of the projects that were products of exhaustive discussions and deliberations by the communities.

Hopefully, the DILG will heed the sentiments of the local communities and local government units that want to continue the program.

While some aspects of the program of the BuB may still be continued, I believe the question in the minds of many, especially in the rural and poor communities where BuB has delivered, is, what will happen to the program as a whole? what will happen to participatory budgeting? what will become of the Local Poverty Reduction Action Teams and Plans? will the composition still be 50% civil society and 50% local government?

Let my voice be one with those from civil society, from people’s organizations and from local government units in asking/declaring for BuB to be continued, consolidated and strengthened.

Allow me to digress; I am the youngest brother of former National Anti-Poverty Commission Lead Convenor and Secretary Joel Rocamora. While some may wish to interpret that our relationship drives me to support the BuB; I assure you that blood relations do not come into play when I speak on policy issues; on governance. That we are brothers is beside the point.

I support the program because the BuB is not simply another run of the mill anti-poverty program. Participatory Budgeting or BuB or Grassroots Participatory Budgeting or whatever you want to call it, is really about empowering ordinary citizens to be part of the process of governance, most especially on crafting the budget.

It is no wonder that the beloved late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo was one of the main architects of BuB because it bears the crucial characteristic of citizen’s participation, a principle that Sec. Jesse carried with him from the time he served as Mayor of Naga City in Camarines Sur. Participatory Budgeting takes inspiration from Naga’s own experience with LGU-Civil Society collaboration with their acclaimed Naga City People’s Council which opened the doors for non-governmental organizations and people’s organizations to take part in the City’s councils, boards and Task Forces. Participatory Budgeting is simply bringing that principle of citizen’s involvement into the sphere of government’s budgetary functions.

Past Phililippine Congresses, even prior to the PNoy Administration, have allowed CSO participation in our own budget deliberations of the General Appropriations Bill. Former Appropriations Committee Chair Edcel Lagman, during the time of former President Macapagal-Arroyo, allowed NGOs like Social Watch, Freedom from Debt Coalition and other civil society organizations to submit their proposals to the Congress. Social Watch calls it the Alternative Budget Initiative which they hope will continue in this Congress.

Participatory Budgeting may be innovative in the Philippines but its practice is well established in other countries as one of their democratic processes. In the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil, where it was pioneered, participatory budgeting was brought to whole new heights by mandating that a substantial portion of the City’s budget be determined through deliberations of citizens’ assemblies. Through this , the Porto Alegre has made service-delivery more effective because the public’s inputs enable their City budget to focus on the programs and services that the City truly needs. In fact, the Porto Alegre Model, as they call it, has been replicated to some extent by many local governments around the world, subject to minor changes to suit their specific contexts.

To us, the possibilities are endless. Not only is it innovative but also revolutionary with the potential of changing the relations between our political leaders and ordinary citizens.

I’m sure, my fellow colleagues, especially those from poorer provinces and districts are familiar with the patron-client relation that exist between local officials and political leaders on one hand and their constituents on the other. The former are treated with such high esteem that ordinary folk tend to regard services and programs that they deserve as favors from their local officials and leaders. That should not be because we are here to serve their needs. Of course, I believe that effective governance and leadership should be commended and lauded by our constituents but it is our mandate to serve them. We are their representatives in the halls of Congress.

While BuB has many critics, I urge them to judge it by its merits. Under the BuB, Local Poverty Reduction Action Teams (LPRATs) or LPRATs composed of representatives from the CSOs and local government discuss and deliberate on programs or services that are badly needed by the community. If they can show why a basketball court or a waiting shed or a 2 kilometer farm-to-market road or bridge will reduce their poverty, then, such a project will be proposed. They then craft a Local Poverty Reduction Action Plan that is consolidated at the regional level where the Plan is further deliberated by representatives from CSOS, LGUs and national government agencies. Then, the plans are endorsed to the DBM for integration into the national budget.

A total allocation of PhP 74B was incorporated in the General Appropriations Act covering the fiscal years of 2013 to 2016 with a total number of 54,951 projects. There was a total of 194,955 CSOs that engaged in the various projects under the BuB.

For the fiscal year 2017, 1,633 LGUs were involved in preparing their local poverty reduction action plan or LPRAP. Thus, for the past 3 years, BuB has clearly been a massive mobilization of people’s participation. It is an exercise in harnessing people’s power.

By allotting funds directly to the local communities and, as such to ordinary folk, we are able to leapfrog over numerous layers of government bureaucracy which often hamper proper identification of the needs of a community.

The BuB, while having been implemented for the past 3 years, is still in its infancy. The effect of democratizing the budget process has yet to be fully realized. At such stage of infancy, should the program be deprived of sustenance as the current National Expenditure Program proposes?

I believe it should be continued and in fact further strengthened. The program, like any government program, still needs to be perfected. But we cannot perfect it if we emasculate it.

I hope the Executive, led by our President Rodrigo Duterte, will engage with civil society and LGUs who are championing the BuB. It is only through collaboration and cooperation where we can identify the shortcomings of the program and improve upon it. If the administration’s apprehension with the program is its name and connection with the past administration, we can always rename it. I would even suggest calling it PRRD, short for Participatory Reform for Rural Development.

Kidding aside, I truly hope our government will give this program a second look. I fear that discontinuing participatory budgeting would be a lost opportunity in our government’s campaign to bring meaningful change to the lives of our people, most especially those from our poorest communities.

Along this line, House Joint Resolution No. 4 was authored by this Representation, along with Congressmen Lazatin, Villarin and Baguilat. It calls for the restoration of the P35 billion allotted for BuB in the proposed 2017 National Budget. So much work has been put into it. I particularly seek the support of Appropriations Chair Karlo Nograles to help us see this through, as well as all the members of the 17th Congress. As of last Friday, more than 50 of our colleagues have already co-authored the Joint Resolution.

My dear Colleagues, Mr. Speaker, I hope you will all join me and the growing number of members of this august chamber to support the BuB.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and dear colleagues for the opportunity to articulate my thoughts on a program that I, together with other advocates, hold dearly.

Before I end, may I recognize the BuB advocates who travelled all the way from their communities to support the continuance of our advocacy to empower the basic sectors and our communities.

Thank you.

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