MANILA, SEPTEMBER 6, 2012 (STANDARD) By Christine F. Herrera - Civil society groups tapped to build mass base in poor areas.

Lawmakers on Wednesday said a P10-billion budget allocation for 609 of the poorest municipalities in collaboration with selected civil society groups would be used to build a mass base for President Benigno Aquino III’s Liberal Party for the 2013 and 2016 elections and usher in “a new brand of political patronage.”

“Let’s face it. The Liberals do not have a political mass base. The P10 billion budget comes in handy,” said ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, who pointed out that the party’s president, newly appointed Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, would be dealing directly with municipalities who stood to gain P10 million each.

Under the 2013 proposed national budget, some P8.7 billion has been allocated for the 609 poorest municipalities identified by the National Anti-Poverty Commission now headed by former Akbayan president Jose Eliseo Rocamora.

Another P2 billion was allocated under President Aquino’s Special Purpose Fund for what the Palace describes as an “empowerment fund.”

House Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin Remulla, Agham Rep. Angelo Palmones, Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino, and Tinio said the timing was suspect because the money would be released to the local government units during election time.

“President Aquino and the Liberal Party are promoting a new brand of political patronage by tapping the civil society networks that are very close to the Palace, such as the Social Democrats, Code-NGO and Akbayan,” Tinio said.

Makabayan, a militant umbrella organization to which ACT Teachers and Kabataan party-list groups are affiliated, were not tapped in the budgeting process.

Palatino said the participation of Code-NGO was not surprising, but the group’s integrity had taken a hit after it was shown to have earned P1.4 billion from the government’s sale of P10 billion in Peace Bonds.

Remulla said it was anomalous for the government to grant public funds to civil society organizations and finance their agenda-setting budget processing.

“This puts to question the absorptive capacity of government. So why duplicate the job of barangay officials who would consult with those in the grassroots?” Remulla said.

“The civil society groups are better funded by the private sector, not by public funds.”

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Rocamora said the “bottom-up budgeting” would empower the poorest municipalities and promote transparency and accountability in their respective budgets.

“Some 609 municipalities have been targeted in the regions with either the most number of poor families or where the poverty incidence is highest,” Rocamora said.

The objective, Rocamora said, was to invite the various agencies and departments to provide services in these poor communities by incorporating their priority projects into their budget proposals for 2013.

Rocamora said that as of Wednesday, some 597 municipalities were participating in the exercise to “refine” their development plans.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, an administration ally, denied his group’s networks were made the recipients of the bottom-up funds even if Rocamora was once Akbayan president.

But Remulla said Abad and Rocamora would be grilled during the budget deliberations.

Palatino said President Aquino and the Liberals were using the civil society organization’s participation in the budget process to make it appear that the budget was “transparent.”

“In the guise of transparency and accountability, the government is spending P10 billion just so their allies would make it appear that the government is helping them through training, seminars and consultations,” Palatino said.

But Rocamora said the bottom-up budgeting was aimed at helping the municipalities identify the problems in the community and source the funds to empower the grassroots from the various government agencies.

Opposition lawmakers meanwhile attacked the President’s Special Purpose Fund of P317.58 billion and demanded that Abad itemize the expenditures under the that fund.

Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said Abad and the rest of the President’s economic team would be questioned about hidden allocations in the national budget.

Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay added that putting the pork barrel allocations of the congressmen under the full control of the President was aimed at silencing the political opposition.

Earlier, former national treasurer and Social Watch Philippines convenor Leonor Briones described the P317 billion Special Purpose Fund as “one big pork barrel that can be used for election purposes.”

Magsaysay said the President’s budgetary moves set the stage for his full control of the legislature, which would no longer have power of the purse.

“What will happen is we will have a rubber stamp Congress, with the legislative branch of government surrendering its autonomy to the executive branch,” she said. With Maricel Cruz

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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