The new pork is now BUB, boys!

by Rigoberto Tiglao on January 22, 2015

That’s probably what Budget Secretary Florencio told congressmen in December to get them to stop delaying things and pass quickly the 2015 General Appropriations Act.

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With this new scheme of skirting the Supreme Court rulings declaring President Benigno Aquino’s pork-barrel fund system and Disbursement Acceleration Plan scheme unconstitutional, the 2015 budget is, in effect, a defiant act by Aquino and Abad of raising a dirty finger at the high court saying: “Screw you!”

BUB stands for “Bottom-Up Budgeting” Projects, a scheme by Aquino and Abad started in 2014 to defy the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision that the pork-barrel system designed to bribe Congress—dubbed the Priority Development Assistance Fund —is unconstitutional.

Called as such in 2014, the scheme’s name was changed to “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” in the deliberations for the 2015 budget last year. Abad decided to use the BUB name sometime in October.

Probably, he thought the congressmen were too obtuse that they needed a very obvious memory-aide to be reminded that he has not removed their pork barrel.

As has been this Administration’s habit of giving noble nomenclatures to its diabolical schemes, the term BUB portrays it as a democratic exercise, when in fact, it is designed entirely to disguise the pork barrel scheme carried on last year and is set to continue this year.

Even the figure for this year, P20.9 billion, is equivalent to the pork-barrel funds of P16 billion each for 2011 and 2012, and P20 billion in 2014, adjusted for inflation

One of the Supreme Court’s definitions of pork barrel, when it ruled it unconstitutional, is as follows: “An appropriation of government spending meant for localized projects and secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.”

Going by this definition, the BUB is clearly pork-barrel money. Projects it will fund are those which congressmen have always claimed are the result of their influence on Malacanang or the budget department, such things as listed in the actual budget for 2015 as “livelihood projects,” “livelihood projects,” “artesian wells,” “national greening program” (in a rural area?).

Aquino and Abad, however, revised certain aspects of its use in order to skirt certain guidelines issued by the court.
P12-P15 million per municipality

Instead of allocating a certain amount (P70 million) annually per congressman as was the case under the old pork barrel system, the BUB allocated P12 to P15 million per municipality.

This, however, would be a boon to Aquino’s lackeys. Eastern Samar representative Ben Evardone, in effect, would get P290 million this year, an exponential jump from the P58 million average in allocations he received for 2011-2013. No wonder he’s the noisiest in defending Aquino’s 2015 budget and shouting deadpan, “No pork in budget.”

Why is a province’s population not considered in the amount?

One reason could be that if they considered population as a factor, Abad’s Batanes, with just 16,000 souls and from which place his wife is sole congressman, certainly wouldn’t be getting P75 million – the amount allocated for provinces with 160,000 or 1.6 million in population. Another obvious reason is that most congressmen, in effect, would be allocated P70 million, given the average number of municipalities per congressional district, or pork-barrel per congressman Aquino has distributed since 2010.

To hide these pork-barrel funds, these are not placed as a separate major allocation in the budget, such as “Priority Development Assistance Fund” or “Countrywide Development Fund,” as had been the practice since 1990.

Instead, there is a special provision in the budget of 14 departments and agencies that provides that out of these, a certain amount will be used exclusively for “various programs and projects of LGUs” which are identified in another part of the budget law.

That for the interior and local government department, for instance, reads as follows:

“6. Bottom-up Budgeting Program. The amount of P5,664.166,000 appropriated herein for Provision for Potable Water Supply and Other Projects shall be used exclusively for the Bottom-up Budgeting (BUB) Projects and shall be exclusively used in the LGUs identified under Volume No. 1 of this Act.”

The biggest BUB fund for this year among the 14 departments and agencies is P5.8 billion for the lnterior and Local Government Department, nearly double its P2.8 billion pork-barrel funds last year.

This had prompted Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago to claim that the budget was tailor-made to fit DILG Secretary Mar Roxas’ presidential bid in 2016. The DILG chief would have nearly total control of this multi-billion fund. Roxas would have another P2.8 billion pork barrel, called the Local Government Support Fund, which is totally under his discretion to disburse.

For Aquino and Abad’s scheme, there is no pork barrel, since the funds are allocated to municipalities, not to congressmen.

BUB projects

But a party-list congressman and Senator Santiago, however, have exposed the fact that the congressmen determine the BUB projects. To make it easier for them, forms were even distributed by Abad for them to just fill in during the budget deliberations for the projects they have chosen for their districts. No wonder the congressmen are so supportive of the 2015 budget bill.

One shouldn’t have any business in Congress if he doesn’t believe that BUB allocations will be put on hold for hard-core opposition districts, or those represented by congressmen critical of this regime.

Abad claims that the BUB does not violate the court’s ban on Congress from interfering with budget allocations after the law has been passed. But the list of BUB projects contains so many fund items with still unidentified uses. Who will determine what projects should be funded?

Everyone knows that it will be the congressman who has and always will be the municipality’s only link with the Budget department.

Abad, though, invented another ruse that he thinks will hide such congressmen’s role in local projects, the reason he says why the scheme is called “Bottom-Up Budgeting.” He claims the BUB projects were chosen not by the congressmen but by an assembly in each of 1,600 municipalities consisting of local officials and leaders of NGOs.

Such utter hogwash. Have you heard, dear reader, of such assembly held in your municipality?

BUB is Aquino’s and Abad’s scheme for defying the SC’s ban on pork-barrel funds. No wonder Congress continues to be so subservient to him.

On Monday I’ll discuss their scheme for defying the Court’s ruling on DAP, or their way from 2011 and 2012 of hijacking public money to fund nearly whatever fancied them. This was meant to allow them to start filling their campaign war chest for the 2016 elections.

Philippines’ shallow capitalism

by Rigoberto Tiglao on January 20, 2015

I’ve never done this before in my column, but in this case, I strongly feel that more of our intelligentsia, and the elite, should read this piece titled “The Philippines’ Shallow Capitalism: Westernization Without Prosperity” that was posted on the website-only news site Huffington Post’s “The Blog.”

It was written by Richard Javad Heydarian, who has had several of his other pieces posted on the Huffington Post. He is the author of “How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings.” I had been told that he was taking post-graduate studies at the University of the Philippines.

I agree with everything he wrote, well, nearly. He claims that almost all Filipinos carry Spanish names. But my name, for one, isn’t Spanish, and quite interestingly the farther one goes out from the metropolis, and where the poorer the population becomes, the fewer people you’d meet with Spanish-sounding names. That the piece struck a cord is indicated by the fact that it was “LIKED” by 14,000 readers, shared by 3,600, and had 140 comments. Following is Heydarian’s essay:

As the sole Catholic-majority nation in Asia, with a distinct combination of Spanish and American colonial past, the Philippines stands as one of the most unique countries. Yet, many Westerners tend to find the country too familiar—that is to say, not as “exotic” as other neighboring countries—precisely because of its tremendous cultural and architectural affinity with the Western civilization, specifically the Iberian and Anglo-Saxon varieties. Almost all Filipinos carry Spanish names, while government and educational institutions rely on English as their primary medium of communication.

Sometimes, members of the Filipino elite tend to boast about how the Philippines is the most Westernized country in Asia, with others openly relishing the fact that the Southeast Asian country was carved out of Western colonial machinations and imagination. The very name of the archipelagic country—derived from King Philip II of Spain— perhaps says it all. In many ways, Filipinos share more common characteristics with, say, Latin Americans than their immediate neighbors. (Except that most Filipinos can’t speak proper Spanish, thanks to the regrettable fact that the Spaniards never bothered to introduce universal education in their key Asian colony. Spanish was used as a language of distinction and exclusion rather than nation-building and collective identity.)

Ordinary Filipinos, meanwhile, also boast about the astonishing fact that the Philippines— among the poorest countries in Asia— is home to 3 out of the 10 biggest shopping malls on earth. And with the country (again) featuring prominently among the fastest growing emerging markets, there is a growing feeling that the Philippines can finally claim a place of pride among modern and vibrant capitalist societies in Asia.

And that renewed sense of confidence is trickling down to the younger generation. (Nowadays, it isn’t hard to find youthful, ambitious Filipinos confidently expressing their views in international conferences and gathering, especially when they sit among fellow Asians who happen to be less adept at English and cosmopolitan in outlook.) Ideologically, the Philippines is largely situated in the Western episteme: Westernized lifestyles and pro-Western socio-political outlooks dominate the Filipino public sphere. One sometimes wonders whether the country has been geographically placed in the wrong corner of the world.

A closer look at the country, however, reveals a fundamental paradox: centuries of Westernization have not led to genuine modernization, while years of rapid economic growth haven’t brought about prosperity for the majority of the people. The country continues to remain as a semi-feudal (especially in rural areas) society under the grip of a vicious form of crony capitalism. Formal ‘electoral democracy,’ in turn, provides a comfortable veneer of legitimacy (for the political elite) and an illusion of egalitarianism in a country mired in poverty and glaring inequality.

Premature consumerism

Shopping malls dominate — both physically and cognitively — the urban landscape in the Philippines. All key public transport systems cluster around major shopping centers, which provide unrivaled comfort, the right temperature (in a humid, tropical country) and breathless access to a wide range of brands that cater to all social classes.

Urban cultures pivot and are shaped by shopping malls that are often located close to Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies, which employ hundreds of thousands of yuppies who have redefined the Filipino urban lifestyle. One can find both Prada and Penshoppe (a local clothing brand) in major malls, with both the uber-rich and working classes participating in a global consumerist culture, which has taken over almost all corners of the planet. It is a classic form of faux egalitarianism. (Having visited numerous countries across five continents, I seldom come across a product sold at better prices elsewhere but back in Metro Manila.)

Every few steps away one can find newly rising residential suites, which, similar to shopping malls, offer a variety of options for up-and-coming urban residents who are after modern amenities and a perfect location in a congested city like Manila or Cebu. Major cities across the Philippines have been transformed into virtual construction sites, resembling the construction boom that has been seen in places such as Dubai, Tehran, Moscow, and Shanghai in the past decades.

More recently, even small towns and municipalities have been transformed into frontier markets for a few major conglomerates, which dominate the retail and real estate sectors in the country. The past decade has been among the best years in terms of corporate profits and business expansion opportunities for the country’s elite, which have disproportionately swallowed much of recently created growth in the economy.

Mercy and compassion, for whom?

January 18, 2015

“Mercy and compassion” was the theme of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines. It was a mantra of sorts displayed in print and banners so much that one nun-like columnist was worried there wasn’t a precise translation of “compassion” into Pilipino, and therefore, the great unwashed of non-English-speaking Filipinos would miss the Pope’s message. But [...]

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The Inquirer vs Binay

January 15, 2015

The drop in satisfaction and presidential-preference ratings of Vice President Jejomar Binay has been invariably reported by media and even by our purported social scientists who do the surveys as due, to use Pulse Asia’s explanation as an example, to “the senate’s continued investigation into allegations of corruption against” the leading presidential candidate for 2016. [...]

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The ecstasy in crowds

January 9, 2015

As it has been this time of the year, tomorrow’s front pages will have awesome photos of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, even a million perhaps this year, incredibly packed together as they follow an image, considered miraculous, called the Black Nazarene. It is a statue so unusual in Christian iconography: Jesus Christ, black-skinned yet [...]

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FVR fuming over Tagaytay mess

January 6, 2015

I’m mad myself over this, as Tagaytay, the idyllic, dreamy unique place of your childhood, indeed, has become a mess, with traffic in the last holiday season as worse as EDSA and the ridge stinking more and more with garbage. One thing I admire, but sometimes complain about our former President Fidel Ramos, is that [...]

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2015 crucial for country’s future

January 4, 2015

This year would be so crucial for the country’s future as perhaps no year really has been. This is because both economic and political developments this year will largely determine if this unlucky country will or will not suffer another six years of a hypocritical and vengeful yet inefficient administration as that of President Aquino. [...]

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Where did Jesus get the other 23 chromosomes?

December 23, 2014

If you missed it in school, chromosomes are the very, very basic stuff of life. These microscopic chromosomes contain the instructions for proteins to multiply and combine in such ways as to make up your brain, your heart, everything in your body. Humans have 46 paired chromosomes, 23 from your father and 23 from your [...]

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P10 million per month ‘rental’?

December 21, 2014

De Lima knew about “Bilibid Resort” a year ago, why did she move only now? Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had been informed a year ago by Philippine National Police officers that organized-crime lords were living luxury lifestyles inside Bilibid Prison, with the drug kingpins even continuing their drug operations from there. Yet de Lima [...]

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De Lima should be fired over ‘Bilibid Hilton’

December 19, 2014

You got to give it to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s chutzpa —or maybe her acting talent—to have expressed shock and anger over what the raid discovered at the country’s biggest prison, the New Bilibid, among these: luxury cells with hidden assault rifles, millions of pesos, a full-sized sex doll, a music recording studio, Jacuzzi [...]

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