The People’s Budget

These days, Visayas is not only home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It is also the site of a budding civil society and civilian movement. As such, civil society organizations (CSOs) and local government units (LGUs) in many communities are collaborating to come up with an innovative way of budgeting.

The Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process (GPBP) or Bottom-up Budgeting (BUB) is one of the reforms introduced by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). Under this alternative budgetary process, a community’s budget is created with a bottom-up approach, wherein members of the community, through different civil society organizations, come together in an assembly to voice out what they believe are the most pressing needs of the community. The body then deliberates on projects and issues, which they believe, should be prioritized in their area. A list of this is then submitted to the LGU, and this is used as the basis for creating the budget the community will receive from the national government.

A relatively fresh idea, GPBP is yet to be implemented more effectively in other communities and government agencies in the Philippines. However, in the southeastern part of Leyte, in the peaceful municipality of Hilongos, GPBP has become a well-honed practice, and its results are inspiring.

Hilongos, a first class municipality, has cultivated a lively CSO community. One of the main ways through which they participate is through the GPBP. Kuya Roland Lora, a CSO leader of Campina Farmers Association in Hilongos and the Local Poverty Reduction Action Team (LPRAT) Co-chair, is proud of his participation in GPBP. “Maayos yung proseso dito sa amin, lahat ng organisasyon nakakasali.” (The process is going smooth here, every organization is able to take part.)

The GPBP in Hilongos has not only worked as an empowerment mechanism for CSOs, but as a poverty reduction mechanism as well. One of the projects implemented through this process is a farm to market road in the municipality. Built from December 2012 to March 2013 with an allocated budget of 11.5 million pesos, this farm to market road not only benefits the community’s farmers, but also its vendors, families, and basically every single member of the community. This project, according to Kuya Roland, had clamor in the community because of the prevalent problem of transportation in the area: “Hindi maipadala yung mga ani nila sa mga tindahan, wala kasing maayos na daan.” (They could not bring their harvest to the markets because there are no good roads.) Because of this problem, additional fees amounting to 50 pesos have to be paid, lessening the earnings of these farmers. However, with the creation of this farm to market road, transport fees now only add up to about 10 pesos.

GPBP is also an effective mechanism for social services provision. Far-flung areas have no access to potable drinking water, some to even any water at all. This problem gave rise to the Salintubig Water System that began construction in April 2014. Endowed with a two-million-peso budget, this water system will be operational amonth later. Kuya Roland could not get any more excited, stating that water has always been a problem in the community: “Buti na lang may ganitong proyekto, kasi mahirap talaga makakuha ng tubig para sa mga nasa malalayong lugar. Kahit panligo nga, wala.” (Good thing there is a project like this, because it is really difficult to get access to water, especially for those in far-flung areas. Even water for bathing, they have none.)

With these triumphs also come shortcomings. Unfortunately, one GPBP project in Hilongos failed to achieve the same kind of success. The Livelihood Assistance Project, bestowed with a budget of 1.98 million pesos, supposedly aims to give financial aid to taxi drivers, persons with disabilities (PWD), youth and fisherfolk so that they could start up their own businesses. However, Edmund Loterte, a member of the youth sector, reports that the money they were supposed to receive was never awarded to them. “Nag-picture-an na kami dun sa office, may pirma na nga. Pero wala, hanggang picture-an na lang yung tseke.” (We already had our pictures taken with the check, it was already signed, even. I guess we can only have our check in pictures.) Until now, he is hoping that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), finally releases the proper amount of money they should have received by now.

Despite these challenges, Kuya Roland is hopeful for the future of this GPBP, for he has seen first hand the good it can do when done right: “Sana maipagpatuloy, dahil para sa masa talaga ito.” (I hope this is continued, because this is really for the masses.) He, along with other members of his CSO, recognizes that here is still much work to be done to ensure that this mechanism yields the results it aims to.

Hilongos is an inspiring example to all communities in the Philippines when it comes to GPBP. Hopefully, many more communities adopt this budgeting process that is truly by the people, and for the people.

Trixie graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She likes literature, movies, music, and writing.