Probably unknown to many, Senator Panfilo Lacson filed Senate Bill No. 23 last July 2, 2019. The Budget Reform Advocacy for Village Empowerment (BRAVE) seeks to empower local government units throughout the country down to the barangay level by allocating development funds which cannot be impounded by the national government. In a speech delivered on the occasion of the Baguio Charter Day celebration in 2019, Lacson highlighted its key rationale. “It would be a waste if the budget coming from national agencies would not be equitably distributed to the local development plans of the LGUs. This will be a very big help as they will have to compete for their development and not to wait for the national government for funding support which is a dole out mentality,” he said.
The development funds would be released on a quarterly basis to each local government unit (LGU). Under the bill, provinces would receive P500M – P1 billion per year, cities up to P200 million per year, municipalities P50 million to P100 million per year and barangays up to P3 million to P5 million per year. The local development fund (LDF) for each province, city or town will be based on the 50 percent of the prescribed amount for first-class LGUs, 60 percent of the prescribed amount for second-class LGUs, 70 percent of the prescribed amount for third-class LGUs, 80 percent of the prescribed amount for fourth-class LGUs, 90 percent of the prescribed amount for fifth-class LGUs, and 100 percent of the prescribed amount for sixth-class LGUs.
Lacson has also instituted safeguards for the funds to be spent efficiently and productively by specifying that the LDF will not be released without a certification from the Local Government Academy that the LGU is capacitated to plan and implement its comprehensive development Plan. However, the LDF will not be released without a certification from the Local Government Academy that the LGU is capacitated to plan and implement its comprehensive development plan. The LDF funds may not also be spent for items that are not related to or connected with the development projects, activities and programs (PAPs). LDF funds cannot be spent for PAPs that may duplicate or overlap with PAPs implemented by the national government agencies. Neither shall they be used as a counterpart fund to support national government agencies’ identified PAPs. A yearly performance review of the LGUs’ implementation of their programs will also be conducted. LGUs which fail to make the grade may have their LDFs slashed by 50 percent the following year, and terminated in case of two annual consecutive negative performance reviews. For its part, the Local Government Academy will establish a continuing capacity program for LGUs, to make sure LGUs are capacitated to plan and implement development projects in order to ensure that each LGUs absorptive capacity is upgraded in terms of the technical and rollout aspects. A web-based monitoring system will be adopted. Information accessible to the public may include funding/cost, location, contractor, progress status, number of beneficiaries, date of completion and responsible government official, of the PAPs. A sunset review of the law will be done after five years or as the need arises, to determine remedial legislation, in order to address the change in the needs of the LGUs due to increased demand for government services.
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Lacson looks to hit two birds with one stone with the BRAVE Bill; break the continuing perpetuation of the pork barrel system in its latest form and decrease the practice of political patronage with the dependence by the LGUs in the release of their internal revenue allotments (IRA). The LDF is separate and distinct from the IRA. The LGUs are supposed to receive an internal revenue allotment (IRA) windfall in 2022 when the Mandanas ruling takes effect but, given the present pandemic crisis, the national government is hard-pressed for funding sources due to the decline in tax collections. The BRAVE Bill aims to be a remedial measure given the existing fiscal environment. It also aims to address the deficit in absorptive capacity of the LGUs which was not addressed by the Local Government Code of 1991 when certain functions of the national government were devolved to the LGUs. BRAVE can also be fiscal stimulus at the local level as the development projects will spur economic activity and employment. It is akin to a local version of the BBB program at the national level.
This is the kind of legislation that our lawmakers should come up with in place of self-serving and vested-interest projects funded by the pork barrel. Lacson has been assiduous in his advocacy of budget reform and the elimination of the pork barrel system which is also part and parcel of his other advocacy of minimizing corruption in government.
The Senator has declared that he may not run for reelection and opt for retirement or make a bid for the Presidency in tandem with Senate President Tito Sotto. Lacson’s retirement as a legislator would be a loss to the Senate as his work in scrutinizing the national budget during the bicameral conference committee meetings has resulted in savings for the public because this is where the insertions are made for lump-sum appropriations. Lacson has proven to be consistent in his performance as Senator since he was first elected in 2001. It will be interesting to see what he finally decides on as October draws near.
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