“Apart from being used as a tool to control Congress, the DAP may prove to even be illegal and unconstitutional.”– Kabataan Party Rep. Terry Ridon
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III reacted to being called the “Pork Barrel King” this Wednesday October 2, as he defended the legality of his pork, including the latest disclosed chunk of it called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). This pork barrel fund was exposed after Senator Jinggoy Estrada and later, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and former Senator Joker Arroyo, revealed the “illegality” of the said funds, which were allegedly used as “incentive” for legislators who supported the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona in 2012. Aquino dared the pork barrel critics to impeach him.
Aquino was branded by progressive groups such as the Kilusang Mayo Uno as “Pork Barrel King” because his pork barrel fund amounting to P1.3 trillion ($30 billion) is the biggest pork barrel or discretionary lump sum fund allocation. And now, to be added to this are funds under Aquino’s DAP. Created by his administration in 2011, the DAP is a spending mechanism that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said was meant to “fast-track disbursements and push economic growth in light of the global slowdown and the onslaught of recent calamities.”
But Aquino’s spending under DAP reportedly “did not help create jobs,” economist Ben Diokno commented in a TV interview. In Congress, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon filed House Resolution 359 this Wednesday urging the House Committee on Appropriation and the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to investigate the Aquino administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
“Apart from being used as a tool to control Congress, the DAP may prove to even be illegal and unconstitutional,” Ridon said.
Over the past several days, Aquino has been accused, like his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, of using his pork barrel DAP funds to allegedly bribe senators and congressmen to ensure his political agenda. In 2011, Aquino allegedly used the P85.5 billion ($2 billion) DAP funds (at least three times bigger than the corruption-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF) in order to ensure the swift impeachment of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. Not one of the congressmen who refused to sign the impeachment resolution received funds from the DAP.
In 2012, the Aquino regime reportedly released P1.27 billion ($29.3 million) in extra pork barrel funds under the DAP to the senate before and after the impeachment proceedings against Corona. In the months during the impeachment hearings, at least P530 million ($12.2 million) was reportedly disbursed to senators to allegedly influence the proceedings.
A few months after Corona’s conviction by the senate, senators who voted to side with Malacañang against Corona received P50 million ($1.2 million). Three senators who voted to acquit Corona did not receive such fund disbursements. On the other hand, Aquino’s key ally Sen. Franklin Drilon received P100 million ($2.3 million) in DAP funds during the same period.
Unconstitutional fund use
According to House Resolution 359 that Ridon of Kabataan Partylist filed, “The DAP is unconstitutional as it violates Article VI Section 25(5) of the 1987 Constitution which states that, ‘No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, . . . may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.’”
“No law has been passed to authorize or legalize DAP and the funds released under the said mechanism, thus clearly violating the above-cited constitutional provision,” the resolution said. In a TV news report the same day it was filed, Constitution expert and priest Joaquin Bernas said that only items that are already existing in the budget can be augmented.
“You cannot create new items,” Bernas said. Aquino’s DAP practically created new budget items. As such, Bernas agreed that the president’s act seems to be an impeachable offense, “But it is hard to impeach him because he controls the Congress,” Bernas said.
Kabataan Partylist’s resolution calling for a probe on DAP also said it is illegal. “The President and the DBM committed grave abuse of discretion when they identified programs and projects under the DAP and released funds for such. The DAP and the projects under it are nowhere to be found in the 2011 and 2012 General Appropriations Acts, thus by approving such, the Executive Department undermined with impunity Congress’ power of the purse,” the resolution further read.
Illegal, questionable disbursements
Not only are the projects funded under DAP questionable, “There is also the issue of whether the funds tapped for the DAP are indeed government savings,” Ridon said in a statement. He said the DBM is liberal at interpreting the term ‘savings.’ “The budget agency classified as savings some parts of the national budget even before a particular fiscal year closes,” Ridon said.
According to ACT Rep. Tinio, DAP is the smoking gun that illustrates how the President abuses the power to impound and realign the budget for purposes not even authorized by Congress in the GAA (Gen. Appropriations Act). He explained that “DAP is nothing less than the President arrogating unto himself the power of the purse. It shows how Presidential pork is generated at the budget execution stage, by the President declaring savings in the middle of the fiscal year, so that he can then realign the funds as he sees fit. “
In a recent news release, DBM disclosed that the P482 million ($11.1 million) funds under DAP for 2011 came from “unreleased appropriations for discontinued or slow-moving projects in 2011,” while P7.75 billion ($178 million) was realigned from 2011 budgetary items within agencies “in favor of fast-disbursing projects.”
Kabataan Partylist’s call for probe on the DAP noted that “When the DAP was first instituted in October 2011, the fiscal year was far from over, meaning the approved appropriations under the 2011 GAA was still in effect and the realigning and discontinuation of funding for GAA-approved programs and projects that occurred is illegal. It is thus clear that the Executive Department bluntly violated the 2011 and 2012 GAA by implementing the DAP,” HR 359 said.
“The DAP can be considered as part of the President’s vast presidential pork barrel,” Ridon of Kabataan Partylist concluded. Its creation and implementation, he said, “vividly portrays the vast discretionary powers of the President over public funds, as under the said mechanism, the President can fund programs and projects even without congressional scrutiny and approval.”
Since Aquino took power as president, it appeared that contrary to his claims of increasing transparency and treading the righteous path, unlike his predecessor, he only “introduced numerous provisions in the General Appropriations Act that have further strengthened the President’s power to impound Congressional appropriations and realign funds at his discretion,” as ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said in a separate statement.
Prior to the explosion in the public mind of the pork barrel scam, this is a little known fact, said Tinio. He said they had been exposing these changes that strengthen presidential power over the public purse during the budget debates and that they had been proposing amendments that would reassert Congressional oversight over budget implementation. But Tinio said these amendments “were rejected by a compliant House.”
In reaction to Aquino’s seeming defense of his pork spending and his citing, while at it, the actions of former administration of president Gloria MAcapagal-Arroyo, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said Macapagal-Arroyo’s misuse of public funds is no justification for Aquino’s own misuse of presidential pork, the Malampaya fund and his other large lump sum discretionary funds such as the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
At the height of numerous exposé on corruption scandal and pork barrel usurpation for private gain of the legislators, the DAP is another revelation that the “Daang Matuwid” is not just a myth but a “horror” scheme hiding in a facade of “clean” governance”, said Nardy Sabino, secretary general of Promotion of Church People’s Response.
“What troubles us most is that the rampant corruption and patronage politics has been too embedded that the promise of Aquino to do otherwise has never been translated into real terms. Instead, his actions only aggravate corruption, deceit and robbery of people’s resources,” Sabino said in a statement.
DAP’s alleged use in incentivizing legislators who voted for the impeachment of former Chief Justice Corona – an avowed political enemy of the Aquino administration –illustrates how the Executive Department can commandeer the legislative department easily using public funds, Kabataan Party Rep. Ridon said.
The news is further fueling public anger. Since the Million People March against Pork Barrel in Luneta last August, a broad array of groups had vowed to continue protesting against the pork barrel and corruption. Benjie Valbuena, president of ACT, expressed in Filipino how the news over DAP make them “seethe more in fury, from the P10-billion ($230 million) Napoles pork scam and now the massive cases of bribery through DAP.”
Far from doing as he promised on the campaign trail, Aquino is doing an Arroyo, critics said. “Former President Gloria Arroyo was notoriously abusing reenacted budgets to give the Executive control over huge chunks of the budget. President Aquino has been grossly abusing the Presidential powers of impoundment and realignment to do the same. In both cases, the objective is to enable the President to dispense political patronage,” Act Rep. Tinio said. Lawmakers from the progressive Makabayan bloc asserted that with the DAP controversy, the arguments for abolishing all Presidential pork have only become stronger.