“President Aquino knows that the DAP, which is basically an impoundment of budget funds and realigning these to nonexistent projects, is wrong. In fact, he filed a bill SB 3121 as senator illegalizing Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s impoundment of the budget without congressional approval.”– Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Just a few hours after the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the core contents of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), leading members of Congress, Aquino’s Liberal Party and partylist allies such as Akbayan immediately defended what President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his Cabinet had done. This, amid calls from various quarters to prosecute and punish Aquino for having implemented what amounted to a massive malversation of public funds through DAP.
The amounts involved in DAP’s transformation of so-called “savings” into pork are more than 14 times as large as the amount involved in the Napoles scam, which caused the arrest of a few senators such as Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, who are key figures in the opposition.
Progressive groups are asking for the resignation or impeachment or ouster of President Aquino, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, among others, who they cited as responsible for or beneficiaries of the DAP. They are pushing for a speedy auditing by the Commission on Audit of the funds involved, and for the return to the national budget of all the money or “savings” seized by the Aquino administration for DAP.
In a statement, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) assailed what they call as cover up tactics and statements of prominent members of the Liberal Party (LP). They expressed disgust that despite the high court ruling against the DAP, Aquino’s allies continue to deny Aquino’s wrongdoing.
Basis for impeachment?
Citing the same SC ruling that branded as unconstitutional the core acts of Aquino’s DAP, Aquino’s allies in Congress immediately tried to dismiss talks of impeaching Aquino by citing the limits of the same SC ruling.
In a report, Akbayan Partylist Rep. Walden Bello said, “The SC ruling is not retroactive but covers actions from the time of the ruling.” This means President Aquino may have violated the Constitution, but until the SC ruled on its unconstitutionality after nine petitions were filed against it, Aquino supposedly committed malversation “in good faith.”
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte himself dismissed talks of impeaching Aquino saying the same thing, vowing it would be killed early on at the committee level. Belmonte was quoted as telling reporters yesterday that Aquino and those involved in DAP’s use are not liable, as they crafted and implemented it purportedly “with sincere intentions, and that it was a long-time practice,” anyway.
Leaders of progressive groups said this only proves the extent of corruption and patronage politics, and that it only confirmed Aquino’s rightful tag as the Pork Barrel King.
“It clearly manifests that these legislators no longer represent the people. Instead, they have become vanguards of the corrupt regime. Both houses of Congress are infested with Aquino loyalists and allies,” said Marc Lino Abila, CEGP national president.
Even before filing petitions questioning the legality of the DAP before the high court, the Makabayan bloc in Congress already assailed is as unconstitutional.
During the 2012 budget deliberations, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said they condemned the president’s use of DAP and DBM Circular 451, because it transforms items in the budget into pork by impounding or withdrawing the funds and realigning these to the projects of selected allies, including senators and congressmen, and LGU officials.
Colmenares told Congress then that the DAP practically repeals the General Appropriations Act by realigning funds to items not found in the budget. But the said budget including DAP were still approved by Congress whose leaders are now defending the President.
Migrante International chairman Garry Martinez said his group is fully aware that even as they speak of impeaching Aquino over the illegal DAP, “BS Aquino’s allies in the lower house are now doing all they can to prevent it.”
“We know now that Malacañang has the capacity and gall to exploit its power over various government agencies for Aquino’s political expediency. This is why OFWs and their families around the world will be working more vigorously to oust the Pork Barrel King from his throne,” Martinez said in another statement.
Not in good faith
Abila of CEGP said that “If DAP was done in good faith, it should have remedied the Yolanda-stricken areas. It should have caused an economic growth easily felt by the people. And it should not have been a machinery to incentivize allies of the Aquino government.”
Instead, reports have documented how billions worth of taxpayers’ money had been “illegally used by Pres. Aquino to ensure political control, consolidation and persecution like what he had done bribing lawmakers using DAP to oust former SC justice Corona,” said Anakpawis Party Rep. Fernando Hicap in another statement.
Colmenares, one of the petitioners against DAP, said President Aquino cannot claim good faith in inventing the DAP because he knew right from the start that it is unconstitutional.
“President Aquino knows that the DAP, which is basically an impoundment of budget funds and realigning these to nonexistent projects, is wrong. In fact, he filed a bill SB 3121 as senator illegalizing Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s impoundment of the budget without congressional approval. He did not ask for congressional approval for his DAP so he actually continued the practice of former President Arroyo when he became president,” Colmenares said. Aquino had wooed voters with promises that he would do the opposite of scandal-ridden former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In the same manner that those involved in PDAF scam are to be held accountable, Pres. Aquino, Sec. Abad and all those responsible for DAP must be made accountable, said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate. If not, then that “exposes the hypocrisy of the Aquino administration’s hallow, selective and even deceptive anti-corruption campaign,” Zarate said.
Continuing cycle of pork, patronage and poverty
Another limit of the SC ruling that seemingly gives room for Aquino’s excuses, as cited by Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda himself, is its having limited itself to a dispositive portion, which Lacierda said in a report “does not speak of liability. It only spoke of unconstitutional acts.”
Lacierda said that while Aquino authorized DAP releases, “acts that have been declared unconstitutional in the past, not just in this administration, never reached the level of impeachability.”
But many anti-pork groups vow they would not allow Aquino to extricate his administration by legal maneuvers.
“Now, only fools are buying Malacañang’s lies that the President himself is absolved of the PDAF and DAP mess, and that there was no bribery in the pork barrel offer to senators who ousted former Chief Justice Renato Corona,” an anti-pork group called PAGPAG Pork (Pagkakaisa at Paglaban ng Maralita sa Sistemang Pork Barrel) said in another statement.
The SC ruling was largely welcomed by anti-pork groups, but as the KMU said in a statement, the SC issued it amid pressure by Malacañang and the bigger pressure of mounting public outrage.
Despite the limits of the SC ruling in that it seems to give Aquino a leeway, its unavoidable declaration that DAP is unconstitutional “exposes Aquino’s ‘daang matuwid’ slogan as a lie,” the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said in a statement. According to the KMU, this slogan is aimed at hiding from Filipinos’ view the rampant corruption being undertaken by Aquino and his allies.
“It highlights how Aquino attacks potential opponents in the 2016 elections for their corrupt practices while carrying out corruption rackets of his own that are bigger than those of his opponents,” Elmer ‘Bong’ Labog, KMU chairman, said.
Now, the anti-pork groups remain intent on calling not just for the accountability of President Aquino and Budget Sec. Butch Abad, but also for the end of the entire pork barrel system itself. PDAF returned through another method, DAP as presidential pork could just as easily change its mode given the continuing existence of pork barrel system in the budget, and, as warned by various groups, if transforming budget into pork barrel will not be criminalized and punished.
Bayan Muna had argued during the deliberations on DAP that the battle against the pork barrel system must still be pursued especially since at least P932 billion ($21.674 billion) pesos in pork can be found in the 2014 national budget and in the various off-budget items including Malampaya fund, President Social Fund and Motor Vehicles Users Charges.
Various groups urged the public to continue their guard against the DAP issue and pork barrel.
“We should frustrate any legal maneuvers and diversionary tactics of the Aquino administration,” Anakpawis Rep. Hicap said, adding that if not for the people’s tireless support in different forms of protest, Pres. Aquino and Sec. Abad will have continued their unconstitutional act.”