THE “bad faith” in the implementation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) can be gleaned from a bill against budget impoundment that then-senator Benigno Aquino 3rd had filed in the previous Congress and which explicitly gave importance to legislative imprimatur in handling supposed savings.
When Aquino filed Senate Bill 3121 or the Budget Impoundment Control Act, he proposed that “whenever the President, the Secretary of Budget and Management, the head of any department, agency or instrumentality of the government proposes to defer the release of any appropriation for a specific purpose, program, activity or project, the President shall transmit to the House of Representatives and the Senate a special message” about the specifics of the new budget plan.
His bill also proposed an “impoundment resolution” from both chambers before the President can rescind, reserve or defer any previously appropriated budget for use for another purpose.
“Clearly then, while it is the President who proposes the national budget, it is the Congress that prescribes the form, content and manner of budget preparation albeit subject to the limitations found in the Constitution,” Aquino said in his explanatory note.
“Hence, as the ‘power of the sword’ belongs to the President, the ‘power of the purse’ resides in Congress,” he added.
According to Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) leader Renato Reyes, these ideal practices highlighted in Aquino’s bill are not observed in implementing the DAP.
“Once upon a time, Senator Noynoy [the President’s nickname]Aquino filed a bill opposing DAP-like practices that gave too much power to the President. It proves that he wasn’t acting in good faith when he implemented the DAP,” Reyes said.
Section 8 of Aquino’s pet measure provided that the President cannot act on any budgetary deferment without the explicit approval of the legislature through its committees.
“If Congress does not issue an impoundment resolution within the specified period, the President shall not proceed with the deferral procedures,” the bill said.
On the contrary, the DAP gave President Aquino full control over supposed government “savings,” which he reallocated from one agency to another “without congressional approval.”
In the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website where the mechanics of the DAP is explained, Congress was given very little or no importance at all in the “reallocation” or use of these funds.
“Funds used for programs and projects identified through DAP were sourced from savings generated by the government, the reallocation of which is subject to the approval of the President,” the DBM explained.
The savings, it added, are sourced from “the pooling of unreleased appropriations such as unreleased Personnel Services appropriations that will lapse at the end of the year, unreleased appropriations of slow moving projects and discontinued projects per Zero-Based Budgeting findings; and the withdrawal of unobligated allotments, also for slow-moving programs and projects, which have earlier been released to national government agencies.”
“The President is authorized by the Constitution and by law to augment funds for programs and projects authorized in the GAA [General Appropriations Act] using savings from other budget items,” the DBM said.
It even cited Book VI, Chapter 5, Section 39 of the 1987 Administrative Code that authorizes the President to fund deficiencies through savings.
Asked recently to explain the differences between his old bill and the DAP, President Aquino said he filed the measure back then because the sitting president, Gloria Arroyo, was practically impounding a large portion if not the entire budget for a particular year.
The scheme, according to Aquino, involved the late passage of the GAA, usually toward the middle part of the year, when all expenditures had been paid for using the “reenacted” budget of the previous year.
“Let me give you one particular instance that I remember. [There was a] budget [that was]approved [sometime in April]. [I may be mistaken on the month] but, significantly, several months had passed of the current year before the budget was approved. And the question I raised was what happens to [the reenacted]budget of the previous year?” he said.
Naturally, he said, there would be “savings” from the currently approved budget because the “old, reenacted” budget was used to pay for the expenditures during the first months of the current year.
Compared to DAP, he said, savings were derived from the budget approved for the current year because since he came to power, there has been no reenactment of budget.
Under the DAP scheme, according to the President, “slow performing” agencies whose budgets were reallocated to others were able to “catch up” in the next year because they will be entitled to an even bigger allocation.
On Friday, Malacanang deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte shielded Aquino from allegations of having “bad faith” in the implementation of DAP in light of his expressed opposition to budget impoundment in his bill.
In reaction to Reyes’ assertion, Valte said DAP is not even a form of impoundment as ruled by the Supreme Court, which recently declared certain acts in implementation of DAP as unconstitutional.
“I would obviously like to disagree. I had the occasion to go through the main decision of the Supreme Court in the Belgica case and the Supreme Court itself says… ‘Withdrawal of unobligated allotments and retention of appropriated funds cannot be considered as impoundment.’ It goes on to explain the definition of impoundment,” Valte, a lawyer, explained at a news briefing.
“So the Supreme Court itself said that DAP is not a form of impoundment” as stated on page 65, she said.