President Benigno Aquino 3rd is keeping “an open mind” on the contentious Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and willing to hear what the people have to say.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Aquino will visit the provinces to explain the DAP and other reform measures of the government.
The Aquino administration, Coloma said, always “stands with the people who elected the President and gave him a clear mandate for change.”
”We reiterate government’s willingness to conduct continuing dialogues with our people and especially in the regions and provinces to ensure adequate understanding of the issues that will enable them to make correct choices and decisions in matters affecting their communities and the country’s future,” he added.
Asked if the President is open to changing his position if majority of the people say they want the DAP abolished, Coloma did not give a categorical yes or no, saying only that Aquino has always been open to feedback and knowing people’s real sentiment.
”The President has consistently said that he wants to do right by our people and he wants to fulfill their mandate. So whatever actions he will be taking would be in accordance with these guiding principles,” Coloma said.
”Of course the President keeps an open mind. The President is always willing to listen and the President is willing to communicate. Communication does not become effective if one party is not willing to listen,” he added.
Coloma stressed that “communicating with the people, achieving rapport with them, installing a system of feedback that allows government to know people’s concerns and also allows people to get greater clarity on the issues—that is part of good governance.”
He denied he was behind the President’s “I’m not a thief speech” last week where Aquino defended DAP, saying it was “a product of a stream of consultations with members of the Cabinet.”
A militant labor group called the President’s invitation to a dialogue on DAP another propaganda spin.
Gie Relova of the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) said the Palace wanted “to convert pork barrel critics into his yellow army of cheerleaders” by proposing the dialogue.
“Even if we accept their invite and (Aquino) answers all of the peoples’ queries and showers us with data on the outcomes of his DAP, it will be all for naught because the gist of the issue is its vulnerability to abuse and the perpetuation of patronage politics at the highest echelons of power,” Relova said.
Party-list Akbayan Chairman Risa Hontiveros said on Monday said the group appreciated the President’s effort to clarify issues about DAP, “and we further urge him to support our bills on budget and fiscal reforms, including bills controlling the powers of the executive to realign funds.”
Hontiveros said Akbayan welcomed Aquino’s speech defending DAP—a speech that was highly criticized by his detractors, especially in the social media.
In a text message to The Manila Times, Hontiveros denied differences with the President even after the allegations that the Palace ditched her in the senatorial race.
“It’s good; we are in coalition with him. [The speculations are] not true,” Hontiveros said.
She said her group will not protest against DAP and will rather conduct actions against the pork barrel scam.
A proposal by Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito to conduct an inquiry on DAP is not gaining headway among his colleagues.
“We should not delay or ignore calls to have DAP investigated just because it is the administration that is involved in the controversy,” Ejercito said in an interview.
He was reacting to the statement of Sen. Francis Escudero, who heads the Senate finance committee, that the committee is unlikely to look into DAP this year.
Escudero said since the chamber will be busy with the 2014 proposed budget deliberation, once Congress resumes on November 18, it will be difficult to schedule a hearing.
The Senate plans to conduct morning and afternoon sessions to pass the budget measure on time.
But Ejercito said it was all up to the committee leadership to determine to prioritize the probe amid the strong public clamor for its abolition.
Sen. Nancy Binay, who like Ejercito is a member of the Senate minority, said that if the executive department really wanted to explain the benefits and the purpose of DAP it would be better to do it in the proper forum where the program it can be scrutinized and discussed.
Binay said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad should explain to the Senate how DAP works—its intent, fund sourcing and expenditure procedures and processes.
“In order to clear, once and for all, the air of doubt surrounding the DAP, the ‘proponent’ should have been the one explaining his work to the public and not his principal,” she said.
Binay added that Abad should spare President Aquino from having to explain DAP since the budget secretary was in the best position to defend the disbursement program.
She also said the Senate inquiry would be different from the Supreme Court hearing because the committee will focus on particular aspects of the program and not its legal characteristics.
At least 20 senators who convicted former chief justice Renato Corona last year received additional pork barrel allocations ranging from P50 million to P100 million.
Senate President Franklin Drilon admitted receiving P100 million which he said he used for projects in Iloilo.
WITH REPORTS FROM JHOANNA BALLARAN AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA