FORMER senator Joker Arroyo and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Tuesday described as “illegal” and “unconstitutional” the Disbursement Acceleration Plan (DAP), the source of extra funds distributed among members of the Senate following the conviction of former chief justice Renato Corona last year.
Arroyo, who shied away from using his “pork barrel” funds during his term, said the creation of DAP is a “crime” because there was no law authorizing it.
“The disbursements from the DAP are criminal and unconstitutional. The DBM [Department of Budget and Management] has no business forming this DAP,” Arroyo told reporters.
He maintained that the Budget department cannot release DAP without a supporting law because it has no authorization to appropriate funds and spend it.
“To disburse that, they must have authority from Congress,” Arroyo said, referring to the P50 million DAP supposedly given to senators who voted for the conviction of Corona.
Malacañang admitted that President Benigno Aquino 3rd approved the DAP releases.
“Yes. The President approved it,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said.
Valte said the DAP releases doesn’t need any approval from Congress because “the President is given the power to do that under the Constitution.”
DBM records showed that P137.3 billion funds from the DAP was released to ramp up government expenditure on priority programs of the Aquino administration.
In a statement, the DBM said there were two DAP releases—P82.5 billion in 2011 and P54.8 billion in 2012.
“At least 91 percent of DAP releases for 2011 and 2012 was channeled to projects under various government agencies and local government units. Only nine percent of total DAP releases for the same period was released to projects identified by legislators,” the DBM said.
“In the case of legislator-identified projects, we want to make it clear that DAP releases are never made to the legislators themselves or to their offices. Instead, we study their proposals based on the requirements they submitted, and we make the necessary fund releases to the implementing agency identified by the lawmakers,” Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said.
“We never release the funds to [senators]. These releases are actually made to the appropriate implementing agencies as endorsed by legislators in their request letters,” Abad added.
The budget chief emphasized that the DAP releases were allotted to implementing agencies, and not as “incentives” or “bribes” to senators who voted out Corona.
He added that the funds were meant purely to “ramp up government expenditures.”
“DAP was thus developed to remedy our expenditure shortfalls and ensure that public funds continued to support priority programs and projects that could not only prime the economy, but address citizens’ basic needs as well,” he said.
The DBM said that they source the DAP releases from savings of the national government including unprogrammed funds from revenue collections; unreleased appropriations from slow-moving projects; terminated programs based on evaluation of Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB) studies; and withdrawals of unobligated or unused allotments already released to government agencies.
“Designed and implemented as a spending-acceleration mechanism . . . the need for DAP arose because government agencies were laying down various reforms to enhance transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the implementation of their projects. This caused some delay in agency spending and in the delivery of priority programs and projects,” Abad said.
Arroyo’s stand was echoed by Santiago, a former judge, who said the DAP was nowhere to be found in the 2011 or 2012 budgets.
Santiago added that the alleged savings used to augment new budget items were not previously authorized by Congress.
“It appears that DAP funds were taken from alleged slow-moving projects. If so, no savings were generated, and therefore the DAP is illegal,” she said.
Santiago argued that DAP violates the constitutional provision stating that “no law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations.”
According to her, the Constitution allows fund transfers “only if there are savings,” meaning that the project was completed, and yet the appropriation was not exhausted.
She explained that under the law, if a project was merely deferred, there should be no savings to speak of.
However, Santiago said the Constitution also provides that “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.”
“The first issue is that the DAP was not taken from savings. The second issue is that the DAP was not used to augment items in the budget that were previously authorized by Congress. The alleged savings were used to augment new budget items not previously authorized by Congress,” she said.
Santiago said the Budget department should have sought the approval of Congress, because under the Constitution it is Congress that exercises the power of the purse.
Arroyo, meanwhile, said that if he only knew that the funding would come from DAP, he would not have availed of the fund since he never used his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) when he was still a senator.
He urged Abad to explain why his proposed project amounting to P47 was sourced from DAP and not from the 2013 national budget. Abad sent Arroyo a letter clarifying that the funding for his P47 million worth of projects was sourced from DAP and not from amendments to the 2013 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“When your request for funding was endorsed to us by then Chair of the Committee on Finance, Sen. Franklin Drilon, we accommodated your request using savings consolidated under the DAP, which proved to be a viable funding source for the projects you endorsed,” Abad told Arroyo in a letter.
Abad earlier said that discretionary funds under the government’s DAP, ranging from P50 million to P100 million, were released to senators months after Corona was convicted by the Senate impeachment court.
He issued the statement after Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada revealed in a privilege speech that P50 million in additional funds were released to senators who voted in favor to oust Corona.
But Abad said attributing the funds to Corona’s conviction is “inaccurate at best and irresponsible at worst.”
Santiago also said President Benigno Aquino 3rd should seize this rare opportunity to permanently fix the flawed budget system.
She said that in 2011, Aquino reacted to criticisms that his administration did not implement government programs fast enough.
As a response, he authorized the DBM to set aside P85.5 billion for the DAP, without getting prior congressional approval.
“The budget secretary released a list of the beneficiaries of the DAP. The variance of the beneficiaries—lumping together P10 billion to the National Housing Authority, with P50 million for every senator in 2012—indicates that the DAP is nothing more or less than the huge pork barrel of the President, spent without the participation of Congress,” she said.
Santiago said that to prevent the DAP from destroying the congressional power of the purse, Congress should pass a law patterned after the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of the United States.
She said that it was Aquino himself who, as a senator, filed Senate Bill No. 3121, the proposed Budget Control and Impoundment Act.
“If he doesn’t mind, I will simply refile it in the Senate, with an explanatory note that it was originally filed by Pres. Aquino,” Santiago said, as she lamented that the Budget department is “chipping away at the legislative power of the purse by fiddling with the budget.”
Robin Padilla ‘wrong’
Drilon however maintained that “there was nothing wrong, illegal, and immoral with his receiving P100 million worth of infrastructure projects under the government’s DAP.
Drilon issued the statement in response to the social media posting of actor Robin Padilla who called for his resignation as Senate President.
“I think Padilla got it all wrong,” said Drilon. “It’s not like I pocketed P100 million in kickbacks.”
He said the DAP allocation is not cold cash and but was merely a list of infrastructure projects recommended by legislators and local government officials to be implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways.
“We were only asked to list down a number of projects which were immediately implementable at that time in order to accelerate government spending and boost the economy,” Drilon said.
He lamented that there was a deliberate attempt to muddle the issue on the DAP released and link it to allegations of pork barrel corruption.
“That I admitted receiving P100 million in DAP funds was not like I admitted committing a crime. On the contrary, I was only doing my role in helping prime the economy that was needed at that time,” Drilon said.
But no matter how the Palace puts it, the DAP is merely another form of presidential pork barrel, according to Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap.
He insisted that the DAP is essentially a pork barrel since the executive branch has sole discretion on these funds.
“The [DBM] admission that it indeed released funds from the so-called [DAP] shows that the President has discretion over multibillion in public funds,” Hicap said in a statement.
“Whatever Malacañang chooses to call it, DAP is still part of President Aquino’s pork. DAP was sourced from government savings supposedly spent for programs,” he added.
“DBM holds the key to Aquino’s treasure box of ‘unlimited pork funds,’” Hicap said.
Most DAP releases were made in October 2012, five months after the impeachment of Corona. Some lawmakers, like Drilon and Sen. Francis Escudero, received more than P50 million as they got P100 million and P99 million, respectively.
The fund is on top of the senators’ annual P200 million PDAF or pork barrel.
Abuse of power
Meanwhile, economist and former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno told The Manila Times that the mere existence of DAP is an “abuse of presidential power to augment items” in the national budget.
“How can the President generate P72.2 billion worth of savings when he can’t even implement projects already authorized by Congress?” he asked.
Diokno also suggested that Congress should summon Abad so that he can explain the sources and uses of DAP and why he did not consult Congress when he realigned the budget.
Also on Tuesday, the independent Minority bloc in the House of Representives called for an inquiry on the release of the DAP to their fellow lawmakers.
The group, led by Rep. Ferdinand Romualdez of Leyte, made the proposal under House Resolution 385 which tasks appropriate House committees to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the origin, use and distribution of the DAP funds.
The resolution 385 was penned by Rep. Jonathan Dela Cruz of Abakada party-list.
Dela Cruz said that the DAP merits scrutiny, considering that a substantial portion of the DAP fund amounting to P1.1 billion were allocated to the members of the legislature presumably in consideration of their earlier requests for such funds on top of their regular congressional allocations.
“This [DAP] has triggered anger and apprehension over the provenance of and apparent misuse of these public monies which have only further enraged a public which has been on its wits end over earlier allegations of irregularity on the use of the PDAF,” he pointed out.
Aside from Dela Cruz and Romualdez, other lawmakers backing House Resolution 358 include: Reps. Lito Atienza of Buhay Hayaang Yumabong, Victor Ortega of La Union, Philip Pichay of Surigao del Sur, Lani Mercado-Revilla of Cavite, Aleta Suarez of Quezon, former President-turned Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo of Camarines Sur.
Militant group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) also denounced the President and Abad for the DAP releases.
According to the KMU, Aquino and Abad clearly used the people’s money to bribe lawmakers into voting against Corona.
“Clearly, Aquino and Abad employed corrupt tactics in Corona’s impeachment trial, which was packaged as part of the government’s anti-corruption drive. The release of bribes for Corona’s impeachment highlights Aquino’s selfish motives in pushing for Corona’s ouster,” Elmer Labog, the group’s chairman, said in a statement.
The group reasoned that, while the public became angry at Corona over his role in former president Gloria Arroyo’s attempt to leave the country, the Aquino regime ousted the former Chief Magistrate primarily because the Supreme Court under his leadership ordered the distribution of Hacienda Luisita, which is owned by the president’s family.
“The scale of bribery and corruption related to the Corona impeachment implies that no less than Malacañang is responsible. Aquino and Abad have seriously undermined their ‘daang matuwid’ slogan with this move,” Labog said.
But with all these calls for a probe, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said that the government cannot easily investigate the use of the funds because most members of Congress are “in the pockets” of the President.
He added that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and some Supreme Court justices were also appointed by the President.
“It is impossible to happen. Buong Senado at Kongreso ay nasa bulsa ng Pangulo. Pangalawa ang Korte Suprema ay kanya rin,” Cruz said.
However, Cruz said that Santiago’s intention may lead to a brighter side of the pork barrel investigation, citing the senator’s expertise in constitutional laws.
Cruz believes that the DAP was a “bribe” to the lawmakers who voted for the impeachment of Corona.
The prelate is convinced that those who pocketed the money of the people in the form of bribe are evil, but the one who gave it to them is far worse.
With A Report From Catherine Valente