Opposition congressman on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to stop Malacañang from implementing the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which gives the President absolute control over government funds.
“If the Court will not intervene, then we will have a President which will completely control the legislature because he holds the power to propose the budget, approve the budget, realign the budget and implement the budget. This budget dictatorship must not be allowed to continue,” the petitioners led by Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela party-list said.
Ilagan, Bayan Muna’s Carlos Zarate and Kabataan’s Terry Ridon asked the Court to stop the DAP and void the Department of Budget and Management’s Circular 541 which allows its implementation.
Prior to the filing of the petition, the opposition bloc had sought a temporary restraining-order (TRO) on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the legislative pork barrel.
The lawmakers said DAP is funded by unobligated public funds and savings because of the Executive’s alleged abuse of discretion.
Other petitioners include Dr. Carol Araullo and Renato Reyes of Bayan, UP Prof. Judy Taguiwalo of Pagbabago, Henri Kahn of Concerned Citizens Movement, Manuel Dayrit of Ang Kapatiran Party, Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan and Victor Villanueva of Youth Act Now.
The Court set oral arguments on the constitutionality of the DAP for November 19.
The petitioners argued that the DAP and Budget Circular 541 are unconstitutional and illegal because they grant the President billions in discretionary fund or pork barrel each year by unilaterally impounding the budget approved by Congress and realigning funds to projects selected also by the President.
They questioned the legality of withdrawing allotments from intended projects under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) and funneling them to the pet projects and beneficiaries of the President, many of which were not even provided in the GAA approved by Congress.
“The DAP funds could never be considered savings because under the law, including the GAA itself, there can be no savings if the projects from which the funds were withdrawn have not been completed or abandoned. In fact, the law requires that savings may be had if the project was implemented at a lesser cost due the efficiency of the agency.
This is not the case with DAP,” the petitioners said.
The funds were withdrawn even if the projects have not been completed “due to the inefficiency of the under-spending agencies.” As such they could not be considered as savings and could not be realigned by the President, they pointed out.
The petitioners argued that DAP is within the judicial ambit of the Supreme Court because it is not a question of discretion or wisdom but of whether President Benigno Aquino 3rd violated the Constitution and laws passed by Congress just to maintain and enlarge his discretionary fund.
Null and void
Earlier, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) joined the clamor to have the DAP declared null and void.
In a petition for prohibition, the group, through Pacifico Agabin, asked the Supreme Court to declare DAP unconstitutional and to order the Commission on Audit (COA) to immediately audit of all public monies spent through DAP.
They also petitioned for a TRO and writ of preliminary injunction to stop the disbursement of DAP funds.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was named respondent in the petition.
According to the group, the Constitution provides that “ no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuant of an appropriation made by law.”
But the GAA for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 has no appropriation for DAP, they said.
”There is no appropriation for such a program, nor was there any allocation made by Congress thereof. Obviously, this is not a program submitted to Congress for its approval,” the petition noted.
The group said Abad’s declaration that the projects were funded by DAP “render the legality of the DAP doubtful and anomalous.”
It said that the Budget chief cannot justify DAP by citing Article 6, Section 25 of the Constitution which prohibits any transfer of appropriations and provide a guideline for the use of government savings.
They also questioned Abad’s failure to give the exact details where DAP funds have been used and if these projects were provided under the GAA.
Earlier petitions contesting the DAP were filed by the Philippine Constitution Association, former Rep. Augusto Syjuco of Iloilo and former Councilor Greco Belgica of Manila.
Malacanang however said that stopping DAP would adversely affect people in need of assistance.
Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda cited in particular the needs of people affected by typhoon Pablo, the crisis in Zamboanga City and the recent earthquake in the Visayas.
He said P10.53 billion “unprogrammed funds” were released for the victims of Typhoon Pablo.
”This is not the first petition that has been filed against the DAP.
But, essentially, if you’re going to ask the Supreme Court to suspend the realignment of savings, that’s what I’m telling you. The consequence of that will be: We will not be able to fund some of theassistance that we are going to provide to victims of typhoon ‘Pablo,’ victims of the Zamboanga crisis, and also the earthquake in Bohol and Cebu,” Lacierda said.
”We’re intending to use these savings for those situations and, in fact, that’s the reason why we’re able to use these savings properly,” he added.
“But we’re letting them know, we’re letting the people know that the savings that we’re using are to help the people in need right now,” he said. “Whether it’s in typhoon ‘Pablo,’ whether it’s in Zamboanga, all our funds are fully and prudently used, utilized properly.”