The power went out shortly after I started writing this column early Wednesday morning. It is during these times that you appreciate battery packs and the foresight to charge electronic gadgets. It is also the time you discover the creaking and whistling that your house can produce as the winds of Typhoon Glenda blew through it like a musical instrument. At 4 in the morning, the rain outside and the glow of the monitor in one’s face can drive the imagination enough to scare oneself.
Yet what is scarier than my imagination is the real prospect of a constitutional cat fight raised by President Aquino in his speech last Monday night on the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision against his government’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). In commenting that the SC’s decision is hard to understand in the light of the supposed usefulness of the DAP, President Aquino alluded to the possibility of the three branches of government embroiled in opposition to each other. He reiterated his belief that the DAP was legal despite the 13-0 ruling of the court.
He repeated the same warning in a speech on Tuesday where he pointed out that the decision can lead to a “state of paralysis.” In his Monday speech, he also refused to compare the DAP to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam which led to the filing of charges to three senators and some of their staff. President Aquino in October last year recounted the DAP’s achievement in some of the projects such as Project Noah and other projects related to poverty alleviation.
Is DAP any different from the PDAF? Let us review why people participated in the Million People March, trooped to Ayala and joined the many other protest actions on the pork barrel issue last year.
First is the blatant corruption that we have seen in the use of PDAF (and its previous incarnations) especially in the disbursement and liquidation of these funds. We have heard from Janet Napoles, Benhur Luy and Ruby Tuason detail out one such configuration of the transfer of funds from the national government through the legislators to the fake NGOs via the implementing agencies. From our network study on the whole PDAF scam in the Commission on Audit report, we know that there are other configurations (and possibly modes of transfers) still to be discovered and exposed.
The last PDAF in the budget was for about 25 billion pesos for Various Infrastructures including Local Projects (VILP) that the legislators identified and the implementing agencies such as the DPWH dutifully followed. This leeway for legislators to identify projects for funding was part of the second reason for calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system: as legislators identified projects in their respective influence areas, it perpetuates their political power and lends itself well to the long-ingrained political system in the country.
Lastly, the PDAF runs counter to the principle that public funds should be collectively deliberated on by Congress before any of it can be used so that (theoretically) none of these funds are used for unnecessary whimsical projects of a few.
Let us see if the DAP projects listed as released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) last Monday are any different. On the first point above, it is the non-transparent nature of the PDAF allocation that allowed Napoles and other operators to imagine and create ways to siphon off public funds to their pockets. There are a few reports already of Napoles NGOs receiving DAP money. That should already warn us that DAP can be abused like the PDAF. The fact that the list of DAP funded projects was released only last Monday is part of the same non-transparency. We hope that the COA, despite it receiving P143 million for its IT infrastructure, would conduct with the same vigor a thoroughgoing audit of the DAP projects.
The total DAP funding for the period of 2011-2012 amounted to P167 billion for 116 categories. Out of these, only 144 billion was released. I call these releases categories instead of projects since some of them, such as the funding to the DPWH, is eerily similar to the PDAF in name: Other Various Local Projects (2012 – 2.79 billion), Other Various Infrastructure Projects (2012 – 8.295 billion), GOCC: Other Various Local projects (2011 – 1.88 billion), Other Various Local Projects (2011 – 6.5 billion).
Taking only those specifically noted as “priority local projects nationwide requested by legislators, local government officials and national agencies” (text from the DBM released list), we find that around P6.5 billion was released in 2011 and P11.085 billion in 2012 for these types of projects, projects that are essentially PDAF. To put this in context, the PDAF in 2011 was 24.62 billion and 24.89 billion in 2012 (numbers from from gov.ph). This means that legislators got an extra 26% increase in PDAF in 2011 and a staggering 44% in 2012 via the DAP. DAP did nothing to remove the PDAF: in fact, it continued it with more funds.
Lastly, the DAP concentrates all these “realignment powers” to the executive branch under the president. The Congress is removed from the picture and it seems that even the Supreme Court is not going to be followed on this issue. It makes the whole budget now one big presidential pork barrel.
If the claim was that DAP funded important projects like the NOAH/DREAM, which could change how we respond to disasters, then why was it not in the budget proposal in the first place? If not that project then why is the budget for research and development still way below the recommended budget for developing countries of 2% of our GDP. The credit belongs to the scientists and researchers in NOAH and DREAM who worked tirelessly to improve our weather prediction and disaster management systems. These projects should not be something dependent on the availability of funds (realigned through DAP or what) and should instead be an integral part of our budget.
The PDAF pork barrel is not just about the fake NGOs and the massive corruption involved. It is more so about the wielding of influence through these funds, the power emanating from the control of the purse and the perpetuation of policies that have not brought about real change. All of the three points raised against the PDAF are still there, and are even much worse, in the case of DAP. It is time to put an end to the whole pork barrel system.