The Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) will probe transactions under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Court (SC).
“In light of the Supreme Court’s decision on the DAP case, we are initiating an investigation into the matter,” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said in a statement.
Morales added that she will create a panel of field investigators to look into transactions under the controversial fund acceleration program “to see if any crime or offense has been committed by involved public officials.”
Under the law (Republic Act 6770 or the Ombudsman Act of 1989), the Ombudsman may, motu propio (on its own) initiate an investigation of “any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient.”
The law also grants the Ombudsman the power to investigate any serious misconduct in office allegedly committed by impeachable officers, but only for the purpose of filing a verified complaint for impeachment, if warranted.
Morales’ statement was issued amid calls from various sectors to hold President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad accountable because they were the two officials behind the implementation of DAP.
But Vice President Jejomar Binay said calls to impeach the President are “unproductive and divisive.”
“President Aquino is our leader duly elected by our people. He has the people’s mandate and we should support him. This is why talk of impeaching President Aquino is both unproductive and divisive,” he added.
Binay called for sobriety and an end to partisanship and speculation on the extent of liabilities of government officials.
“I would, instead, encourage all parties to accept and respect the ruling of the Supreme Court. As to the accountabilities of other government officials, we should let the effects of the SC decision take its course. As of now, none of us has read the decision in its entirety so any discussion on accountabilities at this point is purely speculative,” he noted.
The Vice President also appealed to all parties “to work together and advance the welfare of our people, which should be our overriding goal.”
Despite the legal blow dealt by the High Court on DAP, Malacanang also on Wednesday said it has no regrets on the program’s implementation.
“How does one regret a decision to help thousands of our countrymen? How does one regret installing a doppler radar warning system? How does one regret the setting up of school buildings? These are noble projects which benefited the people,” Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a news briefing.
He dismissed the possibility that the SC ruling may lead to an impeachment case against the President, noting that Aquino himself stopped the program last year for “having served its purpose.”
“[The] decision does not speak of the entire DAP as unconstitutional. It referred to a series, a number of, I think, four specific acts. So it appears, therefore, that the entire DAP is not unconstitutional,” Lacierda said, adding that there were “a number of acts in the past that have been declared by the courts as unconstitutional.”
“I will give you an example, in the case of the RH [Law], there were a number of provisions . . . I think, specifically, eight provisions were declared unconstitutional.
What’s the difference between this case and that case?” he asked, referring to the Reproductive Health Law.
Lacierda, a lawyer, explained that it does not follow that when an act was declared unconstitutional it could be used as ground for impeachment.
He said DAP funds were used for the NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) project and the construction of thousands of school buildings. The completion of these projects, he added, “did not diminish the moral integrity of the President.”
“Do those projects diminish the moral integrity of the President when they have benefited the people? Essentially, our continued belief is that DAP has benefited the people in a number of projects that we have done. An example here will be the Doppler radar system. We’ve got early warning now. That came from DAP,” Lacierda noted.
“We have always believed that the President has served with integrity and faithfulness, and the people know that very well,” he said.
Lacierda added that the Office of the Solicitor General will study the implications of the SC ruling and will file a motion for reconsideration if warranted.
Also on Wednesday, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas City (Cavite) and Edgar Erice of Caloocan City (Metro Manila) challenged critics of DAP to show evidence that the P157 billion funds released under the program were misused.
“Logic dictates that they should show that there has been misuse of DAP first because we have mechanisms in addressing that such as launching investigations and filing appropriate charges [in court],” Barzaga said.
Of the P157 billion, P82.5 billion was released in 2011, P54.8 billion in 2012 and P14.4 billion in 2013.
Of the P137.3 DAP funds released in 2011 and 2012, 9 percent were channeled into projects under various government agencies and local government units while the remaining nine percent went to lawmakers’ priority projects.
The P14.4 billion DAP funds in 2013 were released to victims of Typhoon Pablo in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, as well as displaced families in Zamboanga.
“If there is no misuse, then there’s no problem. DAP funded GSIS premiums for 93,000 teachers, Project NOAH, rural electrification, housing for police and firemen, enhancement of Doppler radar, school buildings, hiring of personnel, among others. I don’t think that anyone will be liable for just implementing DAP as a mechanism to dispose government savings,” Erice said.
With Llanesca T. Panti