MALACAÑANG on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to dismiss the petition questioning the legality of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), saying it is no longer being used.
During the oral arguments at the High Court, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said DAP is “extinct,” thus the case should be dismissed because it is “moot and academic.”
“DAP as a program no longer exists, thereby mooting these present cases that challenge its constitutionality. Any constitutional challenge should no longer be at the level of the program, which is now extinct, but at the level of its prior applications or the specific disbursements under this now defunct policy,” Jardeleza said.
“We do not need it anymore and hope we won’t need it again,” he added.
The government’s chief lawyer said the program’s purpose has
been attained. He explained that DAP accelerated the government spending at a time when it was needed, particularly from 2011 up to 2013.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who also addressed the SC en banc, said DAP is a stimulus program that aimed to “use savings to augment other budgetary items in the annual General Appropriations Act [GAA].”
“May I inform the Court that because the DAP has already fully served its purpose, the administration’s economic managers have recommended its termination to the President,” Abad said.
The Budget chief said after DAP was introduced in October 2011, the spending during that quarter surged by 32.5 percent year-on-year.
“This pulled spending up to a full-year growth of 2.3 percent,” he told the tribunal.
Abad noted that disbursements under DAP strengthened the economy, growing by 11.8 percent year-on-year as of end September 2013.
He said that infrastructure spending alone recovered from a 29-percent contraction in 2011 to a 34-percent growth as of end-September 2013.
“The increased spending level contributed significantly to our country’s stellar GDP growth which had averaged 7.4 percent in the first three quarters of 2013,” Abad added.
“During a time of great need, the President chose to respond by judiciously employing this executive prerogative over the budget provided for in the 1987 Constitution and used by previous administrations,” he argued.
Jardeleza submitted to the SC a list of DAP-funded projects.
He maintained that DAP is constitutional.
“Ang DAP po ay legal at constitutional batay sa sagot sa tatlong
tanong-una, ang DAP ba ay may pahintulot o approval ng Pangulong
Aquino batay sa kagustuhan ng Konstitusyon? Ang sagot ay oo.
“Pangalawang tanong—meron bang tinatawag na appropriation cover o meron bang nakabatay sa budget ng kongreso ang bawat gamit ng DAP? Ang sagot po meron: lahat ng 116 na gamit sa DAP ay may bahay o otorisasyon sa budget o General Appropriations Act.
“Pangatlong tanong—meron bang savings para sa mga nilaan para sa DAP?
Ang sagot, meron,” he said.
Jardeleza said all of the DAP-funded projects can be defended by Malacañang.
“We challenge the petitioners to pick and choose which among the 116 DAP projects they wish to nullify, the full details of which we shall provide on February 5,” he added.
The OSG chief said the transfer of appropriations was allowed even under the 1935 Constitution, and also under the 1973 Constitution in the Marcos era.
SC justices, however, wanted to know if DAP funds were used by Malacañang to bribe senators into convicting former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Justice Lucas Bersamin asked Abad if DAP was indeed used to convince the senator-judges to hand a guilty verdict.
Bersamin raised the question in view of the disclosure of Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada that Malacañang gave senators P50 million to convict Corona. Recently, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.
disclosed that former Sen. Mar Roxas and Abad fetched him to have a meeting with the President. In that meeting, Revilla said he was pressured to convict Corona.
“I have to ask you this . . . you were the first one to bring the nomenclature, DAP. That was your way of explaining the sources of what was given to the senators during the impeachment of the Chief Justice [Corona],” Bersamin said.
However, Abad dismissed allegations that Corona was convicted because of DAP money.
Abad said senators were asked to recommend priority projects or programs subject to the President’s approval.
“Sometimes, your honor, we are not correctly quoted in the reports. Those [DAP] releases were not releases given to the senators. What happened there was that the senators made recommendations to the President to augment certain items that are deficient in the budgets of certain appropriations for certain projects,” he said.
He maintained that no bribe was given to the senators.
“There was money that changed hands—that was completely not true. There was no money given to the senators. What the President did was to approve recommendations . . . those releases were not made in consideration of whatever it was in relation to the impeachment; it has absolutely no relation to the impeachment,” Abad said.
But Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list insisted that DAP is unconstitutional as it violates Article VI Section 25(5) of the 1987 Constitution which states, “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, 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.’”
“No law has been passed to authorize or legalize DAP and the funds released under the said mechanism, thus clearly violating the Constitution,” Ridon said.
“DAP is illegal. The President and the DBM committed grave abuse of discretion when they identified programs and projects under the DAP and released funds for such. The DAP and the projects under it are nowhere to be found in the 2011 and 2012 General Appropriations Acts, thus by approving such, the Executive Department undermined with impunity Congress’ power of the purse,” he added.
When the DAP was first used in October 2011, the fiscal year was far from over, meaning the approved appropriations under the 2011 GAA was still in effect thus the realigning and discontinuation of funding for GAA-approved programs and projects that occurred is illegal, Ridon explained.
Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela party-list agreed with Ridon.
“DAP is without question illegal and unconstitutional. The manner with which funds are sourced and eventually distributed among legislators violate Constitutional provisions on Congress’ power of the purse and reeks of corruption and political patronage,” Ilagan said.
With Neil Alcober and PNA