Intrigues and controversies flew thick and fast this year, but the one that will be remembered most is President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s face-off with the Supreme Court.
The President took on the High Court when he questioned its ruling declaring the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.
The decision so riled the President that he vowed to clip what he called the “overreaching” powers of the tribunal.
The bad blood between the Palace and the Supreme Court started when the Court outlawed the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or congressional pork barrel, in 2013.
Instead of accepting the decision, Aquino said in a nationwide address it was “hard to understand.”
“We don’t want a point to be reached where two branches of government will collide” as a result of the decision on DAP, he said.
The President insisted there was nothing wrong with the DAP and vowed to defend it since it “would provide help to the people.”
The controversial spending program was implemented to revive the economy whose slow growth since 2011 was traced to government underspending.
Aquino approved in October 2011 a P72.1-billion DAP to boost spending and fund for the government’s priority programs.
The DAP budget was augmented by P13.4 billion from the pooled savings of various government agencies.
According to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, “DAP played a central role in boosting government spending and, ultimately, in expanding the economy.”
He pointed out that “DAP’s efficiency in moving public funds toward high-impact projects has in fact been expressed in our remarkable GDP growth, all while we endeavor to bring rapid, sustainable, and inclusive development to the country.”
Abad also denied that DAP funds were released to senators as an incentive for their vote to impeach former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
He said the DAP releases “were mostly for infrastructure projects” targeted to boost government spending.
Data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed that Senate President Franklin Drilon got the highest DAP allocation in 2012 with P100 million, followed by Sen. Francis Escudero, P99 million, and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, P92 million.
Senators Antonio Trillanes 4th, Manuel Villar, Ramon Revilla Jr., Loren Legarda, Lito Lapid, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Alan Peter Cayetano, Edgardo Angara and Ralph Recto, Vicente Sotto, Sergio Osmena and Gregorio Honasan received P50 million each.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel received a lower allocation amounting to P45.5 million, Teofisto Guingona, P44 million; and Francis Pangilinan, P30 million.
Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Joker Arroyo did not vote to remove Corona as chief justice.
In the first quarter of this year, P50 million was released to Sen. Pia Cayetano and P47 million to Sen. Arroyo after they submitted funding requests.
The DBM data also showed that aside from fund releases to legislators, the Executive branch “also accommodated” requests from local governments, government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) and national government agencies.
With the SC’s ruling declaring several DAP schemes illegal, Congress redefined savings to give government offices more leeway in moving their budgets.
The High Court prohibited the declaration of savings before the end of the fiscal year, specifically the withdrawal of unused allotments from the implementing agencies and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the GAA.
Just last week, the President signed the P2.606-trillion 2015 national budget, which contained a modified definition of savings.
Next year’s budget, known as Republic Act (RA) 10651, allows the Executive to declare as savings certain portions or balances in the 2015 budget that have not been obligated, following conditions set by Congress.
For instance, the budget allows allocations for discontinued or abandoned projects to be declared as savings as long as the abandonment was not caused by the negligence or fault of a government agency.
The General Appropriations Acts from 2011 to 2013, when the DAP was implemented, defined savings as funds that are “still available after the completion, or final discontinuance, or abandonment of the work, activity or purpose for which the appropriation is authorized.”
The Executive initially wanted authority to declare certain budget allocations as savings at any time.
The Senate removed this phrase, following criticism from Senator Santiago, who said it could undermine Congress’ power of the purse.
Some critics of the government claimed that 2015 budget contained lump sums which are actually pork barrel allocations in disguise.
Former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. asked the Supreme Court to declare the 2015 GAA unconstitutional, claiming that the lump sum funds are “similar to pork barrel allocations.”
These lump sum items include the President’s Special Purpose Funds amounting to P501.67 billion or 29 percent of the 2015 budget; and the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting amounting to P20.9 billion.
But the President insisted that the 2015 budget is free from pork.
But the country will have to wait for the Supreme Court’s stand on the matter.