The Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was conceived as a budget reform mechanism to speed up completion of government’s priority projects. It is however turning out to be the Aquino administration’s biggest debacle.
It was a policy with good intentions that had gone haywire, just like many other programs and projects that yielded negative outcomes because of bad implementation.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad have both been pilloried for creating the DAP, and defending it even after the Supreme Court declared four activities under it as unconstitutional. Remember, the SC did not find the DAP as unconstitutional.
Prof. Solita Monsod, economic planning secretary under Cory Aquino’s presidency, rightly said that the DAP is in bad odor because people have been led to believe that it is the President’s pork barrel.
Well, favoritism appears to have gotten in the way of allocating the “savings” parked under DAP to agencies headed by close friends of the President and loyal members of the Liberal Party. It was like implementing a good policy in a bad way. That’s what made nonsense of the good intentions behind the DAP.
Some brilliant minds and PR geniuses capitalized on that and succeeded in creating the DAP in the minds of the public that it was even worse than the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), and that the President dispenses political favors at his whim.
PDAF was about public money that found its way into the pockets of politicians through a circuitous route using dubious non-government organizations for fake government projects.
According to the findings of the Ombudsman, Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. got the biggest amount of kickbacks from the PDAF scam amounting to P224 million, followed by Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada with P183 million, and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile with P172 million.
According to the Commission on Audit (COA), these anomalous transactions were consummated in 2007 to 2009, or before the Aquino administration assumed power.
In my basic and simple understanding of the budget process learned from years of covering the legislature, the DAP was just a name given to something that existed and was practiced in the past to buy political loyalty.
But as a lawyer-friend said, in courts of law good intentions do not win cases, evidence does. Perhaps the magistrates found the projects funded through the DAP worthy enough for them to recognize “good faith.”
In the midst of the discussions about the DAP, I looked back at some stories I wrote while I was with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) from 2008 to 2012 and I found two about the use of P50-billion savings in 2008 as “economic stimulus fund” that former treasurer Leonor Briones described as an “election stimulus fund” for 2010.
I came across a story about a proposal of Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd seeking to control the president’s wide discretion in disbursing public money, including the lawmakers’ PDAF, and other unspent amounts in the annual budget program.
The bill was seeking to prohibit deferred or rescinded funds to be used for any purpose other than what Congress has authorized through legislation.
Impoundment or withholding releases of funds to generate savings effectively weakens the power of Congress over the purse because the president can choose which projects to fund and which not to fund.
Guingona’s analysis of the government’s budget program and spending habits noted that since 2005, the national government generated huge amounts in savings while delivery of basic services was very dismal.
Savings in 2005 soared to 17.36 percent, from 0.94 percent in the previous year. The government operated in 2004 on a re-enacted budget of 2003.
The situation was almost the same in 2007 when savings reached 16.71 percent, from 0.20 percent in 2006 when the 2005 budget was re-enacted.
Overall savings in 2009 was at P106.11-billion that could have found its way into the administration’s “war chest” for the 2010 elections.
The money came from unreleased or unused allocations for agencies and was lumped into “savings,” which were then transferred to favored offices. It was in this process where “abuse of savings” came in, Guingona said.
There were many reasons why appropriated funds were not released. One was an agency’s non-compliance with the documentary requirements of the Department of Budget and Management. Politics was another, such as what happened when the presidency withheld “pork barrel” allocations for congressional districts of legislators perceived to be “unfriendly” to the powers that be.
Interestingly, Revilla filed a similar anti-impoundment bill on July 3, 2007. COA’s audit findings of Revilla’s fund misuse started in 2007. In his bill, he proposed a penalty, a fine of up to P100, 000, and “temporary special disqualification” for “deferring, withholding, or cancellation of an authorized allocation in the General Appropriations Act.”
The penal provision, however, neither defined “temporary special disqualification” nor specified the officials covered. As well, the bill was not clear on whether or not the president should be among the accountable officials.
There is an adage that says: If you want to see change, be the change you want to see. Revilla did the opposite. When he did not get his bill passed, he acted so he could benefit from the political largesse.
Let me end this piece pondering over a Sunday Mass homily where the priest said: Good will be good even if everybody is against it; evil is evil even if everybody is for it.
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