When the history of BS Aquino’s presidency is written, It should be said that it was during his watch that graft and corruption was transmogrified into outright looting of the public treasury. In previous eras, public vigilance centered on the corruption of public officials through bribery and lobbying by outside groups and individuals, like the infamous Harry Stonehill.
Today, much of the graft occurs through the budget process, right under our noses. The executive and members of Congress blatantly allocate public money for themselves through various machinations that they do with the budget. When the deed is done, the public is none the wiser about what has happened. We just learn later on about the billions that have disappeared into the black hole of greed and corruption.
The ugliness of this crime against the people is coming out to the forefront as a result of the expose by former Senator Panfilo Lacson that what was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Development Acceleration program (DAP) — have been resurrected in the 2015 General Appropriations Act. And we should brace ourselves for the harsh reality that the same resurrection will be reenacted in the 2016 budget that the President will submit to Congress at the start of its final regular session.
Resurrection of PDAF and DAP
In an address to the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), Lacson disclosed that he and a team of investigators and analysts have uncovered P424 billion of lump-sum appropriations in the 2015 budget, in direct violation of Supreme Court rulings.
In the course of their investigation, Lacson said, he and his team found out that a supposedly new system for authorizing and tightly monitoring budget releases was being used to convert itemized accounts into “lump-sum” accounts, whose utilization would be at the discretion of department secretaries.
Lump-sum budgets give the administration discretion on where and how to spend taxpayers’ money, practically nullifying Congress’ power of the purse.
Specifically, Lacson and his team found lump-sum appropriations in the following departments: Social Welfare and Development, P102.6 billion; Education, P80.7 billion; Interior and Local Government, P80.7 billion; Health, P75.4 billion; National Defense, P66.4 billion; Agriculture, P29.9 billion; Public Works and Highways, P11.4 billion; Transportation and Communications, P11.4 billion; Department of Environment and Natural Resources, P6.1 billion.
The National Irrigation Authority was also found to have P13 billion in lump-sum budget, while the Philippine National Police had P6.7 billion.
Alarmingly, the operation shows the legislative actively conspiring with the executive in parking lump-sum appropriations in the National Expenditure Program without intending to use the funds for their recommended purpose/s, but actually reserving them for use by selected legislators who will realign their identified PAPs (programs, activities and projects). By this method, the funds became pork under the 2015 GAA.
I’m poaching here from my colleague Bobi Tiglao’s two recent columns’ on the Lacson expose, but I will plead the defense that the larceny is for the good cause of exposing the larger crime of perversion of the budget process, which places billions of public money under the discretion and control of President Aquino, Butch Abad, Mar Roxas, and other members of the administration.
The reply of Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda that Lacson’s revelations are just “doomsday assertions” makes matters worse,because it shows that President Aquino doesn’t care about legality and constitutionality.
Escudero’s deceptive defense
When Senate President Drilon declared that it is Sen. Francis Escudero, as chairman of the Senate finance committee, who should explain how the budget got riddled with lump-sum appropriations, Escudero conceded that the GAA could indeed contain these anomalous items.
But then the senator, who thinks he can talk his way out of anything, had the gall to tell the nation that this rank manipulation of the budget is all legal and just temporary.
“(There’s) nothing irregular/illegal as it gives the agencies flexibility. But we are striving to further lessen it,” said in a text to media.
“The 2015 budget is, by far, the most detailed with the least number/amount of lump sums,” he claimed.
This outright falsehood immediately drew a retort from Lacson, who said the lump-sum funds are “either line budget items or lump sum.”
He explained: “If it’s lump sum, it is discretionary and prone to misuse, abuse and corruption. Lump sums are not illegal per se but if these, as described in the National Executive Program, are converted into PDAF … then it’s not only illegal but unconstitutional.”
Lacson and Escudero are contrasting figures in this saga. Throughout his two terms in the Senate (12 years), Lacson made a career of not touching the pork barrel slated for him, and he also refused to partake of DAP funds, despite earning eligibility by going along with the impeachment of chief justice Renato Corona.
Escudero, in contrast, has wallowed in pork, and availed of DAP to the hilt after voting to convict Corona.
As Senate finance committee chairman, Escudero is supposed to be the senate’s gatekeeper who would make sure that the budget would pass all tests of constitutionality and legality. Instead, he is a facilitator of the looting.
Osmeña adds fuel to the fire
A third senator, Sen. Serge Osmeña, has joined the conversation by confirming Lacson’s allegations, and then adding fuel to the fire.
Osmena said that senators have the right to identify projects amounting to P200 million each in the 2015 budget. And there are some senators who have the privilege of identifying projects worth as high as P2 billion.
He declined to identify the billion-peso senators, who in a tantalizing twist could include Escudero as a two-billion-peso senator.
Osmeña said Malacañang promised Congress that it could still identify projects placed in the budgets of different agencies. He confirmed Lacson’s findings that lump-sum or discretionary funds, which are prone to corruption, can still be found in this year’s national budget.
Then he added that lump-sum funds could also be found in the Malacañang-proposed P3.002 trillion budget for 2016.
Osmena rationalized the executive-legislative conspiracy as a transactional arrangement. “If there’s no pork, [the President’s]pet bills won’t be passed in Congress. That is how the President controls Congress.”
More billions to uncover
Lacson says his team has not yet completed its review of the budget. There could be more billions to uncover
He said that he will go to the Supreme Court to question the lump-sum items in the national budget. The Supreme Court declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional in November 2013. It also declared the Disburesement Aceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional in July 2014.
To sum up, there is absolutely no rigor or integrity in the budget process today. There is collusion between the Executive and Congress.
They are united only by the desire to loot the public treasury.