Useless Congress, fearless Palace, clueless COA

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Atty. Dodo Dulay

Atty. Dodo Dulay

The ongoing controversy regarding the misuse and abuse of government funds— whether through Malacañang’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) or legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—is the result of the systemic breakdown in accountability and ethics among the three governmental bodies responsible for overseeing the use of public money: the Congress, the Palace and the Commission on Audit (COA).

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The allocation and use of public money was supposed to be a straightforward process: The Palace submits a budget bill containing a detailed estimate of the costs of government’s spending program to Congress, and in particular, the House of Representatives, where the estimates are supposed to be scrutinized in committee, and then approved, reduced or rejected. When approved by both the House and the Senate, the budget bill becomes a law called the General Appropriations Act or GAA, which is thereafter implemented by the Palace.

Ever since Congress was restored after the 1986 ‘people power’ revolution, however, it has steadily relinquished its control over government expenditures to the executive branch that Congress has practically abdicated its duty as the “power of the purse.”

The power of the purse is the most important power of Congress because it determines where and how much should be spent by the government. More importantly, it checks the power of the President by making sure that the executive does not spend a single centavo of public money without congressional authorization.

Unfortunately, the approval of the Palace’s budget bill is routinely railroaded by their congressional allies—proof undeniable that the appropriations process has become an empty ritual. There is no messy cross-examination of secretaries or agency officials responsible for the budgetary estimates and very little opportunity for lawmakers to question an expenditure.

This is a clear betrayal of the constitutional purpose of Congress.

Would Filipinos be surprised to learn that Congress has not once in the past several decades, reduced the president’s or their own pork barrel? Would they be shocked to know that the budget of the vast majority of departments and agencies is never scrutinized at all by our lawmakers?

It seems all our legislators care about in the budget bill is their PDAF and their ‘insertions’—the ‘pork’ inserted by lawmakers in the budget law for their pet projects—which are a rich source of kickbacks.

And thanks in part to the rise of a political culture that centralizes the power to disburse public funds in the Palace, we have a Congress that has been reduced to an expensive rubber stamp. So when the king wants a new castle, he gets it.

Perhaps this is why the Palace has been so brazen in tinkering with the GAA with nary a whimper from Congress.

The misuse and abuse of Malacañang’s discretionary powers over the budget is nothing new.

Time and again, sitting presidents have routinely refused to spend, for whatever reason, public funds allocated by Congress—a practice known as “impoundment” (or “unreleased appropriations” as Budget Secretary Florencio Abad now calls it) – in order to generate so-called “savings” which can then be “realigned” or diverted by the Palace to off-budget (and oftentimes, questionable) programs, activities or projects.

In fact, this abuse of power over public money recently reared its ugly head when the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation in 2008 revealed that fertilizer funds were apparently diverted to the 2004 candidacy of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The resulting public outrage led then opposition lawmakers Noynoy Aquino, Mar Roxas, Risa Hontiveros and TG Guingona to file several bills aimed at controlling Arroyo’s impounding authority.

Ironically, now that he’s in Malacañang, President Aquino is exploiting the very same impounding scheme that he had once denounced Arroyo for.

By creating the DAP spending program from impounded ‘savings,’ for instance, the Aquino administration was able to fund and distribute additional ‘pork’ to select senators and congressmen after the Corona impeachment trial as an ‘incentive’ (or bribe?) for a job well done.

Of course, all these abuses would not have been possible had the COA—as an “independent” constitutional body— done its job of tracking and monitoring how the Palace uses taxpayer pesos. But more often than not, the highly politicized COA turns a blind eye to the possible wrongdoings of the powers-that-be.

In the case of DAP, the state auditing agency appeared clueless about its existence. And were it not for the letter-request of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, COA Chairman Grace Pulido Tan would probably not have even probed this highly questionable program.

Lately, the Palace has been tripping over itself trying to justify the DAP, arguing that the fund was properly used for high-impact projects to stimulate the economy.

So what’s taking so long for Abad to publicly release the complete list of these DAP projects?

We’re waiting, Mr. Secretary.

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8 Comments

  1. The Philippines has the worst politician of all times. No shame, no conscience and integrity. Only after it’s own self serving interest. Even the truth is 99% of most Filipinos are poor. Political dynasty is the training by the Traditional politician to teach their children how to run corruption. And to follow the loophole system by lawmaker or executive. As long as Satan or Devil head these Aquino Government no good things will happen. We lost our identity how is now we called by other countries. A nation of cheaters.

  2. Ruffy Calibugan on

    The DAP was released upon identification of the pet projects that each senator wants to get done. It means that DBM could release these same list anytime for public scrutiny. The ball is with Sec. Abad.

  3. Itong si Abad eh di dapat pagkatiwalaan dahil BALIMBING as in a hexagonal nut. ung turnilyo na maraming angle. Walang loyalty ang pinoy na ito. Siya pati na ung ibang miyembro ng “HYATT 10” eh lumipat lng ng bakuran. Idagdag pa si De Lima na naappoint ni GMA nun. Puro pasiklab itong si De Lima. lahat ng kaso eh sawsaw agad para sikat. ano kaya talaga ambisyon nito? maging Senador, Chief Justice (malabo na ito dahil ung CJ ngayon eh uupo for 18 straight years), o Presidente? who knows? kaya matindi ang publicity at pagpapel sa mga kaso.

  4. COA is not so independent as you might think they are prone to harrasment , prodding and death threats by politicians who do want to be audited!

  5. Plain and simple, katulad ng mga nauna… Magnanakaw din sila. Parang noong panahon ni marcos, galit sila kasi puro sila inggit.

  6. Im not surprised by it at all & i dont know why you are. Look at any country in the west. Look at their politicians. When they become politicians they may or may not come from rich families. When they leave politics they arnt rich unless they were rich before they went into politics. Now look here every single politician when he leaves politics ( if he ever leaves ) will be exceedingly rich. Not a single person in the philippines questions that. & that is why you deserve what they have done to you.I laugh when i see politicians being questioned in this country, there is never any confrontation with them. You blindly accept what they say & sometimes they even answer themselves the very questions they are asking the politicians. It is beyond me why everyone cant see these people getting richer & richer. On my subdivision we have a local councillor & he has bought at least 2 houses there plus land & renovated thos houses to an exellent standard, he has at least 3 vehicles & employs a few guys just to clean them. Then he has drivers, maids where does all this money come from but im the only one who ever mentions it, they all think he is brilliant because he will speak nice to them, well give me all this money & i will speak nice to everyone.

    • very true.. this is overall, the peoples fault for voting these crooks and did not complain for the past 2 decades. its a big organized crime these politicians do. This is why the country and its average citizens are poor, with high unemployment, while its very rich in natural resources. I hope the people will learn this time and demand justice and the return all what can be recovered of their loot.

  7. After all it’s been said and done, thinking Filipinos have lost faith in the government. In the local parlance: “basang sisiw” na silang lahat. But, one good thing about all these annomalies is that, people now have a very good way of expressing their dissatissfactions and frustrations — thru the social media. The politicians and other government officials have to be “on their feet”. Otherwise, they have to answer viral issues negative against them in the internet. Gone are the days of secretive fooling of the people. It’s been too long and too much money which should have spent to allelviate the plight of the people. How sad; what a shame!