Some members of the Philippine Senate have recently demonstrated how helpless the Filipino public is against the ruling oligarchy. The recently-held “question and answer” session about the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) turned into an opportunity for the senators allied with President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino to defend the administration’s unconstitutional use of public funds.
No less than Senate President Franklin Drilon himself asked questions that made it easy for Budget Secretary Butch Abad, the architect of DAP, to argue his position. A lot of people have noticed how, instead of asking questions that would clarify the Supreme Court’s decision on DAP, Drilon simply gave Abad an easy pass. As Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao observed “except for Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay who asked very revealing questions, all the senators proved to be mouthpieces of Abad and Aquino.” Here are some excerpts sourced from an Inquirer report:
“Therefore there is an authority by law for the President, Senate President, Speaker of the House. to augment items in the budget. Isn’t that correct?” Drilon asked.
After getting an affirmative answer from Abad, Drilon continued: “Therefore you relied on the Administrative Code in your action. And it was on this basis that you augmented items in the budget from savings in the General Appropriations Act.”
“That is correct,” Abad replied.
Drilon said that if the Supreme Court ruled that the realigned funds were not savings, the executive branch may have violated the GAA, not the Constitution. “That has been our position,” Abad answered.
Drilon then asked if Sections 38, 39 and 49 of the Administrative Code had been declared unconstitutional. Abad said that as far as he knew, those provisions had not been voided.
“In truth, all these acts of the executive were made under this Administrative Code?” Drilon asked.
It is now obvious that members of the ruling class – those who hold positions in the Legislative and Executive branches of government – are just playing games with the Filipino people. They help and defend each other whenever their shenanigans catch the public’s attention. The DAP is a classic case-in-point. Had it not been for Senator Jinggoy Estrada who is considered a member of the Opposition, the public would not have known about DAP and Abad would not have been forced to come up with a power point presentation supposedly showing where the money was spent.
According to Abad, the Senate knew about the DAP as early as 2011 when he claimed to have “presented DAP to the Senate Committee on Finance in October 2011.” His statement contradicts that of statements made by some members of Congress that they didn’t know about the DAP’s existence until Senator Estrada exposed the “incentive” or bribe as some see it, given to each senator who voted to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, all of which came from the DAP. Here’s what Senator Peter Cayetano said about the DAP in October 2013:
“When we are told that we can request [projects] . we assume that it can only come from two sources-PDAF [the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel] or from savings. We did not know there was such a program as DAP,” Cayetano said.
Maybe Cayetano was absent when Abad supposedly presented DAP to the Senate Committee. Who knows? But Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares claims that the term “DAP” was not used in any of the paperwork:
”Hindi nila nilalagay ang word na DAP sa SARO (Special Allotment Release Orders). P25 million iyon. Pero nung lumabas na ang DAP, medyo nagduda na ako. So I wrote a letter to the Malacañang and the agency and told the agency I suspect na DAP ito, and I withdraw my endorsement,” Colmenares said in a radio DZMM interview.
No wonder the Department of Budget needed more time to explain DAP. Abad realized it would be hard to defend something that only a few of them knew existed. Even Abad’s claim that past Presidents used DAP using another name was shut down by Former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno:
In a statement, Diokno said: “Senator Franklin Drilon and Budget Secretary Butch Abad are misleading the people by saying that past presidents also had DAP.”
He said the use of savings in the past was for “impoundment of funds for fear of unmanageable fiscal deficit.”
He said the savings then were never used for funding new programs and projects that were not prescribed in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Diokno explained: “In the past, reserve control account was used for impoundment of funds for fear of unmanageable fiscal deficit. This is not the same as generating ‘contrived’ savings (such as what Abad did) and applying the same for programs, projects, and activities not authorized in the GAA.”
In other words, the so-called savings that Abad was talking about should not have been used to fund programs and projects that were not included in the annual budget in the first place.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that the Executive couldn’t wait to initiate projects that would “benefit” the Filipino people because doing so would mean having to go through a bureaucratic maze that would delay the release of the budget and further delay the delivery of the goods and services to the beneficiaries, but how come DAP included projects that didn’t even exist yet?
Some senators claimed to have received a letter from Senate President Drilon asking them to name their priority projects. That can only mean the projects weren’t “urgent”. A good example of this is the reported P100 million Senator Antonio Trillanes allocated for infrastructure projects such as “court cover” (P1.5 million) in Barangay Baretbet in Bagabag and Nueva Vizcaya. Spending funds for a basketball court cover would definitely not generate income for the people of Bagabag and Nueva Vizcaya. What it would likely accrue is maintenance costs.
Indeed, the green light given to members of Congress to go on a spending spree by the office of the President likely resulted in nothing more than a waste of public funds. The type of infrastructure projects some lawmakers prioritized will not help the country move forward. Had Senator Trillanes spent his Php100 million in building a public school or library, it would have been justified. Upgrading public education facilities would have added more benefit to the collective intellect of Philippine society than a basketball court.
President BS Aquino and Secretary Abad are now trying to make it look like the Supreme Court’s ruling on DAP may undo the progress “they” have so far achieved. Once again, they contradict themselves because it was BS Aquino himself who said that he had stopped using DAP in October 2013:
“Tinanggalan ko yung kakayahan kong mamudmod…”
Abad also insisted prior to the Supreme Court’s deliberation on DAP that the use of DAP was abolished around the same time when Aquino scrapped the pork barrel of lawmakers because it has already achieved what it was supposed to do. For them to say that the SC’s ruling on DAP “may undo progress” doesn’t make sense.
It was too bad that Senators who are known to voice their opposing views on the DAP were not present during the DAP enquiry. Senator Miriam Santiago would have grilled Secretary Abad to a crisp. Even before the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, she already said that the DAP is illegal since it was not contained in the 2011 or 2012 budgets and they were taken from alleged slow-moving government projects that did not generate savings.
Ultimately, it is up to the Filipino people to try and understand the Supreme Court’s decision on DAP. They simply can’t accept Abad’s and the rest of BS Aquino’s supporters’ word for it. This issue will affect how the next President will handle the people’s money. Filipinos need to look into the future to see how the current government’s abuse of power will pave the way for future governments to justify their actions. In short, letting BS Aquino off the hook, will set a precedent.
Filipinos just need to remember that when they are facing a moral dilemma and are confused about what to do, all they have to do is simply think of how their decisions can affect their future and it will help them find the right course of action. It is called foresight or as the term suggests, seeing ahead and having insight into future problems they might encounter. Even if they trust BS Aquino, he cannot stay in power forever. When Filipinos give him the blessing to use public funds the way he wants to, they are also giving the next President their blessing to violate the law and abuse his or her position.
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