During his fifth State of the Nation Address, President BS Aquino appeared frustrated at having to keep defending his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to the Filipino people. At some point during his speech, he became flustered and tried to fight back his tears. A lot of those who witnessed him being emotional felt sorry for him and sympathized with him. His emotional speech paying homage to his father’s so-called “legacy” managed to distract some people from the real issue.
The lesson here is simple: emotional blackmail always work with gullible people. There’s a catch to using emotional blackmail though. It only works in the short term. If you keep using it to get what you want, either you will come across as a spoiled brat or an emotional wreck – something of a weakling. Soon, people’s sympathy will fade and turn into annoyance or worse, hate.
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Since President BS Aquino can’t discuss the DAP without becoming distressed and irrational, it is up to the Filipino public to keep the discussion sober or more level-headed. More importantly, they have to keep the discussion alive. There is always a danger that people’s short attention spans could be diverted again to the next viral sex video or to Presidential sister, Kris Aquino’s love life and then the controversy surrounding DAP will be forgotten.
What is wrong with the DAP anyway? The answer to that question is: A LOT.
While the average Filipino – those who are not lawyers – readily agree that DAP is wrong simply because the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional; most of the President’s supporters think it is acceptable simply because BS Aquino says it was used in “good faith”. In other words, the arguments over DAP, whether for or against it, simply fly over most people’s heads.
It doesn’t help that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s explanation is both dubious and convoluted. And it doesn’t help as well that lawmakers allied with the President keep asking the wrong questions.
All this talk about the General Appropriations Act (GAA), the Administrative Code of 1987 and a new meaning for “savings” is doing people’s heads in. With that in mind, I have come up with a simple, lay man’s explanation of why the DAP is wrong:
(1) The DAP gave the President or the Executive branch of government too much power over public funds.
Every year, the Executive through his Budget Secretary submits a budget proposal to Congress outlining where the President thinks the public funds should be spent. Congress, who has the power to approve the budget, deliberates on the merits of the items. If they think some of the items should not be prioritized, they can strike these out from the budget — that is, assuming they actually study the items thoroughly.
Since public funds coursed through the DAP were spent without Congress approval, the President assumed control of public funds and in essence took the “power of the purse” away from Congress.
(2) The DAP was used to continue the tradition of patronage politics.
This is where it gets complicated. A few days ago I tried to explain this to a foreigner but he looked at me like I was talking out of my ass. He could not comprehend why members of Philippine Congress or public auditors would allow the DAP to happen. He said where he comes from, a cunning deception like this would cause public outrage. I told him that most members of Congress are always happy to receive pork barrel funds from the President no matter where it came from and so naturally, they would help defend the DAP. Doing the opposite would implicate them in the offense. Former Senator Joker Arroyo likened DAP to the President “raping” Congress with its consent.
Sadly, even locals loyal to the Aquino regime are in denial of this. In an ideal situation, Congress would have impeached the President immediately after finding out his unlawful acts in the management of the national budget even before the matter is brought to the Supreme Court. In an ideal world, members of Congress actually use their heads. In the Philippines however, the President and most members of Congress are in cahoots in the mismanagement of public funds.
(3) The DAP is promoting impunity.
Because most members of Congress from the Legislative Branch of government do not want to hold the Executive accountable for the DAP, this will continue to be a problem in the future of Philippine politics. The next President will have an excuse to justify playing around with public funds using his own “discretion”. As a matter of fact, President BS Aquino knew very well that this can happen when he was still a senator. Back in 2008 when he authored Bill 3121 or the Budget Impoundment Control Act, his purpose was to “strengthen the Legislature’s power over how the Executive spends appropriations”.
Unfortunately, the bill just sat on the drawing board and now the very author of the bill has chosen to weaken the Legislature’s power over how the Executive spends appropriations without changing the Constitution.
(4) The DAP will help continue the cycle of retribution among those in power.
If the DAP becomes legitimate and if the Executive resumes allocating funds to members of Congress, there will be no end to rival politicians seeking revenge once they are in power. Those who felt wronged during President BS Aquino’s term will do the same thing — buy favors from lawmakers using public funds to persecute their enemies. The circus show called “Congressional hearings” will continue to be popular programming in local TV channels.
(5) The DAP will continue the tradition of vote buying during Philippine elections.
Just like the now defunct Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) or pork barrel funds, public servants who got fund allocations from the Executive through the DAP had funds to buy voters. Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones likewise warned of the same thing. Here’s what she had to say:
Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones on Friday warned that the huge lump sums in the 2015 national budget might be used by the government to prepare for the 2016 elections.
This is similar to the 2012 budget that preceded the 2013 elections. The government cranks up spending for infrastructure and construction the year before elections. Concrete projects create the impression of growth, though it is a challenge to sustain this growth for the next years,” Briones said in a statement.
Briones said incumbent politicians usually have an advantage against their opponents because ”projects are credited to officials as part of their track record as the ruling parties would spend for projects in their allies’ jurisdictions. Opposing parties can be deprived of this spending, putting them at a disadvantage.
There’s also loose talk going around that some of the individual recipients of the DAP like the iskolar ng bayan had to pledge allegiance to the yellow ribbon before they could receive government funding for their training. This is similar to what some of the victims of typhoon Yolanda were saying – that relief goods were only given to those who promise to vote for the members of the Liberal Party.
(6) The DAP’s role in stimulating economic growth is not sustainable.
When you use spending to stimulate growth, it will only work in the short-term. The reason why former President Gloria Arroyo had to use spending to stimulate growth was to “counteract” the effects of the Global Financial Crisis that ravaged global markets in 2008. The funds to stimulate the economy then were approved by Congress and the move was even lauded by a few economists because the country managed to avoid going into depression similar to what happened to Iceland and Greece. However, as soon as President BS Aquino put government spending on hold in 2010, economic growth drastically slowed.
Spending to stimulate the economy has a lasting legacy, which is the accumulation of debt. The more people spend, the more they get into debt. The high credit rating the government received from such agencies like Fitch Rating could only result in the country going into more debt for nothing if the funds are not used wisely.
An alternative that President BS Aquino should have done, which would have had a long-term effect on the economy was to give support to local industries to promote local employment. The government could have given low-interest loans to small business operators that would foster innovation. Likewise, the government should have fixed tax collection by providing incentives to business owners to encourage them to pay the correct tax and push more investors to join the club.
(7) Projects funded through the DAP are not visible to the naked eye.
They say an empty cart rattles loudly. President BS Aquino’s defense of DAP sounded like an empty cart, indeed. One of the reasons why it is so hard for some people to believe public funds were spent wisely through the DAP is because the average Filipino can’t find any evidence of improvement in the public infrastructure that they use on a daily basis. The Philippines still has the worst airport, a bad public transport system, still suffers from flooding, road traffic congestion and power interruptions.
If I were in President BS Aquino’s shoes and have billions of public funds at my disposal, I would have prioritized fixing those things the minute I stepped inside Malacanang. Unfortunately, he chose to prioritize projects he thinks are more important. This includes funding the persecution of his political enemies.
You see, it’s not surprising that President BS Aquino gets frustrated when defending the DAP. There’s no doubt that some of the funds went to legitimate projects that would benefit the public. However, the disbursement of the funds lacked transparency. Not to mention, still unaccounted for.
In life, things are not always what they seem.