MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senate President Franklin Drilon and other Aquino allies at the Senate helped the Cabinet defend the administration’s accelerated spending program, with one of them dismissing the controversy over it as a mere “communication problem.”
Drilon sought to debunk criticism of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) by helping Budget Secretary Florencio Abad explain that the stimulus measure was done by past administrations, has legal basis, and benefitted both administration and opposition lawmakers. (READ: Abad says SC ruling may undo economic progress)
The Senate President, who got P100 million ($2.3 million*) in DAP fund releases in 2012, asked Abad to confirm that congressmen and senators do not receive actual funds. Abad answered in the affirmative.
“Nagnumbra lang ng proyekto kaya walang basehan ang sinasabi ng former National Treasurer na dapat isauli ang funds, eh wala kaming natanggap ni piso,” Drilon said at a Senate hearing on DAP on Thursday, July 24.
(We just endorsed projects so there is no basis for the statement of the former National Treasurer that we should return funds when we did not get even a peso.)
A staunch ally of President Benigno Aquino III, Drilon also asked Abad to affirm that the Administrative Code formed the legal basis for DAP despite a Supreme Court ruling declaring key acts under the program unconstitutional.
“It is on the basis of the Administrative Code that you augmented items in the GAA [budget law], correct? What we are talking about here are savings, that’s where we have various interpretations. Even assuming that’s not savings, what you only violate is the GAA, not the Constitution,” Drilon told Abad.
Abad responded, “Correct, that is our position.”
Drilon even asked Abad to again present his Powerpoint slide showing that previous administrations also used practices similar to those under DAP.
“The Reserve Control Account mechanism was started in the Cory Aquino administration. Ramos continued that, the mechanism equivalent to DAP. Ganoon din ang ginawa, iba lang ang tawag. Tama?” (That’s what they also did but with a different name, right?)
Drilon also asked Abad if the DAP marked the first time the executive branch engaged in so-called cross border transfers or moving funds to other branches of government.
Abad said, “As early as 1992, this happened.”
Drilon replied, “So there were cross-borders even in the 1990s? There were savings transferred from the executive to Congress, Ombudsman.”
Abad again said yes.
The Senate President also sought to establish that even opposition lawmakers benefitted from DAP but did not ask whether or not the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) clarified to the legislators that the fund releases were from the DAP, a point raised by many lawmakers when the controversy broke out in 2013.
Abad claimed that only Senator Panfilo Lacson did not ask for funds under DAP. He said in the House of Representatives, Aquino critic Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, who endorsed an impeachment complaint against Aquino, even received funds from DAP.
Drilon highlighted this revelation. “Si Congressman Colmenares, nagnumbra rin siya ng proyekto. Sa tingin ng Pangulo karapat-dapat na pondohon?” (Congressman Colmenares also endorsed a project. In the view of the president, it was worth funding?)
Abad answered in the affirmative.
Drilon’s line of questioning disappointed some netizens, who pointed out that the inquiry turned partisan instead of demanding answers from the executive branch about a program that Supreme Court justices said “castrated” Congress’ power of the purse, which lawmakers “suicidally consented” to.
The DAP was the administration’s program meant to address underspending to boost economic growth, spanning years from 2011 to 2013. Yet the Court ruled that key acts under DAP violated the separation of powers between the branches of government.
‘Your comm group should double-time’
Even before Drilon, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV already echoed Abad’s argument that the DAP was beneficial and legal. Trillanes said the Court did not declare DAP as a whole unconstitutional, and the controversy was then just miscommunication, insinuating political rivals were hyping the issue ahead for the 2016 elections.
“Your communications group should double time to explain this is constitutional,” Trillanes told Abad. “It is not the Supreme Court that says whether the funds were stolen or not.”
Abad said the Commission on Audit (COA) is auditing the DAP. He added that the budget department is working to trace the Special Allotment Release Orders (SARO) to the request letters of legislators to determine the specific projects lawmakers endorsed.
Senator Loren Legarda also did not grill Abad on DAP. She merely again raised the question of whether or not the practices under it were done in the past. “So the practice of using savings has been ongoing since 1986 but you just called it DAP. This is not your new creation?”
‘Justifying technical malversation’
Opposition senators JV Ejercito and Nancy Binay sought to take the administration to task for the DAP.
Ejercito told Abad, “You’re saying this is for the interest of the people and in good faith. Why didn’t you just submit a supplemental budget to Congress when you have allies in both? As Senator Osmeña says, maybe you were lazy or you neglected Congress.”
Abad reiterated that the administration abided by the Administrative Code.
Ejercito also asked how asking lawmakers to endorse DAP projects achieved the program’s goal of pump-priming the economy.
Abad said, “At the height of the situation when we had a problem, we wanted to grow our economy and to help our people directly. The lawmakers told us they have constituents that have not yet been reached by the executives because they represent municipalities, towns and cities, provinces.”
Yet Ejercito rejected Abad’s explanations.
“The administration is trying to justify technical malversation. They should have just suffered from the consequences of their actions. He could have passed an appropriation measure from Congress but ignored a co-equal branch of government."
Ejercito said there are 3 points under the law that make Abad liable for technical malversation:
“As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Ejercito said.
Cabsecs' participation shows 'transparent' admin
In a news briefing on Thursday, July 24, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the participation of Cabinet officials in the hours-long hearing, led by Abad, shows the administration’s “transparency” on the issue.
“Each of them tried to respond to the questions in a comprehensive way. All the requested documents were submitted to the committee. There should be no doubt that the administration is very open and very transparent in responding to questions on the Disbursement Acceleration Program,” he said.
Asked about the observation of Trillanes that negative public reaction on the DAP was a failure on the part of the Palace communications team, Coloma said Palace officials are doing all they can to inform the public about the government’s side of the issue.
“In our view, we just focused on issues on the implementation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program. So we welcome those observations so we can continue to strive to make the people understand the decision made by the government,” he said. – Rappler.com
*$1 = P43.3
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