Budget chief defends DAP

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

MANILA (Updated) - Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said on Thursday that the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) has benefited the Filipino people and has helped the government in improving the economy.

During a hearing conducted by the Senate committee on finance, Abad who has been tagged as the architect of DAP squarely faced the senators explaining that that government's economic stimulus fund is not unconstitutional as being projected by its critics as he maintained that it sped up the economic growth of the country.

Abad also said DAP averted the return of manual elections.

He said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) sought the help of the executive department to make sure that the last year's midterm polls will push through and that the Comelec asked P5 billion budget for the purchase the old Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

"The case of the 2012 PCOS machine, the Comelec savings cannot accommodate the project, leaving Comelec with no other option but to seek the help of the Executive. Kung hindi siguro pumasok ang tulong ng Executive baka naka manual pa rin po ang eleksyon at hindi naging computerize na siyang tumulong makapagpabilis sa bilangan nuong eleksyon," said Abad.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad

He further said that since the Constitution itself is for the welfare of the people, the executive approved the P4.1 billion for the Comelec, which was taken from the savings of the Executive.

Abad also belied allegations that DAP is being used to bribe legislators who are identified with the Aquino government as he explained that even Bayan Muna party-list through Representative Neri Colmenares, one of the signatory of the impeachment complaint against President Benigno Aquino III, received DAP to fund valid projects.

"Lawmakers were given DAP regardless of one's affiliation. Lahat ng may valid na project nakatanggap po ng DAP," he said.

Colmenares was reportedly given P25 million in DAP funds that were released in two installments over the past two years.

But the party-list lawmaker said that he deliberately concealed the fact that he withdrew his endorsement from a P10-million project when he suspected that it came from DAP.

Militant group Anakbayan, meanwhile, said the hearing revealed the "truth" about how President Aquino and Abad "usurped the power Congress, stole public funds and allotted them to questionable and anomalous bribery projects."

"Inconsistencies of the Palace data and their explanations have been exposed. They have failed and continue to fail to account for DAP funds allotted to lawmakers and LGUs, favored politicians and pet projects," the group said in a statement.

Misunderstanding of DAP, Abad said stemmed from the different interpretation of the law as he also expressed willingness to submit DAP to the scrutiny of the Commission on Audit (COA).

Abad said senators were aware of DAP insisting that this program has been presented to the Senate committee on finance last October 2011 as a viable solution for accelerating government expenditures.

Abad said the DAP was launched in 2011 and was covered by different media entities.

DAP, he clarified, is not a new practice of the present administration as well as the cross-border transfer of savings were not uncommon.

"Hindi po bago ang DAP. This has been done before. Sa mga nagdaan administrasyon po kagaya ng dating Pangulong Aquino, dating Pangulong Ramos, Pangulong Estrada at Pangulong Arroyo ay may savings na ginamit na tinatawag po sa ilalim ng Reserve Control Account o mas kilala bilang savings," Abad said.

Each administration, Abad said have their way of using their savings and every administration faces a different challenges.

"Because it has been a standard practice for each Executive to use their savings to cover their deficit or give it to productive and reasonable projects for the benefit of the people," Abad said.

He said the Supreme Court in its ruling could reverse economic growth of our country.

The Budget Secretary said the SC rulings on DAP will discourage quick public spending necessary to boost the economy, which was earlier raised by the Chief Executive himself.

"While I bow to the Supreme Court's wisdom, with all due respect, its decision on these issues may undo the progress we’ve achieved so far," Abad said.

During the hearing, Abad also submitted to the Senate all the complete list of the projects funded under DAP, including the name of the project, implementing agency, Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) details, activities and status.

Abad said the Executive has filed a motion for reconsideration to the decision declaring parts of the DAP unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon who is a known ally of the President cited the Administrative Code, which is the basis for DAP.

"Even assuming that is not savings. What you only violate is the GAA (General Appropriations Act) and not the Constitution," Drilon said.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said Abad should clarify that the Supreme Court itself did not categorically say that DAP is unconstitutional.

"What you need to do is to let your communication department do its work by explaining to the people what DAP is all about. Nagagamit kasi 'yung mga propagandist diyan to twist the truth about this DAP," he said.

Trillanes even insinuated that the DAP issue was being used by political rivals of the President in time for the 2016 elections.

However, Abad rejected claims that the DAP is "pork barrel" and is actually being used by the Aquino administration to bribe lawmakers.

"DAP funds are being used properly to deliver social services swiftly with minimal leakages and wastage," he said.

Opposition Senator JV Ejercito said Abad and the present administration is trying to justify what he tagged as a clear "technical malversation."

"As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That's the intent of the passage of the law against technical malversation, to tell the people that one cannot juggle funds no matter how good the intention is," he said.

Senator Nancy Binay, for her part, said she cannot find the sincerity of the Budget secretary in defending DAP as she cited that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) budget has been used as savings considering that the situation at the country's main gateway is in terrible shape.

Senator Grace Poe, meantime, questioned the process of determining priority projects under the DAP.

"Paano ba nadedetermina kung aling proyekto ng gobyerno ang bibigyan ng prayoridad at benepisyo sa DAP? Tinawag ba ang mga namumuno ng ahensya?" Poe asked.

Abad said, "Naglabas na ng EO (Executive Order) kung ano ang dapat paggugulan ng pondo—mayroong limang clusters ang gobyerno gaya ng human development cluster (na tumatalakay dito)."

In particular, Poe questioned the P2.7-billion DAP allocation for the Bureau of Customs' obligation under item 31.

"Bakit naging prayoridad ito sa dinami-dami ng iba pang problema? Wala ba silang kakayahan… na galingan ang kanilang koleksyon? Bakit kailangang manggaling pa ito sa DAP?" Poe asked.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the government decided to include the settlement of the obligation in the "house cleaning" undertaken by the Aquino administration.

At the same time, Poe asked for the SARO in favor of local government units' priority projects, including the P750-million given to Quezon province.

The senator also questioned why the solution to the "cocolisap" menace was not immediately considered by the government.

"Wala po ba tayong entry para matugunan ang cocolisap? Nagsumite ako ng resolution noong July 2013," she asked.

In addition, Poe inquired on the status of projects led by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) under the DAP, as he underscored the need to inform the public on the specific flood control projects.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said the total aggregate accomplishment is at 74 percent, including the flood control masterplan for Metro Manila.

"Good faith" remains the Aquino administration’s battle cry in re-channeling multibillion pesos in public funds supposedly diverted toward economic stimulus, calamity funds and other priority projects and concerns.

DAP, as described by some militant is a conscious and deliberate scheme by Aquino and the Liberal Party (LP) leadership to plunder public funds.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara emphasized the need to make the budgetary process more transparent and accessible to the public in light of recent scandals on the use of people's money that are hounding the government.

Angara said that the common thread he sees in Senate investigations on the fertilizer fund, Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the DAP is that "there are enormous lump sums, which is public money, that the public is unaware of how they were used."

Abad said that at present, the DBM enters into budget partnership agreements with various stakeholders.

He cited as an example the national greening program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources where they have an agreement with environmentalists that they can join in the discussion of the program's budget.

The same goes with other departments, the Budget Secretary said.

Abad also suggested the process of automating or digitizing the work of government so human intervention is addressed.

"Ito ho sa palagay ko ay isang mabilisang paraan para alam ng tao kung anong nangyayari at pwede pa siyang makialam. Papayag ho kami na usisain nang usisain ang bawat ahensiya nang sa ganun maalis ang lahat ng lump sum sa budget," he said.

Angara said they are willing to work with the executive department to introduce these reforms.

The lawmaker also said it is high time to reexamine Presidential Decree 1177, signed by President Ferdinand Marcos, and Executive Order 292, signed by President Corazon Aquino, in light of recent developments.

"These laws were not subject to a democratic discussion, so to speak. I think it is about time that we look at how we spend and budget the people's money. I think we can do a better job especially now in the age of crowd sourcing, in the age of Internet," Angara said.

Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV supported calls for the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a special audit on the DAP to, once and for all, remove doubts and other controversies hounding it.

"A special audit is needed so that doubts regarding DAP's use will be put to rest," said Aquino during the hearing.

Through a special audit, Aquino said it would be determined if funds really went to legitimate projects or if somebody benefitted illegally from it.

"If somebody irregularly gained from it, then he or she should be prosecuted," Aquino said.

Aquino also stressed that DAP should not be associated with PDAF, which was scrapped after the multi-billion peso scam was uncovered last year.

"The DAP helped boost the economy through projects that benefited the Filipino people while P10 billion from PDAF went to ghost non-government organizations and pockets of several politicians," Aquino said.

The senator also lauded the DBM's posting of all documents related to DAP on the agency's website for transparency and accountability.

"We invite everyone to take a look and scrutinize where the funds went," Aquino said.

In Quezon City, former National Treasurer Leonor Briones said in a forum that the government's claim of economic benefits from DAP is "overrated."

She said government is only one of the contributing factors to move the economy forward, citing the role of the private sector "which produces most of the goods and services that we consume."

In a report, the World Bank said the DAP contributed 1.3 percentage point to gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the last quarter of 2011 but it was not enough to reach the desired goal of 5 percent.

The economy slowed down to 3.7 percent that year.

Briones added that Aquino's defense that DAP was his way of ensuring flexibility in the budget implementation was misplaced because he has other sources of funds that could help accelerate growth and deliver social services quickly.

She mentioned the multi-billion peso lump sum funds and special purpose funds.

"I believe he misappreciated his powers. In fact, they say that we have an imperial president since he is more powerful compared to other leaders in the world," said political analyst Malou Tiquia. (Camille P. Balagtas/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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