Santiago calls for question hour with DBM chief

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Friday, September 5, 2014

SENATOR Miriam Defensor-Santiago wants the Senate to conduct a "question hour" with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Santiago said the "question hour" is provided for by Article VI, Section 22 of the Constitution. Under this provision, the head of a department of the Executive may be requested by the Senate or the House of Representatives to appear and answer questions pertaining to their department.

She said she will file a resolution on Monday requesting Abad to appear before the Senate, and to bring with him a list of the total DAP amounts distributed to every senator and representative.

The senator also wants Abad to specify the projects for which each disbursement from lawmakers' DAP was released; and to answer questions from the senators.

Santiago said the power of the Senate to conduct a question hour and obtain information from Abad is pursuant to Congress' oversight function.

"The senators and representatives who received DAP funds must account for these public funds, especially amid allegations that DAP funds were diverted to Napoles NGOs and fake or grossly overpriced projects," she said.

Santiago said she sees no reason for President Benigno Aquino III to forbid Abad from appearing before the Senate and being subjected to the question hour, since the information that the Senate seeks is not covered by the doctrine of executive privilege.

"Secretary Abad has no reason to shy away from the Senate question hour because the doctrine of executive privilege is recognized only in relation to certain types of information of a sensitive character," she said.

Santiago said these types of information include military, diplomatic, and other national security matters; presidential conversations, correspondences, and discussions in closed-door Cabinet meetings; and information on investigations of crimes by law enforcement agencies before the prosecution of the accused.

"The extraordinary character of the exemptions indicates that the presumption inclines heavily against executive secrecy and in favor of disclosure," the senator said.

The DAP controversy started when Senator Jinggoy Estrada delivered a privilege speech in the Senate on September 25, 2013, revealing that certain senators, including himself, received an additional P50 million each as "incentive" for voting in favor of the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona. The additional P50 million was on top of their regular Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations.

Responding to Estrada's revelation, Abad issued a public statement entitled "Abad: Releases to Senators Part of Spending Acceleration Program," explaining that the funds released to the senators had been part of the DAP, a program designed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to ramp up spending to accelerate economic expansion.

According to media reports, the Aquino administration used some P6.5 billion DAP funds before, during, and after the Corona impeachment trial to bribe senators and members of the House of Representatives. Representatives allegedly received some P5 billion in DAP funds, while senators received P1.5 billion.

Santiago and former senator Joker Arroyo, who both voted against the Corona impeachment, did not receive DAP funds.

Some senators' DAP allocations were allegedly channeled to non-government organizations put up by plunder suspect Janet Lim-Napoles.

Recently, media reported that one senator alone received P1 billion in DAP allocations.

In July 1, 2014, the Supreme Court declared several acts and practices under the DAP unconstitutional, including the "cross-border transfers" of the savings of the Executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the Executive.

In effect, the practice of the Aquino administration of transferring savings from the Executive to Congress, in the form of DAP funds allocated to favored senators and representatives, was declared unconstitutional. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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