Opposition solons: What triggered PNoy’s speech?

Lawmakers react to President Benigno Aquino III's surprise speech on national TV to defend a controversial government spending program

'FOCUS.' President Benigno Aquino III addresses the public on Wednesday, October 29. Malacanang photo

MANILA, Philippines – The controversy over the government’s economic booster fund and lawmakers’ pork barrel has been playing out in the media for at least 3 months.

So what triggered President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to addres the public about it on primetime TV on Wednesday, October 30? (READ: Ahead of SC hearing, Aquino defends DAP)

Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco, who is also the secretary-general of opposition United Nationalist Alliance, said he was “at a loss” why the President would go to such length when the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP had been explained by his administration at length. 

Aquino and his Cabinet officials have said the DAP was designed to ramp up spending and boost the economy. The program has been criticized, however, for realigning items in the budget from projects that have yet to be completed – an act not covered by the power that the Constitution bestows on the President. (READ: DAP: ‘Budget within a budget, illegal’)

“I was really surprised why he had to go on air,” Tiangco said. “I didn’t hear anyone ask for an explanation, if it’s for public perception. Was it a reaction? They’re the only ones who know because they have denied that there is an in-house survey, there’s no in-house survey saying that the president’s rating is low.” 

An alleged internal survey commissioned by Malacañang showed a 44% drop on the President’s approval rating to 35%, according to a Philippine Star report. Malacañang has since denied the existence of such surveys.  

“Without knowing what triggered the explanation, we will not be able to analyze it in the proper context,” Tiangco said. 

Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon said the President’s defense of DAP indicates “cracks” in Aquino’s presidency. 

“We should not forget that even during the Aquino administration, Napoles NGOs operated in major executive agencies, such as the DA and the DAR,” Ridon said. (READ: Admin solons linked to pork barrel scam and PDAF of ‘executive offices doubles – COA)

“The President thus cannot pretend to be of clean hands in his use of the DAP. In fact, he defended the DAP like a soiled teflon pan – nonstick but unclean,” the party-list congressman said.

ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio took to Twitter to critique Aquino’s speech. 

{source}<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p>PNoy&#39;s non sequitur: questioning DAP means letting Jinggoy et al. off the hook for PDAF scam.</p>&mdash; Antonio L. Tinio (@tonchi) <a href=”https://twitter.com/tonchi/statuses/395522043275276288″>October 30, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>{/source}

Both Tinio and Ridon belong to the leftist Makabayan bloc in the House. 

‘Focus on the real issue’

Meanwhile, Aquino’s allies both in the House and the Senate echoed his claims that the media attention over DAP is steering the focus away from the “real issue” at hand, which is the misuse of lawmakers’ PDAF. 

Senate President Franklin Drilon said it is time to refocus attention towards holding those who committed wrongdoings accountable. 

“We should all refocus our consciousness towards ensuring that our justice system will work by punishing and jailing those who pocketed people’s money,” Drilon said. “A successful resolution of this case will bring about drastic anti-corruption reforms in government and more importantly, it will purge the government of corrupt officials.”

Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr, for his part, said he “fully agrees” with the President’s entire statement. 

Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, a Liberal Party stalwart, said “the people should not be misled by machinations by those who were accused of corruption.”

On September 25, Senator Jinggoy Estrada claimed in a privilege speech that the Aquino administration bribed senators with an extra P50 million in pork barrel each in exchange for convicting former Chief Justice Renato Corona in the impeachment trial in 2012.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admitted additional funds were released to senators in 2012 but denied they were bribes. Abad said the funds were not PDAF but part of DAP. The constitutionality of the program is now being challenged before the Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled in November.

Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr used the occasion as an opportunity to push for the Freedom of Information Bill, which seeks to install fast procedures in accessing public document

{source}<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p>Whether u agree or disagree w/ DAP, gusto sabihin ni PNOY na hindi nya ninakaw ito. Ginamit ito sa mahahalagang projects.</p>&mdash; Teddy B. Baguilat (@Teddy_Baguilat) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Teddy_Baguilat/statuses/395524582276202496″>October 30, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>{/source}

{source}<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p>Of course, our reactions r based on our beliefs. I happen to still believe in PNOY n his tuwid na daan. N I support his statement.</p>&mdash; Teddy B. Baguilat (@Teddy_Baguilat) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Teddy_Baguilat/statuses/395530146754473988″>October 30, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>{/source}

{source}<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p>N whether we r pro-PNOY or disgruntled w/ him, I think we all agree that: ikulong ang scammers, kailangan ng reform at ipasa ang FOI.</p>&mdash; Teddy B. Baguilat (@Teddy_Baguilat) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Teddy_Baguilat/statuses/395531062211645440″>October 30, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>{/source} 

– Rappler.com