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MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III missed the point during his televised address Wednesday evening, October 30, when he defended his administration’s controversial spending mechanism called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), critics said.
“The issue that we are presenting is not whether it is stolen or not. It is whether DAP is constitutional or not,” former budget secretary Benjamin Diokono said. “And only the Supreme Court can say that.”
He noted that it “seemed improper for the President to be defending DAP while there are cases pending in the Supreme Court.”
Diokno represents one of various groups, the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), that have asked the High Tribunal to declare the DAP unconstitutional.
Oral arguments on the consolidated petitions will be held on November 11, starting at 10 am. The Court has given the Solicitor General until November 7 to comment on the petitions.
On Wednesday, the President delivered a 10-minute speech to defend and explain DAP, a spending mechanism implemented by the Aquino administration in 2011 to hasten government spending. (Read: Aquino to address nation on ‘current issues’)
Aquino emphasized that DAP was used to support infrastructure projects, relief for natural calamities and scholarships. The President also said DAP played a key role in the country’s impressive economic growth rates.
“The benefits of these projects reached our countrymen faster and earlier, and we were able to spend the money allocated yearly in our National Budget more prudently and efficiently,” the President said.
The DAP controversy followed months of exposés on the alleged misuse of another form of government spending, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel. A recent Pulse Asia survey said these issues have dampened public appreciation of government’s efforts to curb corruption. (READ: Anti-corruption drive suffers ratings drop)
In fact, the Filipinos’ most urgent national concern now is fighting graft and corruption, according to the same survey. In a previous survey before the PDAF and DAP controversies, the most urgent national concern was controlling inflation, Pulse Asia said.
Diokno and former national treasurer Leonor Briones said the President missed the point.
“We are a government of laws. This means that no matter how noble, the ends may not necessarily justify the means if they violate constitution,” Briones said.
Aquino reiterated his position that “spending through DAP is clearly allowed by the Constitution and by other laws” and that it was sourced through legal means.
DAP is a program
Described by Diokno as budget within a budget, DAP realigned savings to fund for supposedly fast-disbursing projects. However, Diokno pointed that it was used to fund non-existing items in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) under the discretion of the President. This allegedly makes the spending program illegal.
Budget Secretary Butch Abad has denied this charge. Abad has maintained that the DAP is not a new budgetary item but a program through which savings were realigned to existing and fast-moving or quick disbursing line items in the budget to fast-track public spending and stimulate growth.
Aquino rebutted accusations that DAP is pork barrel by emphasizing that only 9% of the fund sourced from DAP went to legislators.
While this is true, Diokno and Briones countered that Aquino did not explain whether it’s legal to empower legislators to implement projects in the first place.
Briones also questioned the constitutionality of their interpretation of government savings. Not only did the administration announce savings earlier than the yearly deadline in December, they also automatically declared unimplemented funds as savings, she said.
Government’s definition of “savings” is one of 6 points that the petitioners will be discussing during the November 11 oral arguments at the Supreme Court.
In a statement, the Court’s Public Information Office (PIO) said the High Tribunal held a preliminary conference on Wednesday for all parties to agree on the scope and time limit of the oral arguments. The petitioners also proposed to tackle the following points during the orals:
- The real nature of the DAP (whether it’s a fund or a program)
- The legal basis for the creation of the DAP
- The constitutionality of the DAP based on fund releases upon requests of specific legislators
- The definition of “savings” as used in the Constitution and relevant issuances
- The legality of the DAP as a program based on existing laws
- The constitutionality of the use of DAP funds to augment GAA appropriations.
The Court has allotted 30 miniutes for the petitioners to present their arguments and 30 minutes as well for the respondents, the PIO added. – Rappler.com