Palace turn to defend DAP before Court

Buena Bernal
The Office of the Solicitor General maintains that the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program falls within the executive's power to augment appropriations

CONTINUATION. The battle concerning state budget and disbursements continues. File photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The battle concerning state budget and disbursements continues, with the government’s lawyer set to argue for the constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). 

On Tuesday afternoon, January 28, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments from the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG) defending DAP and rebutting claims that the program is tantamount to grave abuse of discretion by President Benigno Aquino III and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Malacañang wants to avoid a court defeat because this is a project initiated under the Aquino administration. It had twice sought for a postponement of the oral arguments. A threat by members of the House of Representatives to impeach justices is seen as a pressure related to the pending case, though the President’s allies have flatly denied this. (READ: SC on DAP: Pressure from both sides)

In 2013, 9 petitions were brought before the High Court questioning the power of the executive branch to control the budget through a system of re-appropriation dubbed DAP.

Petitioners said the re-alignment of government savings to items that are not outlined in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) without congressional approval or consultation encroaches upon the jurisdiction of the legislative branch.

The Constitution allows the President to realign savings in the budget, but in the case of DAP, Malacañang realigned items in the 2013 budget when these were not yet savings but allocations for slow moving or unfinished projects.

The petitioners’ arguments were heard by the Court on Nov 19, 2013. Congress, on the other hand, is set to defend DAP on February 18.

‘DAP is constitutional’ 

In its response-comment, the OSG argued that DAP does not diminish Congress’ power in legislating the yearly budget through the GAA.

It argued that DAP is an exercise of the President’s power to augment existing appropriations with savings from other appropriations made by the law. This, it said, is allowed by the Constitution and the Administrative Code.

The program, it explained, simply fast-tracks government spending by diverting unused funds from slow-moving projects to quick-disbursing ones. 

The OSG maintains that the implementation of DAP falls within the executive’s duty and power of implementation, as DAP is not a lump sum per se but a system of spending.

ORAL ARGUMENTS. The government through the Office of the Solicitor-General is set to argue for the constitutionality of DAP. File photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

Points of contention

Among the issues to be tackled before the High Tribunal are: 

  • Whether the DAP violates and steps on the constitutional power of Congress to be the primary body in charge of appropriations through legislation, as outlined in Sec. 29, Art. VI , which provides: “No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”
  • Whether or not the DAP violates Sec. 25(5), Article VI of the Constitution, in that: (a) it is sourced from government savings as constitutionally defined, (b) it directs money to items not included in the GAA, and (c) it is simply augmenting discretionary lump sum appropriations in the GAA.
  • Whether or not, considering that it authorizes the release of funds upon the request of legislators, the DAP violates: (a) the Equal Protection Clause, (b) the system of checks and balances, and (c) the principle of public accountability
  • Whether or not the program should be ordered restrained, given factual and legal justifications 

Disbursements to senators

DAP became controversial when a raging Senator Jinggoy Estrada exposed in a privilege speech the disbursements given to senators immediately following the impeachment trial of Former Chief Justice Renato Corona. 

Estrada delivered the speech after being indicted for plunder for alleged links to the pork barrel scam, the illegal siphoning of lawmakers’ funds to fake non-governmental organizations.

DBM Secretary Florencio Abad denied allegations these disbursements were bribes in exchange of votes for the impeachment of Corona, an appointee of the previous administration disfavored by Aquino. 

Based on DBM records, below are the names of senators and the amount of funds they received via DAP in 2012:

SenatorDate of disbursementAmount received
Antonio Trillanes October 2012 P50M
Manuel Villar October 2012 P50M
Ramon Revilla October 2012 P50M
Edgardo Angara October 2012 P50M
Alan Cayetano October 2012 P50M
Frank Drilon December 2012 P100M
Juan Ponce Enrile December 2012 P92M
Francis Escudero August 2012 P99M
Jinggoy Estrada October 2012 P50M
Teofisto Guingona October 2012 / December 2012 P35M / P9M
Greg Honasan August 2012 P50M
Loren Legarda October 2012 P50M
Lito Lapid October 2012 P50M
Serge Osmena December 2012 P50M
Francis Pangilinan October 2012 P30M
Koko Pimentel October 2012 / November 2012 / December 2012 P25.5M / P5M / P15M
Ralph Recto October 2012 / December 2012 P23M / P27M
Tito Sotto October 2012 / November 2012 P11M / P39M

– Rappler.com