Congress turn to defend DAP before Supreme Court

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It is Congress' turn to defend the Aquino government's controversial spending program, the Disbursement Acceleration Program

ORAL ARGUMENTS. It's the Congress turn to defend the Aquino government's stimulus program. File photo by LeAnna Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – With at least two justices hinting at the unconstitutionality of fund releases to senators through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), how will Congress defend the controversial spending program?

Justices of the Supreme Court (SC) will find out Tuesday, February 18, as they hear oral arguments from the legislature. Congress will be represented by retired Justice Vicente Mendoza.  

The DAP is a system of realigning unused funds from government savings to slow-disbursing state projects. It was initiated by President Benigno Aquino III in 2011 to boost the economy. 

Government savings come from vacancies in government personnel, projects that have already been abandoned, and projects which were finished but at a lesser cost than was appropriated.

An anti-pork barrel group on Monday, February 17, asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to scrutinize state funds savings that were diverted to various projects through DAP.

During the second day of oral arguments before the SC, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, arguing for the Palace, said the program has been put in the back-burner since mid-2013. Jardeleza added that the termination of DAP, which was done even prior to the filing of the petitions at the SC, renders the petitions moot. (READ: SolGen to SC: DAP won’t be used again, petitions moot)

Petitioners during the Day 1 of oral arguments 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.

Points of contention

On Tuesday, Congress is expected to rebutt a point raised during Day 2: that cross-border appropriations or the transfer of savings from one branch of government to supplement the funds of another branch is unconsitutional. (READ: Two justices say DAP releases to senators not allowed)

Justice Lucas Bersamin earlier pointed out that “the tenor of the Constitution is clear.” The provision, he said in his line of questioning, limits the President’s power over budget augmentation only to the executive department.

Justice Marvic Leonen pointed out that the constitutional provision that accords the President and other officials with the power to augment funds uses the term “respective” in the transfer of appropriations.

“And we adjudicate based on the text of the Constitution,” he said, echoing Bersamin’s point on cross-border fund augmentation.

Among the main issues to be tackled before the High Tribunal Tuesday 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 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.

Budget 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 Department of Budget and Management 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


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