Serge: Aquino handling of DAP 'lousy, childish'
MANILA, Philippines – “A legal decision is not subject to a popularity vote.”
Senator Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III criticized as “lousy, really bad” President Benigno Aquino III’s response to the Supreme Court ruling declaring key acts under his spending program unconstitutional.
The president’s 2010 campaign manager said the President’s two speeches last week about the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) were counterproductive to his goal of getting the Court to reverse its ruling.
“They could have filed a motion for reconsideration without making such a big deal out of it rather than being confrontational, thinking they could change the mind of the Court. It was a 13-0 decision. The Court will not change its mind. Even the 4 appointees of President Aquino voted in the 13-0 so that was totally unrealistic. His political handlers were really off on that one,” Osmeña said on ANC’s Headstart on Wednesday, July 23.
The Aquino ally-turned-critic also questioned the president’s call for his supporters to wear a yellow ribbon to show support for him after the fallout from the controversy. The yellow ribbon has long been a symbol of the Aquino family.
“That was childish. A referendum cannot overrule the Supreme Court. The SC is the final arbiter of what is legal, constitutional. There is no higher authority than the SC. We have to respect that. There is this saying that the Supreme Court is right even when it is wrong. Many times I’ve disagreed with the SC but once they’ve spoken, we have to respect it,” Osmeña said.
On July 1, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down major acts under the DAP, saying these violated the constitutional separation of powers, and undermined Congress’ power of the purse. Aquino though has been defending in public the legality and economic benefits of DAP.
The DAP is a stimulus package meant to fast-track spending and push economic growth by pooling funds. The Court though ruled that some funds did not meet the legal definition of savings, went to projects not included in the budget, and were transferred from the executive to other branches of government.
Abad should explain Tarlac, cross-border transfers
On the eve of a Senate hearing on the DAP, Osmeña said the finance committee will ask Budget Secretary Florencio Abad for “several hours” about corruption allegations involving the DAP.
“I am bothered by certain accusations from some sectors that there was a P10 billion ($230.98 million)* pork barrel for Tarlac alone, and it was given to a favorite contractor without public bidding. I think that it is almost prima facie proof of corruption,” he said.
The civil society group Social Watch Philippines said that Aquino allotted P2 billion ($46.19 million) for national road projects in his home province of Tarlac. Osmeña did not say how he arrived at the P10 billion figure.
He said, “If you have only P33 billion ($762.25 million) [in savings for infrastructure] for the whole country, and P10 billion went to one province, I would ask why.”
The farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas also claimed that P5.4 billion ($124.74 million) under the DAP was used to pay Hacienda Luisita landowners, Aquino’s relatives, as compensation for the agrarian reform program, a charge which Abad denied. (Read: Abad: No Luisita compensation under DAP)
The senator added that Abad will have to explain how and why the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) violated the Constitution in implementing DAP.
“We’re going to ask him to justify first the expenditure of funds for projects that were not included in the [General Appropriations Act]. That’s one of the things SC declared unconstitutional. You cannot invent new items and say it’s okay. No, it’s not okay.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the DAP was used to fund items not included in the budget like personnel services and capital outlay under the Department of Science and Technology’s Disaster Risk, Exposure, Assessment and Mitigation (DREAM) project, which got zero allocation in the 2011 budget.
Osmeña added that the Senate will ask Abad to explain so-called “cross-border transfers” to Congress and the Commission on Elections, in violation of the constitutional provision that the President can only transfer savings within the executive branch.
‘DAP given to lawmakers is pork barrel’
Despite his criticism of Aquino and DAP, Osmeña said the impeachment complaints filed against Aquino on the basis of the Court ruling lack merit.
“The charges don’t seem to be able to hold water – culpable violation of the Constitution – because the Supreme Court already ruled they’re ascribing good faith to the President. They have to dig much deeper,” he said.
The senator said Aquino’s poor response to the issue can be attributed to his being an “awful manager,” a label Osmeña infamously used to describe the President months ago.
“He doesn’t have a good feedback mechanism. When you give orders, you don’t know if it’s done properly because he tends to have a cordon sanitaire who are afraid to tell him the truth.”
The senator does not buy Aquino’s statement that the DAP was not pork barrel, citing the projects it allowed lawmakers to endorse. While the administration said this only accounted for 9% of the DAP, Osmeña said this portion of DAP was clearly a form of patronage.
“The DAP is also a pork barrel. The definition of pork barrel is any special project that a legislator is able to bring to his district to gain brownie points. That is the definition of pork barrel so DAP is pork barrel," Osmeña said.
He warned that there will still be pork barrel in the 2015 budget, even after the Court struck down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) last year.
“I’ll have to see how well they hid it. That’s not against the law. That’s what the Supreme Court said – they just prohibit post-enactment discretion but it’s not against the law to have pork barrel.” – Rappler.com
*$1 = P43.26