MANILA, Philippines – Senator Nancy Binay wants the Senate to proceed with its inquiry into the government’s spending program but the chamber’s leader said having a final court ruling means it’s time to move on.
Binay said that the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the unconstitutionality of two acts under the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) should prompt the Senate to continue investigating how public funds were spent.
The daughter of opposition leader Vice President Jejomar Binay said that the DAP hearings must resume after the Senate finance committee suspended the inquiry last year in deference to court deliberations.
“It is important to bring to light how P167 billion of the people’s money was diverted to other government projects. It is about time that we get to the bottom of this issue, and uncover the persons (sic) responsible for hijacking the national budget,” Binay said in a statement on Wednesday, February 4.
The Supreme Court on February 3 issued a final decision on the DAP striking down two out of 3 practices under the stimulus program but clarifying that the so-called presumption of good faith remains.
The DAP was the administration’s program meant to address underspending to boost economic growth, spanning 2011 to 2013.
The Aquino administration questioned the initial language of the Court ruling in July 2014, which analysts said reversed the presumption of regularity and good faith, and wrongly held officials liable.
Binay said that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) headed by Aquino ally Florencio Abad should be held accountable.
“The [DBM] should account for where the P167 billion was spent, and who they gave it to. The Court has already spoken that what the DBM did was unconstitutional, and someone should be held accountable here,” she said in Filipino.
Yet Senate President Franklin Drilon, a close ally of President Benigno Aquino III, said the final verdict settles the issue.
“Let us move on. They reinstated what we knew – that it was done in presumption of good faith, the presumption of regularity in the performance of functions that got confused in the earlier decision. This time they clarified it. I think everybody has accepted the decision. The Supreme Court has spoken,” Drilon said.
The Senate President admitted he got P100 million ($2.27 million) in DAP funds, which went to the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center, a project in his home province of Iloilo.
Unlike Drilon, most senators only got P50 million ($1.13) worth of DAP allocations for projects.
It was detained opposition Senator Jinggoy Estrada who highlighted DAP, when he hinted that the P50 million the DBM allotted for senators was a bribe to support the Palace’s bid to remove former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Abad denied the charge.
‘Bad faith not presumed’
Senate finance committee chairman Francis Escudero agreed with Drilon that based on the final Court decision, bad faith must first be proven for any official to be held accountable.
Escudero reiterated that the 2015 budget his committee prepared already complied with the Court decision.
Senator Grace Poe said the funds should be traced but it was up to Senator Binay to pursue the issue.
“She can file a resolution if she wants. We should really look into the funds but that would be up to her resolution,” Poe said.
Binay and the political opposition have been criticizing the administration over the DAP ruling, seen as a legal and political defeat for Aquino.
In last year’s hearing, Senator Binay asked Abad about fund transfers from the executive branch to constitutional commissions. She also asked why funds intended for rehabilitating the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1, and seaports and lighthouses were withdrawn as savings.
The Binays have their own share of controversy. The Vice President is facing two plunder complaints and a Senate inquiry into alleged corruption when he was mayor of Makati for two decades. He refuses to appear in the Senate hearings, rejecting the process as politically motivated and a “soap opera.” – Rappler.com