Aquino to explain DAP in dialogues with citizens

MANILA, Philippines – Will he be doing town hall meetings a la Gloria Arroyo?

President Benigno Aquino III plans to tour the nation to hold discussions on the government's controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the constitutionality of which is being questioned by several groups before the Supreme Court.

Announcing the Palace's effort to "gain clarity and understanding" as to why many Filipinos have decried the DAP, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Sonny Coloma told reporters on Monday, November 4, the discussions would allow the people to explain their concerns over government spending. (READ: DAP: 'Budget within a budget, illegal' and Palace spending program 'illegal')

"We reiterate government’s willingness to conduct continuing dialogues with our people and especially in the regions and provinces to ensure adequate understanding of the issues that will enable them to make correct choices  and decisions in matters affecting their communities and the country’s future," he said.

Coloma, however, refused to give details on how the dialogues will be conducted. He didn't answer reporters' questions on whether these will be in the form of an information drive, or similar to town hall meetings such as in election campaigns. 

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom President Aquino has heavily criticized since he succeeded her, had conducted town hall meetings on controversial issues as well. 

While Coloma said the DAP would definitely be discussed, Coloma however denied the discussions were brought about by the controversies surrounding DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). He said the planned dialogues are part of the "continuing process" of the government "to reach out and inform our people of the issues that are confronting our nation."

"It is known that the President regularly goes to various regions and provinces not just in times of crisis and calamity, but to have a chance to have discussions with the people. He is the President of all Filipinos and he is ready to speak to our countrymen of all regions and all provinces. His visits will be based on the schedule of his Presidential events," he said.

Coloma also gave assurances the administration would not try to convince the people of the government's view on the matter, but would actually listen to perspectives, since the government believes "that our people themselves should be able to put pressure on their bosses—the elected representatives."

When asked about the possibility of Aquino changing his mind on DAP, Coloma said, "the President has always been open to feedback from our people and to knowing their real sentiments."

He did admit however, that getting Filipinos to "accept" the government's stand may be part of the goal because it is "part of the President’s role to raise the level of the people’s political consciousness."

Cabinet consulted on speech

The Palace acknowledged the widespread criticism received by Aquino's speech on Wednesday, October 30. In the 12-minute speech televised on primetime, he defended the DAP as having helped drive the economy and fund significant projects.

After Aquino delivered his national address, analysts, critics, and netizens slammed the President for allegedly avoiding the real issue of DAP's legality and ignoring the clamor for its abolition.

Coloma said they "note that many of those who are calling for further protest actions are against patronage politics and the perpetration of graft and corruption," and emphasized the government "stands with the people."

But Coloma also said critics failed to appreciate the reforms Aquino have undertaken, which the President also mentioned in his speech

Coloma insisted the speech was not a "special occasion" or a "special purpose event," and said it was a product of a "stream of consultations with members of the Cabinet." He refused to mention any names on who in particular influenced the President to speak.

The Palace also denied the timing of Aquino's address was meant to sway the Supreme Court's deliberations on the DAP's constitutionality. Oral arguments on petitions on its constitutionality are set for November 11.

Instead, the upcoming long Undas weekend played a bigger factor on timing, said Coloma, because the President wanted relatives who were coming together for the holiday to be able to discuss the DAP among themselves.

According to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), DAP – mainly sourced from savings or unreleased General Appropriation Act (GAA) items, as well as realignment and unprogrammed funds – was designed to ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion.

The Aquino administration has been forced to explain details of DAP after questions were raised over millions of pesos were released to senators after the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Critics tagged the release a bribe or incentive, while another former lawmaker, Senator Joker Arroyo, questioned where the funds given to senators came from.

When the Palace announced that the additional cash releases for projects of lawmakers came from DAP, senators started to raise concerns about its constitutionality and the illegal nature of releasing funds without the approval of Congress. –