MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman has cleared the late former president Benigno Aquino III and his budget secretary Florencio Abad from all charges related to the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), including gross neglect of duty.
Contradicting the stance of former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in June 2018, current Ombudsman Samuel Martires did not find probable cause for the former officials’ alleged usurpation of legislative powers.
Martires dismissed the petition filed by representatives of progressive groups, including Bayan Muna, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap, and the Philippine Heart Center Employees Association-Alliance of Health Workers.
The ruling, approved on February 2, 2023, said:
- The findings of probable cause for usurpation of legislative powers under Article 239 of the Revised Penal code against Aquino and Abad are dismissed
- The finding of substantial evidence for simple misconduct against Abad is dismissed
- Other criminal and administrative charges against Aquino, Abad, and Abad’s former undersecretary Mario Relampagos are dismissed
The DAP was a mechanism designed by the Aquino government in 2011 to ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion. It was sourced from savings or unreleased General Appropriation Act (GAA) items, as well as realignment and unprogrammed funds. It is different from the pork barrel, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). (TIMELINE: The rise and fall of DAP)
According to the 2018 Panel’s Resolution and Order, Aquino and Abad were “found to have conspired with each other” to commit usurpation of legislative powers when they issued National Budget Circular No. 541. The circular allowed the Department of Budget and Management to withdraw “unobligated allotments of agencies with low levels of obligations as of June 20, 2012, both for continuing and current allotments.”
In Martires’ ruling, he said, “In issuing NBC 541, Aquino and Abad did not usurp Congress’ powers of appropriation. What they did was to gather those whole or portions of already enacted appropriations and pooled them into savings.”
The Ombudsman found that while this action was not in accordance with Section 25(5) of Article VI of the Constitution, it was not under the powers of the legislature. “The DAP’s unconstitutionality was not caused by usurpation of legislative powers but by the illegal pooling of funds and cross-border transfers.”
There was also “no substantial evidence” to hold Abad liable for simple misconduct, the Ombudsman ruled.
“Abad’s actions were only motivated by his desire to fast-track public spending and push economic growth, which were without corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or disregard of established rules. His actions were in accordance with the implementation of the DAP which at that time was still presumed to be valid and constitutional,” the ruling read.
The Supreme Court in February 2015 reversed itself on its ruling on one of three executive acts under the DAP that it had deemed unconstitutional in its earlier July 1, 2014 decision. It, however, affirmed the unconstitutionality of two other acts.
The Ombudsman also cleared Aquino of graft in relation to the DAP in 2017. – Rappler.com
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