MANILA, Philippines—Despite what the Palace and its allies say, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is unconstitutional and may be a basis for an impeachment complaint against President Aquino, Makabayan lawmakers said on Monday.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said his group was studying the legal and political grounds of an impeachment complaint based on the DAP, which impounded state savings and came under public scrutiny following claims that pork barrel bonuses were given to senators after the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Colmenares said in a news briefing the DAP was unconstitutional because based on the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) circular, Malacañang centralized the funds in the middle of 2012.
He said funds appropriated for a fiscal year could not be deemed savings and redirected to the DAP before the end of a fiscal year.
“If you centralize and withdraw funds in the middle of a year, this is a violation of the General Appropriations Act (GAA),” he said.
Colmenares said the DAP funds could not be categorized as savings under the GAA, pointing out that these are balances of funds from projects completed or abandoned.
In this case, the projects from which the funds were withdrawn had not been completed or abandoned, so savings could not have been declared, he added.
But even if the funds came from savings, Colmenares also said these could not be used for expenditures not specified in the GAA.
It is clear in the Constitution, he said, that no law should be passed realigning funds to items not appropriated by law.
The DBM circular that ordered the withdrawal of unobligated funds and those allotted for slow-moving projects cannot trump the Constitution, he said.
Groundwork for impeach
The Makabayan bloc, in a statement, said Congress could abolish the DAP by using its power of the purse and revoking the related DBM circular, which allowed it to withdraw unobligated funds or those for slow-moving projects.
Congress can also strengthen the no-impoundment provision in the budget bill by deleting the exception clause and requiring Congress’ approval for any impoundment, it said.
The group also called for the abolition of the President’s lump sum and discretionary funds, and said these should be itemized for Congress’ approval.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said that on its face, the DAP violated the Constitution and was illegal.
But he said any impeachment complaint had to be strong and backed by evidence, such as related DBM issuances. A colleague has filed a resolution for an investigation of the DAP, and this could help provide more information about the program that could prove helpful.
“I think there is groundwork that we still need to do in Congress. After that, maybe we can say we are ready for a substantive impeachment complaint,” Tinio said.
Malacañang announced on Monday it was seeking the advice of senators and representatives on how best to deploy its “savings” as it did not want to be seen as a know-it-all when it came to spending government money under the controversial DAP.
“We are not saying they are better than us; our position is that we are not the best, that’s why we are asking for advice or inputs from different sectors,” the President’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, told reporters.
“We opened the identification to everybody because the national government recognized that we are not present at all times in all provinces, all barangays (villages), all sitios (settlements) and municipalities in the Philippines,” Valte said.
“We are just trying to get inputs from people who could be more knowledgeable or who have more information to help in our programs,” she added.
She stressed that 91 percent of the “government savings” channeled to the DAP from 2011 were deployed by the agencies themselves.
Valte said the DAP releases had slowed down over the last two years—from P82.5 billion in 2011 to P54 billion in 2012, and to P15 billion so far this year.
This showed that the government agencies had become more efficient in spending their budget within the timetable, she said.
Valte claimed she was clueless on whether the President authorized Senate President Franklin Drilon to offer DAP funds to his peers on top of their annual P200-million pork allocation.
“It would be best to address that question to Secretary (Florencio) Abad because, from what I understand, we deal with the Senate as an institution through their leaders,” Valte said.