Saying media should keep their “eyes on the ball,” President Aquino is seeing a conspiracy behind the attacks against his administration in connection with its controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
“Since I am in a room full of journalists, perhaps I can leave it to you to connect the dots,” he told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) forum in Manila.
“All of these attacks came after plunder cases, among others, that were filed in the Office of the Ombudsman against a few well-known politicians.”
The President did not name names, but was apparently referring to Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla. The opposition senators, along with 35 other respondents, were charged with plunder for allegedly taking part in a P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Aquino said it was “difficult to fathom how one could equate” the DAP with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which was enjoyed by both senators and members of the House of Representatives.
He claimed that the stimulus program was being “unjustly and oddly vilified in the media … nearly two years after the same media lauded the government for its resourcefulness.”
The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on Nov. 19 on petitions questioning the constitutionality of the DAP, a little-known impounding mechanism for government savings from which was sourced, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the P50 million in additional pork barrel funds given to each of the 20 senators who voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona in May last year.
The DBM explanation was issued after Estrada, in a privilege speech, revealed that “incentives” were given to senators after the conviction of Corona.
Veteran Senators Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, along with a host of constitutional experts, including Fr. Joaquin Bernas, have averred that the Constitution prohibits the transfer of funds in the General Appropriations Act from one department to another.
By the President’s own admission in the Focap forum, the DAP—just like the PDAF—allowed legislators to channel funds to projects of their choice. Still, he had his defense.
Consultations with lawmakers
“The only thing one could remotely relate to PDAF were those projects undertaken through consultation with our legislators,” he said.
“After all, just as we engaged regional offices, local partners, and civil society in identifying projects, was it not also appropriate to hear the proposals of the elected officials of the land?”
Aquino added: “Taking this into account, such projects by the legislators made up a mere 9 percent of the program. Why, then, is the DAP being made an issue?”
“Nine percent” meant that a total of P12.8 billion was given to legislators in additional projects from 2011 to 2012, based on official budget records.
The amount (which was 9 percent of the P142.23-billion savings released through the DAP) was a little less than half of the P24.8 billion in pork barrel senators and House member enjoyed during that period. In short, congressional pork barrel increased by almost 50 percent because of the DAP in 2011 and 2012.
Aquino sought to justify his move to allow legislators to dip their fingers into DAP funds this way. Quoting an “older politician,” he asked: “Who will remember you come election time?”
‘Eyes on the ball’
“Those that you have managed to help find work, those that you have educated, those that you have helped gain medical attention,” he said. “You’re a politician. You’d want to be reelected. Your work, therefore, has to devolve to constituency work.”
In November 2011, a month after the DAP was announced, senators submitted projects amounting to P100 million each, to be funded from pooled government savings.
Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vicente Sotto III, Estrada and Revilla then sought to transfer their allocations from the Department of Agrarian Reform to National Livelihood Development Corp.
Copies of letters bearing their signatures indicated that they nominated as project implementers foundations linked to Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind behind the P10-billion pork scam.
Aquino said he did not need to “remind” the media of “the true issue that has seemingly been drowned out by all the background noise.”
“And so I ask you: Let’s keep our eyes on the ball,” he said. “The public was outraged by the audacity with which public officials allegedly stole from the national coffers through the PDAF. This is an outrage we share, and this is precisely why we abolished the PDAF, and followed the evidence so that we may hold all those who committed wrongdoing accountable.”
“Our media and our people are far too good—far too wise—to be grossly and brazenly led to the wrong issue. Plunderers should be taken to account,” he added.
The President noted that attacks against the DAP “coincided” with criticism against bonuses received by Social Security System (SSS) officials, and his administration’s “reforms” at the Bureau of Customs.
SSS board members were assailed for gifting themselves with a P1-million bonus each, even as the state pension agency was planning to increase monthly salary contributions by 0.6 percent.
SSS president Emilio de Quiros (brother of Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros) was also in the hot seat for flying abroad—allegedly first-class and all expenses paid—every two months since he assumed office.
But Aquino insisted that the “framework” for the bonuses was “outlined” in the law governing government-owned and -controlled corporations.
“In the midst of the cacophony of voices, the journalist must be able to separate the important from the frivolous, the spin from the facts, the malicious lies from the simple truth,” he said.
Originally posted at 02:46 pm |Wednesday, October 23, 2013