Aquino: I am not a thief
Hits ‘thieves’ sowing confusion on DAPBy Christian V. Esguerra, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Aquino on Wednesday night made a rare public address on prime time TV in defense—yet again—of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and to assail certain politicians for allegedly seeking to muddle the issue and bedevil his administration.
“The issue here is theft. I am not a thief,” he declared in a fiery 12-minute speech that purportedly sought to set the record straight on the controversial economic stimulus program whose constitutionality has been questioned in the Supreme Court and the special funds that critics describe as the President’s pork barrel.
“Those who have been accused of stealing are those who are sowing confusion; they want to dismantle all that we have worked so hard to achieve on the straight path,” he said.
“We were stolen from, we were deceived—and now we are the ones being asked to explain? I have pursued truth and justice, and have been dismantling the systems that breed the abuse of power—and yet I am the one now being called the ‘Pork Barrel King?’”
Aquino then vowed to go after those who pocketed millions in pork barrel funds.
“If you think that this will stop me from going after you, if you think that you can divert the public’s attention, if you think you can get away with stealing from our countrymen—you have sorely underestimated me and the Filipino people,” he said.
“If there still remains some vestige of kindness in your hearts, I hope that you stop acting in self-interest, and instead act to help your fellowmen.”
The President called attention to the purported strategy being employed by those accused in the alleged misuse of the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“If you can’t explain it, muddle it; if you can’t deodorize it, make everyone else stink; if you can’t look good, make everyone look bad. You have heard what they are saying: That we are all the same,” he said, claiming that his accusers “have taken the advice of an old politician from their camp.” He did not name the politician.
Aquino, whose net satisfaction rating dipped in a September survey, then sought to differentiate himself from the group.
“We are not the same. I have never stolen,” he said. “I am the one who goes after thieves.”
The President, midway through his six-year term, said he had appointed “people of unquestionable integrity who are fulfilling their sworn duties.”
In seeking to clarify the pork barrel controversy himself, the President asked the public to come up with an “understanding and a resolve that aligns with the truth.”
“I laid out the truth of what has been happening in our nation,” he said.
The address, which took place on prime time television, marked the first time that Aquino asked networks for “air time to directly address the Filipino people,” according to a Palace briefer.
“Disappointing,” said Peachy Bretaña, an antipork activist. “He didn’t get it,” she said on her Twitter account. “It’s the system.”
It was also the second time that the President sought to address the public on the pork barrel controversy, since the scandal erupted four months ago following a series of Inquirer exposés which outlined how Janet Lim-Napoles allegedly masterminded a P10-billion scam that diverted lawmakers’ pork barrel allocations into massive kickbacks.
Million People March
The first came on Aug. 23, three days before the Million People March against pork barrel in Manila. That time, he declared in another televised address that it was “time to abolish” the PDAF.
Taking its cue from the President, the House of Representatives then deleted the PDAF item in the 2014 national budget, but distributed a total of P25.4 billion among six agencies. The biggest portion—a total of P9.654 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways—was to be spent on projects to be “suggested” by each House member in a mechanism reminiscent of the old PDAF system.
Napoles and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. are among 38 people under investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman for plunder in connection with the scheme that allegedly defrauded the government of funds meant to ease rural poverty.
“Did we not appoint the Commission on Audit (COA) leadership that reviewed the documents leading to the discovery of PDAF abuse? And now, can we not expect a fair and just investigation, because the Ombudsman we appointed walks alongside us along the straight path?” he asked in a televised speech.
“Might I remind those who have forgotten: The real issue here is stealing. This is the topic they have constantly tried to avoid ever since their wrongdoing was exposed. I can’t help but shake my head, since the first thing I expected was for them to at least deny the accusations,” he said.
“After all, is that not the natural reaction of anyone who is accused of anything? And yet, in the midst of all their extended counter-accusations hurled against me, not once have I heard them say: ‘I did not steal.’”
Little was known of the DAP until Estrada in a privilege speech said that “incentives” were given to the senators to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona for dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad later acknowledged that P50 million to P100 million in additional pork barrel were given to the senators after Corona’s conviction.
But Aquino said that the DAP was in fact used in pump-priming the economy, pointing to rosy reports from the World Bank and the investment upgrades received by the Philippines from credit-rating agencies. He said that his special funds were used to address devastation caused by Tropical Storm “Sendong” in 2011 and the recent assault of the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga province.
“Let me make it clear: The Disbursement Allocation Program is not pork barrel. Of the DAP releases in 2011 and 2012, only 9 percent was disbursed for projects suggested by legislators. The DAP is not theft. Theft is illegal. Spending through DAP is clearly allowed by the Constitution and by other laws,” he said.
Aquino said the DAP was only a name for a process in which government can spend both savings and new and additional revenues to priority projects.
“Where did these funds come from? They came from our efforts to stop the connivance of some in bidding for contracts, in padding costs, overpricing and kickbacks. They came from the proper spending of our budget. They came from the good governance now seen in our GOCCs,” he said, referring to government-owned and -controlled corporations.
He explained that there were some agencies that, for a variety of reasons, were unable to implement their projects right away, but there are those that are very efficient in implementing their projects.
“When projects are stalled, naturally, we will not spend for them. We did not allow these funds to remain dormant. We looked for programs under implementing agencies that had proven themselves to be fast and efficient, and we channeled our savings into these programs—together with the additional revenue of the government,” he said.
“My bosses, we have fought so many battles. And I am grateful that no matter how foul the slander and the sabotage, you never let go, you never gave up. Together we proved that there are no tyrants if there are no slaves. Now, those who have abused our trust want to cast us off the course towards the fulfillment of our collective aspirations. I do not believe that you will let this pass. And so long as you are with me, I will continue to stand for our principles,” he said.