Palace: We have more explaining to do
MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Saturday said it was far from done clarifying the outlawed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), in reaction to a statement by opposition Sen. Nancy Binay that Budget Secretary Butch Abad still had a lot of explaining to do.
“No one is thinking that we’re out of the woods or that we’re off the hook. In fact, the Department of Budget and Management is preparing the list that Senator Binay was asking for regarding the regular savings,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over government dzRB radio.
Following Abad’s appearance at the Senate hearing on the DAP last Thursday, Binay said that the budget secretary was “not yet off the hook” as he should explain what she said were P90 billion in funds that remained unaccounted for from the P237 billion that the Palace took in so-called “pooled savings” for the DAP.
Noting that only P167 billion was supposed to have gone to economic stimulus projects, Binay said there was still “P90 billion missing in government ‘savings.’”
Another issue that was not tackled at the hearing was where at least P144.37 billion in released DAP funds were sourced from, said Binay.
And of the 116-plus DAP-funded projects implemented, less than 10 came under scrutiny, Binay said, while conceding that there was not enough time at the hearing to tackle all these issues.
“It has not been scrutinized whether it had an impact on our countrymen, or if indeed its implementation was accelerated, or where the spending was sourced from,” she said in an interview over dwIZ radio.
The senator believed the “savings” that were pooled under the DAP may have been partly sourced from the huge budget allocations for personnel services (PS).
She observed that budgets for PS were often “bloated” and said she would scrutinize such items in the proposed 2015 national budget so the funds could be allotted to worthy projects.
Binay agreed, however, that the hearing helped to shed light on the “suspicious acts” surrounding the DAP.
The finance committee, chaired by Sen. Francis Escudero, called Abad to explain the controversial DAP which was voided by the Supreme Court on July 1. Almost all the Cabinet members showed up at the hearing.
Abad said he presented the DAP to the Senate finance committee in 2011, belying reports that the senators were unaware of it. He noted that only certain provisions, not the entire DAP, were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
From Ramos to present
Abad defended the DAP, claiming its legal basis was the Administrative Code of 1987. He said the generation and use of savings were practiced by all administrations, from President Ramos to the present.
Voting 13-0, the justices of the Supreme Court struck down the DAP, which Abad and President Aquino said they created to utilize “pooled savings” from the national budget for high-impact projects in order to pump-prime the economy beginning in 2011.
The justices specifically voided a circular allowing the release of savings from the executive branch to agencies and projects outside the national budget that was approved by Congress.
Binay, who has been praised for questioning the allocation of DAP funds to stem cell research, among other items, agreed with the observation that the budget secretaries of previous administrations should have been invited to rebut Abad’s claims.
Higher level of discussion
She said she had read news about past budget officials disputing Abad’s claim of DAP-like practices under previous administrations.
“I wish that in one of the forums, Secretary Abad would appear as a resource person along with professors Benjamin Diokno and Leonor Briones [budget secretary and treasurer, respectively, in the Estrada administration] so we can have a higher level of discussion,” Binay said.
She said she came prepared to the hearing, and it helped that she was not a recipient of DAP funds, or even the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the similarly outlawed congressional pork barrel.
Asked about the observation that some senators appeared to have been “lawyering” for Abad and the administration officials, she said “everyone has his or her own style of asking questions.”
“At the end of the day, we just have to respect each other’s position,” she said.
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