Fire Abad, ally urges Aquino
MANILA, Philippines–An ally of President Aquino has made a personal appeal to him to let go of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes to restore the credibility of his “matuwid na daan” (straight path) reform agenda.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello wants Abad fired for damaging the administration’s reform program with his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.
Bello also wants De los Reyes replaced for being weak and indecisive in implementing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) Law.
The party-list representative made his appeal in an Aug. 9 letter to the President, which he followed up with a one-on-one meeting with Aquino in Malacañang.
A source, who furnished the Inquirer with Bello’s letter on condition of anonymity, said that last week’s meeting was “tense” and futile as Bello failed to convince the President of the wisdom of replacing Abad and De los Reyes.
Bello refused to comment on the letter and the meeting.
Asked about Bello’s letter, Abad said in a text message: “He addressed the letter to the President. Ask him what the President’s reply was. Or ask his Akbayan party mates.”
De los Reyes declined to comment on the matter, saying he had not read Bello’s letter.
“I have not seen his note. I am on the road now. Sorry. I have no comment at this point,” the agrarian reform secretary said in a text message.
In his letter to Aquino, Bello said: “I have defended you against the efforts of a tiny minority in the House to impeach you on the matter of the (DAP). I cannot, however, defend the continued presence of Mr. Florencio Abad in your Cabinet as secretary of the budget.
‘Abad’s bad judgment’
“Owing to Mr. Abad’s bad judgment, your administration has been severely wounded by the DAP issue. Your popularity may not suffer but the credibility of the reform program with the citizenry will be thoroughly eroded with the continued presence of Mr. Abad.
“I think he has become a hindrance to the fulfillment of the program and I feel strongly that he must go for the matuwid na daan to regain its credibility,” Bello said.
On July 1, the Supreme Court declared the DAP, an economic stimulus program, unconstitutional.
The high tribunal struck down the executive branch’s practice of declaring savings from unreleased appropriations and using unprogrammed or standby appropriations. The court ruled that savings and standby appropriations could be declared only at the end of the fiscal year.
Partly because of the DAP controversy, Aquino’s approval and trust ratings suffered double-digit drops between March and June.
Others, including Sen. JV Ejercito, have called for Abad’s head.
Ejercito earlier said the people could start losing faith in Aquino if nobody would be held to account for the unconstitutional mechanism.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago was more blunt in calling for Abad’s head. “The Supreme Court said the DAP is wrong. Someone has to be made liable. Secretary Abad should resign to save the face of the President,” she said.
On July 10, Abad handed his resignation letter to the President. The following day, Aquino used a Cabinet meeting to declare that he was standing by his budget secretary and rejecting his offer of resignation.
While he did not believe that Abad had created and managed the DAP with “ill intent and malice,” Bello said the budget secretary had committed a severe error of judgment in his liberal deployment and redeployment of funds appropriated for specific purposes.
“Secretary Abad should have had a sense that his fast and loose manipulation of funds with no sense of limits might have involved a violation of the principle of the separation of powers. At the very least, his acts smacked of recklessness,” Bello said.
The congressman criticized Abad for keeping DAP’s existence from Congress for three years and for “having no qualms” in giving out P12.8 billion in DAP funds to 20 senators and some representatives.
While he did not believe that the funds constituted a bribe to Congress in connection with the impeachment and trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, Bello said Abad was aware of the “tremendous power” over senators that Malacañang was acquiring with the release of the DAP funds.
The DAP issue came to light after Sen. Jinggoy Estrada disclosed last year in a privilege speech that senator-judges had been assured of additional funds as incentive to convict Corona at the impeachment trial. Corona was found to have not declared certain assets in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.
The DAP funds given to lawmakers were on top of their pork barrel allocations that were still in place at the time.
“This is precisely the kind of presidential patronage subversive of the separation of powers the Constitution wanted to avert,” Bello said.
Bello also asked the President to kick out the head of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for being “irresolute and timid” in enforcing Carper against “landlord resistance” as 550,000 hectares of land were left undistributed after the June 30, 2014, deadline.
“De los Reyes has claimed that the failure to meet the deadline stems from ‘technical problems’ like the ‘lack of a central data base,’ inaccurate land surveys or unclear land titles. This is nonsense that was unfortunately inserted into your speech by your speech writer. The reality is that the problem is landlord resistance and the DAR’s lack of political will or courage to face it,” Bello said.
“Given a powerful law like Carper, a bolder and more innovative agency head could have made a big difference.”
Bold leader for DAR
Bello said the President needed a bold, political leader to lead the DAR during the “precarious period” of land reform struggle.
He noted that 450,000 hectares of private land were still with the landlords in Western Visayas and Mindanao. Landlords have also mounted a judicial counteroffensive to set up road blocks to Carper and some of them have resorted to violence to sustain control of their land, according to Bello.
He said that replacing Abad and De los Reyes would be an opportunity to “reinvigorate” a “flagging program.”
“Mutual loyalty between a leader and his subordinates is important, but a Cabinet is not a UP (University of the Philippines) fraternity,” he said.
Bello detailed Akbayan’s role in the Aquino administration coalition in the last four years—from supporting the prosecution of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for plunder to defending the conditional cash transfer program to pushing the reproductive health bill.
He said he wrote the letter as an “ordinary citizen” as some Akbayan leaders and members did not agree with his stand.
Aside from supporting former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros’ failed senatorial runs in 2010 and 2013, the Aquino administration has appointed Akbayan leaders, such as Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas, Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Ann Rosales and National Anti-Poverty Commission Chair Joel Rocamora.–With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Inquirer Research
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