Aquino: Is there a bribe after the fact?
“Is there a bribe after the fact?”
President Aquino raised this question on Wednesday to point out that the additional pork barrel allocations granted to 20 senator-judges last year could not be interpreted as bribes since these were released several months after former Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted by the Senate impeachment court.
The President also explained the creation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) a year before the Corona impeachment even as he laughed off accusations that he had become a “pork barrel king.”
Asked if he indeed used the DAP as bribes, he said: “Why not check when they were released? Mr. Corona was impeached in May (2012). The releases, if I recall correctly, were in October (that year). So is there a bribe after the fact?”
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Palace spokespersons have offered mixed explanations on the sudden emergence of the DAP from unspent funds of the government the previous years.
The President was unperturbed when asked about claims by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and former Sen. Joker Arroyo that the P50 million worth of pork barrel funds given to senators after the Corona ouster could be a form of bribery—an impeachable offense.
Santiago in a letter to Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Grace Pulido-Tan sought a special audit of the DAP and its use in the “alleged bribery of Congress members.” On Tuesday, Tan said the COA had begun looking into the DAP releases and how they were used.
In an ambush interview after keynoting the prayer breakfast hosted by the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professional in Pasay City, Aquino provided the legal basis for realignment of funds under the DAP since October 2011.
“They should pursue it if they think they’re right,” the President said of the possibility of his impeachment raised by Arroyo and Santiago. “But I’ve just read the Constitution. There’s an authority on the savings to (be) put to other uses as long as these are in our budget.”
He said funding for the DAP came from programmed funds or those monies “supposed to be for projects that are already authorized by Congress. And since they are both senators, one would assume that they were either supportive of the budget, or they were not successful in thwarting the (passage of the) budget.”
Aquino said the “pork barrel king” label would not fit him because unlike his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he had instituted sweeping fiscal and budgetary reforms such as shunning reenacted budgets which were blamed for fund leakages in the past.
He stressed that he had voluntarily renounced some of the vast discretionary powers of his office over the disbursement of the national budget and other fund sources in an attempt to fend off criticism that corruption persisted under his administration as shown by the questionable DAP facility and other lump sum allocations in the national budget.
Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)
“Nobody forced me, nobody taught me about it. Nobody insisted on it, but I still did it. So I made a lot of (reforms) but they still call me, ‘pork barrel king.’ In truth, the executive is really the one spending the national budget, okay? We are very careful in how we spend this because we have to be able to defend its use anytime against critics.”
The President explained he had done away with using reenacted budgets.
“We don’t want a reenacted budget, either in full or in portion. We insisted on enacting the budget at the right time, so that the (administration) won’t have the chance to have (unspent) funds that could be open for distribution,” he said.
He lamented the fact that people had short memories, pointing out that those who had criticized his administration for underspending were the ones complaining about the DAP.
According to the President, some line agencies were efficient but other departments, “for whatever reasons,” had suffered delays in the implementation of their programs and projects.
“So the business community, the economic sector, some of our critics (complained) that we were too slow in spending the budget, and this eliminated its pump-priming effects. So the Disbursement Acceleration Program was meant, (to address underspending),” he said.
With readily available funds pooled by the DAP, line agencies could now complete their programs and projects within “a shorter period of time if there is funding support, so we’re (continuously) looking for funds.”
He explained that the DAP was “authorized” by law, in effect, because the funding sources for specific departments had been “authorized by the budget (that was) approved by Congress” the previous years.
“So what we did is to accelerate the (spending) for these (slow-moving) projects,” he said, adding that delivery of services to the public had been expedited because of early completion of programs and projects that—without DAP—would normally take years to complete.
Palace can’t juggle funds
In an interview with ANC Wednesday, constitutional law expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas and former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said that Malacañang was not authorized under the law to transfer items in the General Appropriations Act from one department to another.
Congress may authorize the President to transfer savings from their departments to augment savings in the same department, said Bernas, also Dean Emeritus of the Ateneo School of Law. “So savings in the President’s budget can be transferred to items in his budget, not to other departments.”
Diokno insisted that Malacañang may not augment funding for new projects but can only add funds to existing programs.
“The Constitution is very clear that no law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriation. They allow augmentation of existing budget items in the budget. The President, Senate President and Speaker can augment any item in the budget. It has to be there already, out of savings from other appropriations,” he said.
Diokno cited several new items funded by the DAP, which he said was not in the 2011 budget.
Instead of coming up with a new program to stimulate the economy, Malacañang should have just asked for a supplemental budget from Congress. If Malacañang was not keen on seeking a supplemental budget, then projects that needed funding but had no current allocations should have been deferred to the next fiscal year, Diokno said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.