Palace appears ready to let go of controversial DAP
Malacañang appears to be willing to let go of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the discretionary fund that it unilaterally created in 2011 to supposedly ramp up spending amid a slow-growing economy.
With the “surging economy,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Friday said there might not be a need for DAP-funded projects for legislators and others this year.
“I don’t think that there will be room to entertain requests from legislators this time,” Abad said in a television interview, explaining that the Aquino administration had already accelerated spending.
“So there might not be a need for that this year,” he said.
A Palace spokesperson echoed this leaning toward DAP abolition.
Improved absorptive capacity
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte explained at a Palace briefing that since 2011, when the program was created to pump-prime the economy, there was an “improvement (in) the absorptive capacity of the agencies and their projects.”
By absorptive capacity, Valte was referring to the speed with which the line agencies were able to spend their allotted budgets for certain projects.
“I understand that the amount that will fall under the mechanism has considerably been less from the amount that we started with. We started with something around P82 billion,” she said.
The funds from the DAP has gone down to around P54 to P52 billion, she said.
She said the necessity for the DAP “has lessened considerably than what it was in 2011, primarily because spending has picked up. If you look at the year-on-year figures that are released, the public spending has picked up, as well as the economy. Remember that when this was launched, our GDP (gross domestic product) was in the 3-percent level in 2011. When we entered 2012, there was also a big improvement when it came to the GDP.”
Asked if the Palace was heeding the widespread clamor to abolish all forms of pork barrel, she said:
“Again, we’ve sufficiently answered and explained the necessity for what they insist—continue to insist—on calling ‘presidential pork.’ We have also been consistent that the use of some of most of the SPFs or the Special Purpose Funds under the control of the government have been aboveboard, have been transparent and necessary for the execution of the mandate of the executive,” she said.
Not pork barrel
Valte also responded to the statement of Peachy Bretaña, one of the Ayala rally organizers, that DAP was just another form of pork barrel.
“We do want to point out that we have no problem when citizens take to various fora … in order to be able to express their grievances and, to this point, we understand why there’s an outrage. We all share in the passion and the anger because of revelations that the pork barrel has been misused,” she said.
She insisted that DAP was not pork barrel.
“And we will be ready to defend that particular position now that it’s been challenged before the court,” Valte said.
Ready to defend DAP
At the same press briefing, Valte said President Aquino stood ready to “defend” his approval of fund releases for legislators’ projects under the DAP in any forum amid talk that he could be impeached.
The President was confident that the executive department could defend the constitutionality of the DAP, whether in Congress or before the Supreme Court, she said.
“If they believe in that (impeachment) strongly enough or that they believe in the correctness of the position (filing an impeachment complaint) then we will meet any challenges head on,” Valte said.
The release of the DAP funds to projects endorsed by senators and representatives after the conviction by the Senate impeachment court of Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012 could make the President impeachable for bribery and culpable violation of the Constitution, according to Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Constitutional law expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas, former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, and Santiago said Malacañang was not authorized under the law to transfer items in the General Appropriations Act from one department to another.
Following Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s revelation regarding the release of P50-million “incentive” to senators, Abad confirmed that 20 senators who voted to convict received a total of P1.107 billion in additional pork several months after the trial.
In May 2012, the senators voted 20 to three to convict Corona for dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. Senators Santiago, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joker Arroyo voted to acquit.
Valte said Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza was ready to defend the President’s creation of the DAP and the fund releases from it before the high tribunal.
“We are confident that we can ably defend the position on the creation as well as the use of the DAP,” she said.
Valte clarified that DAP funds were released to implementing agencies, not lawmakers, and only if the projects endorsed by the lawmakers had been vetted.
She said that Abad would later release a list of projects funded by DAP and their corresponding costs.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Friday said the Aquino administration is “grieving” over the appalling wastage in taxpayer money amid the poverty in the country but also finds it incredulous that the government is now being pilloried in the public domain for doing the right thing.
“It’s rather the height of absurdity to file a case against those people who are now doing the reforms,” said Lacierda.
Why are those who stopped the “chaotic” spending of people’s money, as was the norm in the past, are now being pilloried and even haled into court by its critics, he asked.
He was responding to the filing of plunder complaints against Mr. Aquino, Abad and several current and former budget and agriculture officials over funds linked to the DAP, as well as the growing clamor to abolish all forms of pork barrel and other lump sum funds, including the SPF of the President.
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