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DAP-funded projects legal, Drilon insists

/ 03:14 AM October 14, 2013

Sen. Franklin Drilon: Aboveboard. FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—In spite of assertions by legal experts that the facility is unconstitutional, Sen. Franklin Drilon insists that projects funded by the controversial P72.1-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) should be considered initiatives of the Aquino administration although identified by lawmakers and therefore aboveboard.

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Drilon made the remark on Sunday following an Inquirer report that six senators received P100 million from the DAP, an impounding mechanism for government savings, on top of their P200-million annual allocation from the graft-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or congressional pork barrel.

The President is allowed under the Constitution to realign items in the budget of the executive branch, Drilon said in a text message. “The projects nominated by the senators are projects still in the executive branch,” he said.

“For example, where a budget for a road is not being used, and is realigned, upon a senator’s request, to a hospital, the two projects are within the executive branch,” said Drilon, who as chair of the Senate finance committee was then gatekeeper of lump-sum appropriations from the pork barrel system.

Unlike the PDAF, he said, “there is no item, or separate fund, called the DAP, in the budget from which project funding can be sourced.”

“As the name describes it, the DAP is a program to accelerate or catch up spending public program. It is based on the President’s constitutional power to realign items in the budget,” Drilon said.

“That power to realign items in their respective budgets is also granted to the Chief Justice, Senate President, Speaker and heads of all constitutional bodies,” he added.

Veteran Senators Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, along with constitutional experts and law deans, have said that the President cannot juggle funds from one department to another without authority from Congress. They cite the same law that Drilon cited in defending Malacanang’s DAP releases.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a constitutional law expert, said in his Oct. 7 column in the Inquirer that the President and heads of constitutional bodies could transfer savings only to “augment” items in their appropriations.

“These items which are to be augmented must already be found in the appropriation for their departments in the same budget year. What this means is that the power to transfer is not authority to create new items not found in the appropriations act,” he said.

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The constitutionality of the DAP has been raised in the Supreme Court, which has scheduled oral arguments on the issue for Oct. 22.

Given lingering questions about the legality and propriety of fund releases to lawmakers after the Senate convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2011, Malacañang said it would be prudent to wait for the results of the investigation by the Commission on Audit, requested by Santiago, on the DAP releases.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte agreed with Drilon’s contention that the projects funded through the DAP in 2011 were the executive department’s.

“At least at face value, you could see that they identified projects that fell under the implementing agencies,” Valte said in an interview over state-run dzRB. She said the funds did not end up in nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

In their letters to Drilon, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Ralph Recto, Antonio Trillanes IV, Teofisto Guingona III, Sergio Osmeña III and former  Sen. Francis Pangilinan each requested P100 million for “priority projects.”

On Drilon’s instruction, the six senators submitted their priority lists in late November 2011, six months before senators voted 20 to three to convict Corona for dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

A month earlier, the Department of Budget and Management announced the implementation of P72.11 billion in additional projects funded through savings from 2010 to 2011.

After being charged with plunder in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada divulged in late September the release of P50 million to senators’ projects following Corona’s conviction.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad confirmed that 20 senators received additional pork barrel amounting to P1.107 billion months after Corona’s conviction. He said this came from the DAP introduced in 2011. The DAP had been unknown to the public then and came about as a result of Estrada’s revelations.

Valte explained that in November 2011, the DBM opened itself to proposals from government agencies and legislators to identify projects for funding while the government was “trying to catch up with spending.”

“If we look back, the GDP (gross domestic product), I think, at the time, was at 3.6 [percent] and we sorely needed to catch up or to accelerate on spending. And that, in fact, was accomplished because, if you look at the Neda (National Economic and Development Authority) review that was conducted in the first quarter to the fourth quarter of 2011, the numbers for public spending really picked up,” she said.

Trillanes and Pangilinan confirmed requesting more allocations on top of their annual pork allocations in 2011.

“Our office was informed that we could submit a list of projects for our constituents and we complied. The projects benefited our countrymen and these are posted on our website for transparency,” Trillanes said.

Originally posted: 4:40 pm | Sunday, October 13th, 2013

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Benigno Aquino III, executive department, Franklin Drilon, General Appropriations Act, government funds, National Budget, News, Office of the President, Philippine Congress, Philippine Government, Philippine president, realignment of funds, Senate, State Budget and Taxes
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