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More cases filed asking SC to rule DAP illegal

The list of cases filed in the Supreme Court against the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Aquino administration is growing, with party-list lawmakers and leaders of cause-oriented groups asking the high court on Thursday to declare the program unconstitutional.

The petitioners said the case against the DAP, a mechanism through which the President can authorize the budget department to realign public funds, was part of continuing efforts in the “people’s call to abolish the pork barrel system.”

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The suit was filed by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chair Ma. Carolina Araullo and its secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., University of the Philippines professor and Pagbabago cochair Judy Taguiwalo, Henri Kahn of the Concerned Citizens Movement, Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, Kabataan

Rep. Terry Ridon, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Anakbayan chair Vencer Crisostomo, Youth Act Now convenor Victor Villanueva and Ang Kapatiran Party chair Manuel Dayrit.

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Named respondents in the suit were President Aquino, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

Responding to the new petition against the DAP, Malacañang called attention to victims of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the provinces of Cebu and Bohol, saying they would benefit from government savings released through the controversial mechanism.

“If you’re going to ask the Supreme Court to suspend the realignment of savings, that’s what I’m telling you. The consequence of that will be: We will not be able to fund some of this assistance that we are going to provide,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a briefing.

Lacierda said the victims of Typhoon “Pablo” in Zamboanga City last year also benefited from the DAP.

Prohibited

But the petitioners claimed that the DAP violated provisions of the Constitution that prohibited not only the release of public funds without an appropriation measure passed by Congress but also the transfer of appropriations.

“In the case of the DAP, no appropriation law was enacted stating the amount that may be spent for it, as well as the purpose for which the DAP may be spent. No appropriation law was enacted by Congress creating the DAP,” they said.

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“The cited provisions by respondents do not amount to an appropriation law but merely a futile and belated attempt to justify an illegal appropriation and disbursement of public funds, and the usurpation of the legislative’s power to appropriate public funds,” they said.

The DAP came to light after Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, one of the three senators charged with plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman, disclosed that senators who voted for the conviction of then Chief Justice Renato Corona each received P50 million as incentive.

Abad later admitted that a total of P1.107 billion given to senators after Corona’s conviction in 2012 came from the DAP, or the pooled savings of government agencies.

Abad said the DAP was aimed at pump-priming the economy after anemic government spending at the start of the Aquino administration led to weak economic growth.

It turned out that the senators who booted out Corona for not disclosing his dollar accounts in his statement of assets and liabilities received DAP allocations ranging from P35 million to P100 million each.

Balance compromised

The petitioners also contended that lump-sum amounts in the budget and the acts of lawmakers to dictate how public funds contained in the annual budget would be spent compromised the check-and-balance system.

“[We] believe that this honorable court has the power, and more importantly the duty, to resolve these issues, if only to eliminate a scourge in the disposition of public funds that have so long been a source of graft and corruption, and patronage politics,” they said.

TRO’s effect on victims

Insisting that the DAP was “nothing more than realigned savings,” Lacierda warned that issuing a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the program, or scrapping it altogether, would have ramifications for calamity victims.

“[If] you’re going to TRO the DAP, you’re going to TRO the savings, which are going to be used to help the people in need right now—in Typhoon ‘Pablo’ in [Mindanao], in Bohol. You know, it’s up to the Supreme Court,” he said.

Same argument

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza used a similar argument when he defended the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) before the Supreme Court earlier this month.

He asked the court to lift the TRO on the pork barrel, saying the fund could compromise educational and medical assistance provided by congressmen.

Congressmen who reluctantly agreed to let go of their PDAF also used the same argument.

In the case of Malacañang, Lacierda insisted that citing calamity victims as beneficiaries of DAP savings was not meant to make the justices “feel bad.”

Insensitive

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, whose group was among the petitioners, assailed Malacañang for bringing up the issue of calamity victims.

“It is insensitive for the President and his propork allies to use the sad plight of the quake victims in the Visayas in their drive to maintain the pork barrel system,” he said in a statement.

“It is as if the Filipino people’s call for the abolition of pork barrel is at fault if the President fails to deliver help to the victims, considering that all the available resources under him in the 2013 budget, including his P7.5-billion calamity fund, are more than enough to meet the needs of the victims, if only he will allocate these resources efficiently and equitably,” he said.

Cases consolidated

At a press conference on Thursday, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said the high tribunal had consolidated the latest case with the others filed earlier this month by the Philippine Constitutional Association, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco and lawyer Marianito Luna.

A sixth case, filed by lawyer Jose Malvar Villegas Jr. of Citizens Crime Watch, has not been considered formally filed in the high tribunal because the petitioner had yet to pay the required docket fees, Te said.

Te also disclosed that the court en banc moved the oral arguments earlier scheduled for Oct. 22 to Nov. 19 to give time to the parties to get their copies of the latest complaints and file their comments.

The court en banc also allowed the live streaming of the oral arguments, Te added.

Justice inhibits

He said a reraffling would take place after a justice earlier designated “member in charge” for the DAP case had inhibited himself due to his relationship with the lawyer of one of the parties in the case.

Te did not name the justice or the lawyer.

The member in charge is the justice responsible for crafting the majority opinion and issuing interlocutory orders related to the case.

SEE ALSO:

Calls on SC to scrap DAP mount as sixth petition is filed

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TAGS: Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Pork barrel, Supreme Court
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