Aquino may be going out on a limb over pork issue, say critics
Is President Aquino trying to defend the indefensible?
Apparently unhappy with how the pork barrel controversy had been playing out, President Aquino on Wednesday night went on an unprecedented national television address to explain and justify—yet again—the pooling of government savings and use these for projects of his own choosing, through a stimulus mechanism called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco said the President was trying to “defend the indefensible.”
“The question is simple: Is there DAP in the 2014 budget? If there’s no DAP in the national budget, then it means it’s illegal, no matter how you try to justify it, even if you claim that the money was spent for the public good,” said Tiangco, secretary general of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance.
“The President can’t just pool these so-called savings and spend them where he wants to without the knowledge of Congress. That’s the issue. And it cannot be justified,” he said.
The public address—the first time the President asked TV networks “for air time to directly address the Filipino people”—took place amid an anticipated reorganization within his communication group.
Since last week, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma began taking on a more conspicuous role as spokesman for the President.
Identified with the Samar faction of Binay, Coloma emerged from his usual administrative work and relegated to the sidelines presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, who is allied with the Balay group of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
Despite having at least four Cabinet officials speaking for him, Aquino felt he still had some explaining to do, according to an administration insider, who said he wanted to go through the communication “barrier.”
“He wanted to reframe the discussion,” the Inquirer was told.
Aquino’s initial attempt came last week when he told media to keep their “eyes on the ball” and realize that attacks against his administration came after “a few well-known politicians” were charged with plunder in connection with the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam engineered by Janet Lim-Napoles.
Napoles, charged with illegal detention of a whistle-blower, surrendered to the President on Aug. 28 after two weeks in hiding. Aquino personally accompanied her to Camp Crame for detention after she said she feared for her life.
“The public was outraged by the audacity with which public officials allegedly stole from the national coffers through the PDAF. This is an outrage we share, and this is precisely why we abolished the PDAF, and followed the evidence so that we may hold all those who committed wrongdoing accountable,” Aquino told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap).
“Our media and our people are far too good—far too wise—to be grossly and brazenly led to the wrong issue,” he added.
Still, the President was not satisfied with the way his message was “framed” in subsequent media reports.
Asked why Aquino had to do a public address even with a number of spokespersons, Coloma curtly replied in a text message: “President wants to speak directly to the people.”
Aquino was advised to consider a public address in light of the public outrage. The anger was initially directed only at the scam allegedly cooked up by Napoles.
Critics later turned to the President’s own pork barrel, estimated at P450 billion in next year’s national budget. It did not help that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) admitted using the DAP mechanism to give away additional pork barrel to each of the 20 senators who voted to convict then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.
In an interview, an ally of the President said the communication problem over the pork barrel issue also had to do with “mixed signals” coming from him no less.
The source cited the Focap affair when Aquino insisted it was “difficult to fathom how one could equate” the DAP with congressional pork barrel, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). But the President himself admitted that there were DAP projects “undertaken through consultation with our legislators.”
Aquino’s position further unraveled during the question-and-answer portion when he quoted an “older politician” as saying: “Who will remember you come election time?”
“Those that you have managed to help find work, those that you have educated, those that you have helped gain medical attention,” he said. “You’re a politician. You’d want to be reelected. Your work, therefore, has to devolve to constituency work.”
Said ACT Teachers’ Rep. Antonio Tinio: “What P-Noy should realize is that his ratings are down because of his stubborn defense of the PDAF, the DAP and the underlying system of patronage politics.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said: “President Aquino has lost touch with reality. His speech misses the point. The people are angry with the corruption and patronage politics that goes with pork and the DAP. Worse, realigning appropriations arbitrarily is technical malversation at least, and many public officials have gone to prison for spending funds for items other than those appropriated by law. Secondly, it’s the people, not just his political opponents who demand the abolition of pork. It’s an insult to the Million People March, abolish pork movement, bishops and religious leaders, CJ [Reynato] Puno, and other NGOs to say that they are thieving politicians or are being used by politicians. The speech meant to deodorize pork when no amount of PR and sweet talk will change its nature as inherently anomalous.”—With a report from Leila B. Salaverria
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