Allies back President on DAP stand
Allies of President Aquino defended his controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a part of which was coursed through senators and members of the House of Representatives, saying that elected representatives knew what projects were needed on the ground.
The President on Wednesday night delivered a speech on the culpability of those who channeled their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, to fake nongovernment organizations and on the benefits and legality of the DAP.
The DAP, a mechanism that pools state savings to fund crucial projects, has come under fire from critics who say that it is essentially similar to the PDAF since it was made available to lawmakers for their projects.
Three Liberal Party members in the House said involving lawmakers was a practical move and approximated the budget process, where members of Congress provide inputs on how best to disburse public funds.
“While the executive has full discretion over that, it’s also best to ask stakeholders, who in this case are elected officials, to be able to state what they need,” Marikina Rep. Federico Romero Quimbo said in a phone interview.
Like power of purse
Quimbo also said getting the lawmakers involved in the DAP was akin to the role they played in the budget process as part of Congress’ exercise of the power of the purse.
The executive department’s budget proposal, when it reaches Congress, is altered or realigned to make it more responsive to what people need by allocating funds for more essential projects, according to Quimbo.
“It’s a way for the executive to gauge what are the most needed priorities in the respective areas,” he said.
Quimbo contended that mayors and barangay (village) captains could also have access to DAP funds, depending on the needs of their areas.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad has laid down specific mechanisms and criteria to determine where the funds could go, and these lessen the opportunity for government savings to be used for patronage, Quimbo said.
Without these mechanisms, the country would go back to the previous system in which government savings were used indiscriminately, he added.
But Quimbo said the next step must be to put in place a specific reportorial system to ensure that the funds are properly used.
“In my mind, that’s the next step that will make the circle full so that a reasonable explanation can be made about how rational, legal and needed it is,” he said.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone also defended Congress’ involvement in the use of the DAP.
Evardone saw nothing wrong with consulting the elected representatives on what priority projects in the remotest barangays of the country should be funded.
“What is wrong and objectionable is if you pocket these public funds,” he said.
Evardone said critics, who claimed there was graft and corruption when lawmakers recommended projects to the Department of Budget that could be funded from savings, were misleading the people.
“(T)he critics should zero in on punishing those who were accused of pocketing public funds,” he said.
Some leeway for Aquino
Evardone reiterated that the President should be given some leeway when it came to disbursing public funds.
“The President is our omnipresent steward, the prime pusher of growth, the chief responder to crises. He should be vested with budgetary flexibility. We should not cripple the presidency,” he said.
Albay Rep. Fernando Gonzalez, for his part, said the President’s critics were misinformed and were using inaccurate data about the DAP.
“Their allegation has no basis,” Gonzalez said.
He said the DAP issue was being muddled by certain politicians who wanted to sow confusion and to make it appear that the President had been misusing the DAP.
The lawmaker said the critics were engaging in “black propaganda” because they were affected by the abolition of the congressional pork barrel, or the PDAF.
They should stop harping about the unconstitutionality of the DAP, it being used by Malacañang without the concurrence of Congress, since the issue was in the Supreme Court, Gonzalez said. “Let the high tribunal decide whether the DAP is legal or not.”
Focus on prosecution
In the upper chamber, Senate President Franklin Drilon has called on the public to bring back its attention to the prosecution of those who allegedly pocketed the billions of pesos in pork barrel funds.
“We should all refocus our consciousness toward ensuring that our justice system will work by punishing and jailing those who pocketed people’s money,” Drilon said in a statement.
“A successful resolution of this case will bring about drastic anticorruption reforms in the government and, more importantly, it will purge the government of corrupt officials,” he added.
Drilon said the negative propaganda campaign against the administration “steered people’s focus away from the real issue, which is corruption in the use of the PDAF allegedly committed by some lawmakers.”
“Despite efforts of detractors to link me to Janet Napoles, the evidence shows that I did not allocate any of the PDAF allotted to me for projects to bogus non-government organizations, most especially those linked to Napoles,” he said.
No PDAF for senators
Purportedly to bring back the people’s trust, Drilon said the Senate was instituting reforms starting with its decision to waive the use of the remaining PDAF for 2013 and its plan to abolish it in the 2014 budget.
“The DAP is simply a slogan for the utilization of savings in accordance with the provisions of the 2013 GAA [General Appropriations Act]. It’s not illegal,” said Sen. Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate committee on finance.
Drilon and Escudero, along with then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, received the biggest fund entitlements under the DAP months after the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, convicted and removed from office then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.
Unbundling lump sums
“For the 2014 GAA, we will unbundle most of the lump-sum amounts and require disclosure and accountability on the utilization of savings and the remaining lump sums,” Escudero said in a series of tweets after Mr. Aquino’s speech.
Escudero said information on all the funds that went through his office had been posted on his website chizescudero.com.
“We will require similar disclosure and reportorial requirements for all agencies and legislators in the 2014 GAA, especially lump sums and savings,” he added.
The House, in passing the 2014 GAA, has channeled the PDAF allocation to a few government agencies, including the Department of Public Works and Highways.
House members, however, have been given the authority, subject to stringent guidelines, to identify certain projects that will be implemented by these agencies in the lawmakers’ constituencies.
The Senate has yet to decide on how to go about abolishing its P4.8-billion share of the P25-billion PDAF.
In a statement, the Makati Business Club (MBC) said it recognized efforts of the three branches of government to introduce reforms, investigate allegations and uncover the truth about the mismanagement of public funds.
“Amid the attempts to muddle the issue, we remain steadfast in our support of these processes with fervent hope that justice will, indeed, prevail,” the MBC said.
“We urge the business community and private citizens to be vigilant, to be actively informed and to take advantage of existing avenues of monitoring and reporting abuses. We ask the government to continue the aggressive pursuit of its reform agenda and ensure that all those found guilty of wrongdoing, whether inside or outside government, irrespective of political allegiance, be cast behind bars,” it said.—With reports from Amy Remo in Manila and Mar S. Arguelles, Inquirer Southern Luzon
Originally posted at 10:21 pm |Thursday, October 31, 2013
Janet Napoles and the pork barrel scam
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