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Escudero calls for ethics probe on senators over pork barrel, DAP fund use

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 07:39 PM February 23, 2014

Sen. Francis Escudero. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Francis Escudero said on Sunday there shouldn’t be too much quibbling over whether senators’ allocations from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) were linked to the May 2012 conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

But he agreed that the time has come for the Senate ethics committee to convene and hear complaints against senators over any matter, including the pork barrel scam.

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Escudero said even Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who unwittingly exposed the DAP allocations for senators in a September 2013 privilege speech, admitted that he voted for Corona’s conviction despite the allocation.

“If the accuser himself said he voted on evidence, what makes him different from us who also received such allocations?” he said in a radio interview. “If the accuser wasn’t affected, why would the rest be affected?”

Escudero said the DAP — an impounding mechanism purportedly for government savings whose constitutionality has been questioned in the Supreme Court — was a program that wasn’t properly explained. He claimed this was aboveboard and should not be linked to the Corona trial.

“Corona admitted that he did not declare something in his SALN. The only question was, was this impeachable or not?” he said.

In that speech, Estrada said that senators, including himself, were allotted an additional pork barrel of at least P50 million months after the Senate convicted Corona.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad confirmed that 20 senators received additional pork barrel amounting to P1.107 billion after Corona’s trial and that the fund was taken from DAP, introduced in 2011 to “ramp up spending.”

Estrada said it wasn’t bribe but called it an “incentive” for voting to oust Corona for dishonesty in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.

Budget officials recently confirmed that some P370 million from the DAP was released to Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr., Vicente Sotto III and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. midway through the Corona trial in March 2012.

They explained that the amount was initially released to the Department of Agrarian Reform in December 2011, when the House impeached Corona.

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But the four senators later requested that the funds be realigned to National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC), which released the funds to the chosen foundations of the four in March 2012. NLDC was the main conduit for the funneling of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to dubious nongovernment organizations.

Escudero, chair of the finance committee, said he would still call a hearing on the DAP, possibly in March, regardless of how the Supreme Court would rule on its constitutionality.

“We will call a hearing on all resolutions, including the DAP,” he said.

Escudero said he also agreed with a proposal to convene the ethics committee. Estrada earlier challenged his colleagues to convene the committee to investigate any complaint against him over the pork barrel scam.

“Whether there is a complaint or not, there should be an ethics committee. That’s part of the organization of Senate,” he said. “It’s about time it’s formed to show we’re fearless and not protecting anyone.”

Senate President Franklin Drilon has said that the chamber’s priority before adjourning for Holy Week in mid-March is the approval of key measures.

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TAGS: chief justice, DAP, Disbursement Acceleration Program, discretionary funds, ethics cases, Francis Escudero, Government Budget, government funds, Impeachment, impeachment trial, News, Philippine Congress, Politics, Pork barrel, Renato Corona, Senate, senators, Supreme Court
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