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Abad, 20 senators told to quit: Good faith is no excuse

/ 05:44 AM July 03, 2014

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines–Good faith is no excuse, and neither is spending Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds for projects that benefited the public, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Wednesday.

Santiago said all officials involved in the DAP, including Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and the 20 senators who received funds from the executive, should face criminal and civil charges so that the government could get back the P1.1 billion released from the program.

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Abad should also resign, in order to spare the President from further embarrassment over the DAP, Santiago said.

The senators, on the other hand, must return the money they had received, said Santiago, who described the funds as “stolen.”

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The DAP was a stimulus program that Malacañang put together from unobligated funds of various government agencies the legality of which had been challenged in the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared the DAP unconstitutional, saying it violated the doctrine of separation of powers and the constitutional provision on the exemptions to the prohibition against the reappropriation of government funds.

The court also struck down the executive’s declaration of unused funds as savings before the end of the fiscal year, and the “cross-border transfers” of Palace savings to other offices outside the executive.

Criminal charges

To get back the P1.1 billion given to senators, Santiago said the Office of the Ombudsman, with the Department of Justice (DOJ), should file  criminal charges against everyone responsible for the DAP.

The criminal charges could be technical malversation, she told a news conference.

She later said the release of DAP funds could be considered bribery involving votes to convict impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012, and the senators could also be taken to task for knowingly rendering unjust judgment.

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At the same time, government prosecutors should pursue a civil case in addition to the criminal cases, so that the money could be returned, Santiago said.

The DOJ and the Commission on Audit (COA) should also work together so that prosecutors could have access to the facts, documents, and other files pertaining to the DAP, she said.

“It will take long, but it must be [done], because otherwise, the attitude is that certain people can commit crimes, but if they are highly placed they don’t have to be punished for it,” she said.

Somebody must fall

In calling for Abad to step down, Santiago said somebody must be held responsible for the DAP and it should be the budget secretary.

“If the Supreme Court said what was done was wrong, and nobody’s responsible, what kind of irresponsible government is being fostered by that? You at least have to point a finger at somebody. Definitely the DBM, and if only to spare the President from further embarrassment, that secretary has to resign,” she said.

She said it was her “gentle recommendation” that Abad step down from office over the DAP, because “it will show the public that you are contrite.”

Santiago said she believed the President committed an impeachable offense by violating the Constitution, and the principles of accountability and responsibility.

But whether an impeachment case will succeed is another question, she said adding that  she doubted that there are enough numbers in Congress to support such a move.

“I think it is bound to fail, but I will not blame those who will attempt to test the waters or to float a trial balloon,” she said.

According to Santiago, good intentions do not reduce the liability of officials involved in the creation of the DAP.

“You find a sentence in some opinions released that anyway, the budget secretary was in good faith. There is no such thing in the penal code or in criminal law. You don’t consider the good faith of the person except in certain instances,” she said.

Return the money

She also said the senators could not say that they had nothing to return because the funds were already spent for projects.

“That is the argument of stupidity… . What kind of argument is that? If you’re a lawmaker, ignorance does not excuse you, ignorance excuses no one,” she said.

She said the lawmakers should have checked where the funds came from and what the guidelines for using them were.

“Do you mean to say that as soon as you have stolen money from the government, you can spend it immediately? That is the consequence of that reasoning. It will reward the industrious robber or thief,” she said.

And even if the funds have already been spent, these should be returned, she insisted.

“In the theory of restitution in criminal law, there’s no factor involved such as if money went to a good or bad purpose or private or public purpose. That is not material,” she said.

She answered in the affirmative when asked if the use of the funds for projects made it less a crime.

She said Malacañang should also have released documents to explain to legislators the nature and the purpose of the funds released.

And the DAP decision could have implications on the ouster of Corona, she said.

“What happens to the decision to impeach since it’s now tainted by suspicions of bribery? The implication is they were given this amount because they voted to impeach,” she said.

Ombudsman probe

For its part, the Ombudsman will investigate budget realignments made by the Aquino administration under the DAP.

In a statement, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said  she would create a panel of field investigators “to look into the DAP transactions to see if any crime or offense has been committed by involved public officials.”

“In light of the Supreme Court’s decision on the DAP case, we are initiating an investigation into the matter,” Morales said, invoking the Ombudsman’s power to initiate an investigation on its own even without any formal complaint.

Morales also cited the Ombudsman’s power to investigate any serious misconduct in office allegedly committed by impeachable officers, for the purpose of filing a verified complaint for impeachment.–With a report from Dona Z. Pazzibugan

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Originally posted: 6:22 pm | Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

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TAGS: Department of Budget and Management, Disbursement Acceleration Program, Florencio Abad, General Appropriations Act, Government Budget, government funds, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, National Budget, News, Philippine Government, Senate
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