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‘DAP releases illegal’

‘PNoy liable for impeachable offense, three senators for bribery’ President Benigno Aquino III may have violated the Constitution by converting the “savings” under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) into pork barrel by distributing P50 million to P100 million to senators and P10 million to P15 million to congressmen, former national treasurer Leonor Briones said Monday. Briones’ position was supported by Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, three former lawmakers and an incumbent high-ranking House leader, who all requested anonymity. Tiangco said the DAP was used to bribe lawmakers to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona since only the 188 congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint and the 20 senators who voted to convict him were given allocations. “Those who did not sign the impeachment complaint like myself, and those three senators – Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – who voted to acquit Corona got nothing,” Tiangco said. Briones said under the Constitution, the President had no business converting the savings into pork barrel for the lawmakers. “What is the President’s legal basis in creating the DAP and realigning these funds to be released to lawmakers? Under the Constitution, the President can only realign the savings generated by his office, the Office of the President, but he cannot realign the savings generated by other government agencies even if these were under the Executive,” Briones told the Manila Standard. The high-ranking House leader agreed. “Briones is correct to say that the President has violated the Constitution but I know the next thing you will ask me is if the President committed an impeachable offense and [the answer is] yes, he did. But whether the House would initiate [impeachment proceedings], that, I cannot answer that at this point,” the high-ranking House leader said. House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. admitted having receiving P10 million in DAP allocations, P5 million in August 2012 and another P5 million in February 2013. He said, however, the allocation was not in any way related to impeachment. The Makabayan bloc, which supported the impeachment and assigned Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares as one of the lead prosecutors, had one member that did not receive the DAP allocation because she was not able to sign the impeachment complaint. “I was not able to sign because I attended a high-level conference on the Mindanao peace process in Penang, Malaysia. So maybe that’s why I was not on the radar of whoever disbursed the funds,” said Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan. Briones said the DAP was created out of the savings that were generated from “budget items.” “The DAP funds were in the budget item. Congress approved them under the General Appropriations Act. So whatever savings generated from the approved budget items, the Executive or even the President, had no business realigning the money. The President realigned the funds, gave them away to lawmakers and these lawmakers received them and this became pork barrel. Anything that is endorsed by the lawmakers for projects is pork barrel,” Briones said. The three former lawmakers said the Palace was guilty of bribery. “It doesn’t matter if the money was distributed before, during or after the impeachment trial. A promise had been made and it was always incumbent upon the one who was doing the bribery to see the completion of the promise, the conviction,” one of the former lawmakers said. Briones said she was not buying the excuse of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Senate President Franklin Drilon that the DAP was created and meant to “accelerate developments” to counter the adverse impact of “underspending.” “If Abad and Drilon wanted acceleration, the moment the savings were generated, these should have been spent on projects that could accelerate development so that should have been in January 2012. So what took them so long that they distributed the funds only between August and December of 2012?” Briones said. Dasmarinas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., vice president of the National Unity Party and one of the lead prosecutors during the impeachment trial, also admitted having received a P10 million allocation but insisted he did nothing wrong. “There was nothing irregular with the use of a budgetary item used by the Department of Budget and Management to release lump sum funds to senators and congressmen last year,” Barzaga said. “It’s not illegal or immoral,” he said. Barzaga said it is just normal for legislators to ask for funding of projects needed by their districts. He said if it appeared there were something wrong with the disbursements, the Commission on Audit could always conduct a special audit. But Briones said Abad had to prove that the DAP had been subjected to a COA audit. “If this DAP scandal did not blow up in their faces, I don’t think the public would ever hear of it. The government has been converting funds into pork barrel while the taxpayers continue to toil for the lawmakers to spend around like it was their money. They have no right to convert taxpayers’ money into pork barrel,” Briones said. Briones also said the President had usurped Congress’ power of the purse by realigning the savings and distributing them to lawmakers. “The job of the Executive is only to propose but not to dispose of the funds. The President cannot realign projects that did not pass scrutiny of Congress. The DAP did not pass congressional scrutiny. The President has usurped Congress’ power of the purse,” Briones said. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said Senate President Franklin Drilon and two other senators who received P100 million allocations could be held liable for bribery. Abad earlier said pork under the so-called DAP were given after the impeachment trial to Drilon, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Francis Escudero. Enrile is already facing plunder charges before the Ombudsman, together with Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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