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Palace told to account for P8B DAP

Solons insist: no to standby fund The Aquino administration has a lot of explaining to do first before it can tap savings to funnel these into areas damaged by the recent earthquake in Visayas and the flooding in Mindanao, administration critics said on Saturday. Malacanang and the Department of Budget and Management should account for billions of pesos in calamity funds allocated under the 2013 national budget, said Rep. Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna party list. The savings exceeded P8 billion including some P1 billion in savings last year, according to Zarate’s estimate. This developed as administration allies on Saturday backed the Palace’s plan to use state savings to augment the calamity and contingency funds which the government claimed is about to be depleted. Zarate, a member of the House minority bloc, said President Benigno Aquino III and his allies should refrain from using calamities as an excuse to justify the retention of the ‘‘unconstitutional’ Disbursement Acceleration Program. “The DBM and Malacanang should account first where and how this year’s calamity fund of P7.5 billion was already used up,” Zarate, a lawyer, told the MST Sunday. “What about last year’s unused fund balance of 1.038 billion?” Zarate asked.      “While we understand the need to provide immediate funds for assistance relief and rehab of the affected areas in Central Visayas, this should not be used as an excuse to continue this unconstitutional DAP,” Zarate added. Zarate said that only an autocratic leader would inexorably resort to using ‘standby’ fund despite legal questions on it. (DAP is pooled savings from unused budgetary items or lower-than-expected expenses of state agencies. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad earlier said that DAP  was introduced in 2011 to “ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion.”) Another Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, citing data posted on the DBM website, said Malacanang has only spent P1.404 billion of their P7.5 billion calamity fund. “This does not include the P3.4  billion in Quick Response Fund in various agencies, and the P14 billion school building fund of DPWH to rebuild schools,” Colmenares said as he also demanded an audit of the calamity fund. He said “the government should not use the sad plight of the people of Bohol and Cebu in its obsession to the DAP and presidential pork,” Colmenares said. House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. Belmonte said that the government can use the savings to augment the calamity and contingency funds in order to deliver the relief services as soon as possible. “If the calamity and social funds are depleted, certainly savings should be deployed immediately,” Belmonte told the MST Sunday. Magdalo party-list Rep. Ashley Acedillo also thumbed down the Palace’s pronouncement to tap the savings to aid the quake victims in Bohol and Cebu and other provinces and cities in Visayas and Mindanao. Instead of using the savings, Acedillo said the Palace can ask Congress to pass a special appropriations bill for the purpose so that everything will be in order and that every centavo will be properly accounted for. “All of these without resorting to potentially contentious measures, like the one now facing the administration with regard to DAP,” he added. Acedillo also said in light of several petitions against the legality of DAP, the government should refrain from using realigned savings as a source of funds in the recent calamities that hit the country. But Belmonte expressed belief that the government would be able to use the savings judiciously for calamities as the Commission on Audit (COA) can do a special audit after or simultaneously while the funds are being utilized. “We should act fact and savings have always been the standby sources to augment other resources,” Belmonte said. The Speaker also said there is no need for a supplemental budget when it comes to providing assistance to the victims of Cebu and Bohol earthquake. Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., AKO-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, Paranaque Rep. Gustavo Tambunting and Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, for their part, said that the government needs not to wait for the COA to conduct an audit on how the calamity funds under the Office of the President was used before it could actually make use of funds available such as DAP. “By their very nature, they are emergencies and therefore the government has to act immediately,” Barzaga said. Batocabe said the country is “in emergency situation and it requires quick and immediate solutions.” Batocabe said  that unlikely consequences may happen if the government will not do anything quick to address the problem. “If we keep on waiting for COA to audit first calamity funds or we are paralyzed by the on-going debate on the legality of DAP, victims who are still alive might die soon. And worse, we can foment rebellion in these quake stricken areas,” he said. He  appealed to the critics of President Aquino and his administration “to give full trust and confidence in the president to ensure that help will be delivered where this is needed the most.” Bello said there are so many ways to ensure that the DAP funds will be properly accounted for when used for calamities. “I think the government should so ahead and tap DAP since the disasters really brought a lot of damage,” Bello said. Tambunting said that issue as to whether DAP is legal or not rests with the Supreme Court.  “The important thing now is to help victims of the calamity as soon as possible and to make sure the money is being spent for relief and rehabilitation,” Tambunting said.
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