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‘Buck stops with PNoy’

Groups tag Aquino, Abad as ‘primary actors’ in DAP

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III was the brains behind the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and must be held accountable for violating the Constitution and bribing lawmakers to oust his political nemesis, said petitioners who successfully challenged the program before the Supreme Court.

Former national treasurer Leonor Briones, lead convenor of the Social Watch Philippines, said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admitted before the Supreme Court that the DAP was created “upon the instruction of the President.”

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), another petitioner, provided the Manila Standard with “the smoking gun” that showed the President’s direct hand in disbursing funds under the DAP.

“Our petition focuses on the accountability of the Secretary of the Budget because the circular was crafted by his office and signed by him. Do we hold the President accountable for the actions of his Cabinet? What is obvious is that the President has publicly defended the DAP,” Briones said.

“Secretary Abad declared during the Supreme Court hearings that Budget Circular 541, the official document which established the DAP, was crafted upon the instruction of the President,” Briones said.

“It is the responsibility of the Executive to defend the Constitution. Has the Constitution been defended? No. DAP offends the Constitution,” said Briones, also professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines.

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said there were seven documents submitted to the Supreme Court that showed Aquino signed and approved the release of the DAP funds, including those disbursed to senators and congressmen at the height of impeachment trial against former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Abad and Senate President Franklin Drilon had admitted that the P50 million to P100 million released to senators who voted to convict Corona at his impeachment trial, came from the DAP.

The three senators - Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. - who voted against the impeachment received nothing.

Briones said the “primary actors” cited by the petitioners against DAP were Abad and President Aquino.

The “other actors” involved in DAP were the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Commission on Audit (COA), the Commission on Elections, and individual congressmen and senators, Briones said.

“We’re going to examine the decision in detail but several issues are clearly unconstitutional; the separation of the branches of government, cross-border transfers of funds, funding of items not in the General Appropriations Act, the use of unprogrammed funds, and how ‘savings’ were defined and declared,” Briones said.

Another issue, she said, is the restitution of the illegally used funds.

“It is required by law that illegal expenditures have to be given back to the people,” she said.

Briones said, however, that returning the funds would not negate guilt.

Reyes agreed with Briones and said President Aquino should be held accountable for the DAP spending because he signed and approved the release of funds.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared programs and projects under the DAP as unconstitutional, including the declared mid-year savings from unobligated funds, the cross-border allocation of funds from the Executive to other branches, and the use of funds for projects not part of the General Appropriations Act, he said.

“We have proof. Aquino is accountable for DAP because he signed and approved the release of billions of pesos from 2011-2013. His signature appears on the requests for release of funds submitted by the Department of Budget and Management, which were also signed and endorsed by Abad. At least seven memoranda were signed by Aquino based on the DBM submissions to the SC that we have obtained,” Reyes said.

Photo shows the June 25, 2012 memorandum of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to
President Benigno Aquino III on the “omnibus authority to consolidate savings/unutilized
balances and their realignment” that gave birth to some practices under the
Disbursement Acceleration Program, which has been outlawed by the Supreme Court. 
A copy of the memo was submitted to the high court as part of the oppositors’ pleading.
“The DBM also claims that it was the President who gave them the ‘authority’ to consolidate savings and utilize these for projects approved by the President.

“So it is clear that the buck stops with Aquino,” Reyes said.

Based on the DBM documents, among the projects approved by President Aquino were the P6.5 billion augmentation of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF under the item “various local projects,” another P6.5 billion in “LGU support” and P2 billion in road work for his home province of Tarlac.

“Many projects approved were lump-sum and clearly in the nature of presidential pork. Aquino knows he is liable, which is why he went on a televised address last Oct. 30, 2013 to defend the DAP. However, it will take more than a televised address for him to get out of this one now that the SC has ruled DAP programs as unconstitutional. Aquino and his budget sidekick Abad should be answerable to the people,” Reyes said.

In the first DAP memo issued by the DBM dated Oct. 12, 2011, Aquino signed and approved the release of an additional P6.5 billion for the PDAF of lawmakers, in time for the Corona impeachment trial, Reyes said.

It was later revealed that lawmakers who supported the impeachment got an additional P50 million in DAP related projects, with some senators getting as much as P100 million in DAP projects.

The 188 lawmakers in the House that signed the 157-page impeachment complaint in four hours received P10 million each in DAP funds that were coursed through the National Dairy Corp.

“The DAP was used as a bribe or reward money for supporting the impeachment of Corona. A total of P72.1 billion in DAP projects were approved in this memorandum,” Reyes said.

Reyes added that on Dec. 21, 2011, Aquino approved additional projects worth P13.3 billion.

On June 27, 2012, Aquino signed and approved another Abad memo seeking the omnibus authority to consolidate savings or unused balances and their realignment. The approved projects amounted to P32 billion, including P2 billion for Tarlac roadworks and another P8.3 billion for various local projects, Reyes said.

“Aquino also approved the withdrawal of unobligated balances of national government agencies for ‘slow moving projects,’ declaring them as savings and authorizing their realignment,” he added.

On Sept. 5, 2012, the President signed and approved Abad’s Sept. 4, 2012 memorandum seeking the “release of funds for other priority projects and expenditures of government.”

Projects for this period amounted to nearly P6 billion, Reyes said.

“On Dec. 21, 2012, Aquino approved the release of P33.3 billion in DAP funds, chargeable against “available savings and the 2012 Unprogrammed Fund.” This again included the item “other various local projects,” which this time amounted to P2.79 billion,” he said.

In May 2013, Reyes said the President approved more DAP releases amounting to P10 billion.

This, he said, included again an item called “various local projects” amounting to P4.6 billion, the biggest item for the period.

“Lastly, on Sept. 25, 2013, Aquino approved the release of P10.534 billion in funds for the Task Force Pablo rehabilitation plan, supposedly for livelihood, resettlement, infrastructure and social services,” Reyes said.

Reyes demanded a special audit on the DAP funds, noting that the COA has been “uncooperative” when it came to releasing information about DAP, and had refused to conduct a special audit.

“With the SC decision on the DAP, and with calls for accountability getting stronger, it is COA’s job to conduct a special audit of the DAP projects,” Reyes said.

Briones said the unconstitutionality of the DAP opens a door for opportunities to further establish and demand accountability in the country’s public finances.

“We in SWP are very happy with the decision. The SC has opened a door for further action among civil society organizations, groups and individuals. We now have to ask who is vulnerable to charges. From whom do we demand accountability?” Briones said.

“The wheels of accountability started moving with the Supreme Court decision on the PDAF. The DAP decision is a further step forward. For the public and media, there is no turning back,” Briones added.

Reyes said the President could not invoke good faith, not when he knew from his days as a senator that the impounding and realignment of funds was wrong.

“Aquino cannot lie his way out of this one. He will have to face the people’s protest,” the Bayan leader warned.

The indigenous peoples organization Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP) said the President is primarily accountable for the illegal disbursements of taxpayer money.

“Aquino is definitely in the forefront of the DAP, and is principally accountable for the existence of this illegal use of public money,” said Piya Macliing Malayao, KAMP spokesperson.

“As President, Aquino has power to use public funds, but this is bound by the borders of our Constitution. The DAP, which he had defended fiercely, violates the Constitution. Aquino had betrayed the Constitution that he vowed to abide and protect when he was sworn into office. This is a betrayal of public trust, of whom Aquino must be held accountable,” Malayao said.

Malayao said Abad, who defended the “presidential pork” during the DAP hearing, should equally be held liable for the illegal act.

“Aquino and his close lieutenant Butch Abad has consistently insisted that the money went to good, which we seriously doubt, but that is not the only issue,” Malayao said. “The weightier concern here is the government gravely abused its power to use public funds according to its caprice, notwithstanding the laws that regulate the use of people’s money.”

Malayao said the DAP was used for bribery.

“A payout of millions from Malacanang after legislators complied with the President’s appeals sends a signal to lawmakers, that monetary rewards await those who yield their decisions in favor of Aquino,” Malayao said. “This is patronage politics to the core.”

President Aquino must be held liable for the bureaucratic corruption, Malayao said.

On Wednesday, the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) demanded that the President fire Abad, describing him as the architect of the DAP.

UNA secretary general and Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco also said President Aquino could not escape moral liability for tolerating Abad.

“[Aquino] has to fire Abad and order the filing of plunder charges against Abad. There were DAP funds that went to Napoles [non-government organizations]. It is impossible that Abad did not know this when in fact Napoles said that Abad was the one who taught her about this PDAF scam,” Tiangco said.

But Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, a member of the independent minority bloc in the House, said the honorable thing for Abad to do was to step down to save the Aquino government from further embarrassment.

Paranaque Rep. Gus Tambunting, also an UNA member, said it is always possible that some sectors would take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling to carry out an ouster plot against the President.

Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe warned against possible clashes between the three branches of government following the Supreme Court decision against DAP.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Trenas defended the unconstitutional DAP as an “economic lifejacket” for the country that resulted in unprecedented economic growth. Trenas described the Court’s ruling as “unfortunate.”

But Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said President Aquino can be impeached and urged Abad to resign over the “stolen money.”

Santiago added, however, that any impeachment complaint against the President at this point was bound to fail because of his party’s superior numbers in both chambers of Congress.

She also said somebody must be held accountable for the illegal acts committed under the DAP.

“There should be liability. What would be this if nobody is responsible? What kind of responsible government is being fostered by that? You have to at least point a finger at somebody,” she said.

Santiago said the Ombudsman, in cooperation with the Justice Department, should file a criminal case against persons responsible, since a crime had been committed.

“The Constitution says you can’t do that and then you went ahead and did it and then you have nothing to answer for, you’ve just committed a crime!” she said.

Government prosecutors should also file a civil case in addition to the criminal case, which could be technical malversation.

She also called for the COA to work with the Justice Department to uncover all the facts and documents about the illegal program.

Santiago also dismissed administration arguments that the money went to projects that benefited the public as an “argument of stupidity.”

“If one is a lawmaker, ignorance doesn’t excuse him or her. Ignorance excuses no one,” she said.

Another petitioner who questioned the DAP before the Supreme Court, former congressman Augusto Syjuco, said Abad was responsible for falsifying documents as well.

He said the P50 million given to each senator who convicted corona was a bribe that was “baptized” as DAP.

“In order to legitimize these secret robberies of funds, DAP was conceived by the distorted minds and corrupted hearts of Abad and Drilon,” Syjuco said.

Syjuco called Abad and Drilon the “original vampires who converted President Benigno Aquino III and others in their Aquino Administration into vampiredom simply because they needed Aquino’s conspiracy for an explanation of these stolen funds.”

Former Manila councilor Greco Belgica, one of the nine petitioners, said accountability must be established for the illegal acts under the DAP.

“The dispositive portion of the decision identified the illegal acts so that means the perpetrators can be held accountable,” he said.

He also said the “stimulus funds” distributed through DAP must be returned to government coffers.

UP law professor Harry Roque Jr., who represented Belgica in this case, said the Executive department cannot hide behind the cloak of “good faith” in evading culpability in the illegal DAP.

The lawyer even likened the DAP to “unmitigated raid of the government’s coffers during the Marcos regime under Presidential Decree No. 1177 that allowed Marcos to plunder the government in the billions of dollars.”

“The present administration cannot therefore claim good faith for its unconstitutional transgression. The declaration of unconstitutionality, is therefore, not enough. Aside from criminal prosecution for technical malversation, heads must roll for the illegal expenditures as is required under Section 43, Chapter 5, Book IV of the Administrative Code of 1987,” he said in a statement.

In response to the Court ruling, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Wednesday ordered the creation of a panel of field investigators to dig deeper into the DAP transactions to see if any crime has been committed by public officials.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s Decision on the DAP case, we are initiating an investigation into the matter,” she said.

Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, who blew the whistle on the DAP last year and admitted he received funds from the program, said the COA might not be the best agency to look into the illegal transactions, because the commission itself was a recipient of funds from the program.

He recalled that during budget hearings, COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan admitted that they recquested and received funds from the Budget Department to finance the commission’s modernization program. Some P143 million from the DAP was given to the COA, Estrada said.

Because the DAP spending was done outside the enacted budget approved by Congress, no one knows how much in taxpayer’s money was channeled through the unconstitutional mechanism, he added.

“I think we can all agree that the people have the right to know how public funds were used, how much has been poured into the DAP, what projects were funded using this scheme, and whether these projects were completed or not,” Estrada said.

Also on Wednesday, anti-pork groups vowed to gather 5.4 million signatures to draft a law that would permanently abolish the pork barrel system and penalize those who tamper with taxpayers’ money.

“While Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) were declared by the Supreme Court unconstitutional, there is still no law criminalizing and penalizing acts related to DAP, PDAF and other forms of pork barrel,” the leaders of PI-Pork said.

In a joint statement, PI-Pork leaders Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Marc Canton, Mae Paner, Manny Lopez, Fr. Ben Alforque and journalist Inday Varona, said the proposed Pork Barrel Abolition Law through People’s Initiative will criminalize and penalize the following: withdrawal of unobligated funds before the end of the fiscal year, cross-border rechanneling of funds, allocating funds to items not considered in the general appropriation, as well as the allocation and use of any form of congressional and presidential pork. - With Rio N. Araja

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