‘Real issue is stealing’
PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday night warned the “corrupt officials” allegedly involved in the multi-billion pork barrel scam that his administration would not stop going after them for stealing the people’s money, and defended his own use of discretionary funds.
|In defense of the pork barrel. President Aquino addresses the nation on television Wednesday over the controversial issues hounding his administration and defended its use of pork barrel appropriations. Malacañang Photo Bureau|
“This is what I say to them: If you think that this will stop me from going after you, if you think that you can divert the public’s attention, if you think you can get away with stealing from our countrymen—you have sorely underestimated me and the Filipino people. If there still remains some vestige of kindness in your hearts, I hope that you stop acting in self-interest, and instead act to help your fellowmen,” said Aquino, who spoke in Filipino.
The President reminded Filipinos that the real issue was stealing, and said the politicians involved have been trying to avoid this ever since their wrongdoing was exposed.
“I can’t help but shake my head, since the first thing I expected was for them to at least deny the accusations. After all, is that not the natural reaction of anyone who is accused of anything? And yet, in the midst of all their extended counter-accusations hurled against me, not once have I heard them say: ‘I did not steal’,” the President said.
He said that it seems difficult for them to explain how it happened that the beneficiaries of the non-government organizations (NGOs) they chose to fund was just a list of board passers seemingly culled from newspapers.
“But how can we take their excuses seriously, when after repeated instances of their giving money to the same NGOs, they had not once bothered to check if the funds they allocated actually reached the intended beneficiaries? This state of affairs is indeed difficult, even impossible, to explain away,” he said.
And because it was difficult to explain, Mr. Aquino said, those implicated in the scandal chose to take advice from “an old politician from their camp.”
“If you can’t explain it, muddle it; if you can’t deodorize it, make everyone else stink; if you can’t look good, make everyone look bad. You have heard what they are saying: that we are all the same,” he said.
But Mr. Aquino said he was no thief.
“My response: We are not the same. I have never stolen. I am not a thief. I am the one who goes after thieves,” he said.
“ I repeat: The issue here is theft. I did not steal. Those who have been accused of stealing are those who are sowing confusion; they want to dismantle all that we have worked so hard to achieve on the
Straight path. We were stolen from, we were deceived—and now we are the ones being asked to explain? I have pursued truth and justice, and have been dismantling the systems that breed the abuse of power—and yet I am the one now being called the “Pork Barrel King”?” he said.
Mr. Aquino also defended his Disbursement Allocation Program, the legality of which legal experts have questioned before the Supreme Court.
“Let me make it clear: The Disbursement Allocation Program is not pork barrel...The DAP is not theft. Theft is illegal,” he said.
He said that of the DAP releases in 2011 and 2012, only 9 percent was disbursed for projects suggested by legislators.
“Spending through DAP is clearly allowed by the Constitution and by other laws. DAP is only a name for a process in which government can spend both savings and new and additional revenues. Where did these funds come from? They came from our efforts to stop the connivance of some in bidding for contracts, in padding costs, overpricing, and kickbacks. They came from the proper spending of our budget. They came from the good governance now seen in our GOCCs (government owned and controlled corporations),” he said.
He added that DAP clearly benefitted the country.
The President also repeated the Budget Department assertions that the DAP funds came from savings from various agencies that were unable to carry out their projects right away.
“When projects are stalled, naturally, we will not spend for them. We did not allow these funds to remain dormant. We looked for programs under implementing agencies that had proven themselves to be fast and efficient, and we channeled our savings into these programs—together with the additional revenue of the government. The benefits of these projects reached our countrymen faster and earlier, and we were able to spend the money allocated yearly in our national budget more prudently and efficiently,” he said.
He said that the public can decide for themselves whether these mechanisms are wrong.
The DAP, he said, made it possible to fund Project NOAH (Nationwide Operation Assessment of Hazards), which gives accurate and timely warnings during calamities.
The program also helped 150,000 Filipinos study under the Training-for-Work Scholarship program, and benefited the Air Force and police.
Mr. Aquino said that DAP also played an important role in the country’s economic resurgence, citing again the growth in gross domestic product, and the attainment of investment grade status.
Mr. Aquino also defended the President’s Social Fund, which he said was needed to respond to sudden needs brought about by calamities or crises.
He said that without the PSF, the government must ask a funding , which could be debated in Congress for months.
“If you are in Zamboanga, with a child crying from hunger, and government tells you that it cannot help you just yet, it would need to haggle with Congress first—how would you feel? We have the money, and we have the mechanisms that will ensure this money goes where it’s needed most. Would it be right to deprive our countrymen of the care they direly need?” he asked.