ANTI-pork barrel advocates and lawmakers on Wednesday accused the Palace and Commission on Audit of concocting a “tall tale” to cover up illegal disbursements under the P170-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), following the Palace’s refusal to release the list of projects funded by the program.
The Palace’s continued refusal to reveal the list of projects raised more doubts about the administration’s true intentions in disbursing billions of pesos through the DAP, the critics added.
“Both Malacanang and COA are engaged in an elaborate cover-up of DAP. As early as Feb. 17, we had requested the COA for a special audit of DAP projects. We even provided them with documents. Yet the COA chair refused our request, and instead defended the DAP and pointed us to the regular audit of the departments,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., who is also a convenor of #AbolishPork Movement.
Reyes said the delay in releasing details about DAP made it even more compelling to impeach President Benigno Aquino III so that the public can know how their money was spent.
“With Malacanang and COA both abdicating their role of reporting and accounting for the illegal spending under DAP, an impeachment complaint becomes even more necessary to ferret out the truth. The refusal to disclose the details of the DAP also further strengthens the grounds for impeachment,” Reyes said.
“What or why is the President hiding? Why is it taking too long for him to bare the list of DAP-funded projects? Is Malacanang again concocting a tall tale to defend itself amidst the DAP controversy?” said Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, whose party-list group is set to file the impeachment complaint against the President.
Earlier, Ridon and several youth leaders filed a plunder complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, the acknowledged architect of the DAP.
Ridon said it has been a week since the Supreme Court ruled that acts committed under the DAP were unconstitutional, but the President has yet to explain himself in public.
“Even Budget Secretary Florencio Butch Abad is missing in action,” Ridon said.
“President Aquino and Secretary Abad should stop hiding. They should face the people, not tomorrow, not next week, but now. They’ve got a lot of explaining to do,” said Ridon, who vowed to file an impeachment complaint against the President next week.
“Last year, Aquino was so audacious in his defense of the DAP that he even disrupted regular TV programming just to explain. But now that the Supreme Court has struck down the DAP as unconstitutional, he is nowhere to be found,” Ridon said.
“Malacanang’s refusal to release the actual details of the DAP spending is clearly done in bad faith,” Reyes said.
The Palace, he said, could not invoke its motion for reconsideration to the Supreme Court as the reason for not disclosing the DAP details.
“That is crazy! Their job as public officials is to account for the money they have spent, and in this case, illegally spent,” Reyes said.
Reyes said unless Malacanang makes a detailed report on where the DAP funds actually went, it would be difficult for citizens groups to simply rely on the regular audit of the different departments.
Reyes also noted that during the dialogue with COA chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan, there was no sense of urgency on the part of COA to check how the DAP funds were being spent.
Reyes said COA was a recipient of P144-million in DAP funds purportedly for the new cars, computers and office equipment for the agency’s officials.
Various estimates have put the DAP funds anywhere from P140 billion and P177 billion.
Malacanang has not released a final figure on the total DAP disbursements or a breakdown of the spending.
“In our opinion, the time is not yet right to investigate and scrutinize the projects because that is part of the SC decision; and we would like to be able to frame first our legal position within the bounds permitted by the rules of court,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told Palace reporters Tuesday.
“If DAP was really spent in good faith, then why is the President taking too long to explain this unconstitutional mechanism? Are his Palace aides concocting a new script for him to escape liability?”
Ridon said, referring to allegations that the supposed surrender of alleged pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles last year was scripted.
As for Abad, Ridon said that “a tight schedule” was an “incredulous explanation” for the secretary’s failure to air his side on DAP.
“Secretary Abad is wrong if he thinks that he can appease the public by using the ‘busy card.’ DAP is a matter imbued with great public interest, and it is simply unacceptable for him to keep the public hanging in midair as regards the details of the multi-billion disbursement program,” Ridon said.
Malacañang on Wednesday dismissed the plunder case filed against Abad, saying he did not personally gain from the DAP.
“Did Secretary Butch Abad misuse the DAP funds? No. Did he steal the money? No. These are very, very clear, categorical answers that neither acts happened. Did he personally gain from it? Again, no,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
“I think plunder requires personal gain. Whenever you’re confronted with a criminal case, you look at the elements of the crime. Do the acts fit to all the elements of the crime? And if it does not, then there is no case,” he added.
The complainant filed against Abad accused him of a “systemic plundering of government resources.”
The Supreme Court, in its unanimous decision last week, declared several acts under the DAP as unconstitutional.
But despite exonerating Abad a day after the case was filed, Lacierda said the Palace still expects the Ombudsman to uphold its independence in handling the plunder complaint.
“We expect the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct its constitutional duty. The process that they have done in any investigation they did, in any evaluation, in any process that they have internally, we expect them to apply it equally to any person that has been charged with a crime,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda also defended Abad’s refusal to talk to the media to shed light on the DAP.
“I think the priority right now is really to ensure that we come up and finalize all the budget details on the National Expenditures Program. At the appropriate time, I think, I believe Secretary Butch Abad will come out,” Lacierda said.With Joel E. Zurbano