PETITIONERS who successfully challenged the legality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program before the Supreme Court branded Thursday’s Senate hearing on the discredited program a “zarzuela” and “A-bad and uncouth script that was painful to watch” with administration senators taking turns acting as lawyers for Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
Leading questions posed by Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV gave Abad the opportunity to preach about the virtues of the DAP, even as the system of check and balances came crumbling down, the program’s critics added.
“It’s sad that the Senate abdicated its oversight functions and opted to be spin doctors for the President,” said lawyer Harry Roque Jr., one of seven petitioners who challenged the DAP before the Supreme Court.
Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, another petitioner, described Drilon and Trillanes as “Palace paid hacks.”
“The Senate DAP hearing further revealed the DBM secretary as A-bad liar,” she said.
“They tried but failed to defend the DAP despite the fact that they had obvious paid hacks in the Senate like Frank Drilon and Sonny Trillianes.”
Lawyer Edre Olalia, counsel for the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and other groups that filed an impeachment complaint against President Benigno Aquino III over the DAP, called Thursday’s session an “uncouth script.”
“Drilon’s leading and suggestive questions to Abad and other Palace officials obviously meant to deodorize and even glorify DAP,” Olalia added.
“DAP was used to usurp the powers of Congress to approve the budget. These senators are justifying such usurpation, as well as justifying the pork barrel system where politicians depend on the good graces of the Executive in order to get projects and services,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., another petitioner said.
“The banter between Abad and Drilon seems scripted to say the least, and was designed to whitewash Aquino’s violations of the law,” Reyes said.
“The Senate hearing was painful to watch and highlights again the rottenness of our system, one that has been corrupted by pork,” he added.
When it was her turn to grill Abad, Senator Nancy Binay asked presiding officer Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, to have the testimony of Abad and the rest of the Cabinet members taken under oath.
Drilon immediately objected and told the panel there was no need for the oath but Escudero made the Cabinet men swear anyway.
Trillanes also used the forum to hit Vice President Jejomar Binay for the alleged P1.5-billion “parking building” that resulted in the filing of plunder charges against him, taking potshots at the elder Binay in the presence of his daughter.
Drilon encouraged Abad to name the opposition lawmakers who had received DAP funds.
Abad singled out Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who endorsed the first impeachment complaint against President Aquino, saying he received P10 million from DAP.
Colmenares vehemently denied Abad’s claim and insisted that he had the P10-million milk feeding project withdrawn when he learned that the funds came from DAP.
Colmenares branded the accusation against him as “a diversionary tactic.”
Ilagan, who also endorsed the impeachment complaint against the President, said Abad’s attempt to defend the DAP at the hearing was futile and served only to fuel the people’s outrage.
“Abad gives the people further reason to support moves to make Aquino accountable, be it through the impeachment process or otherwise,” Ilagan said.
Ilagan said Abad had only shown how billions in DAP disbursements “went to vague, undetermined projects endorsed by legislators betraying the fact that it was indeed used to corrupt public officials.”
“At least P17.3 billion [was] disbursed to fund ‘priority local projects nationwide requested by legislators, local government officials and national agencies.’ [There were] three allotment releases for these in the amounts of P6.5 billion (approved by the office of the President on October 12, 2011), P8.1 billion (June 27, 2012) and P2.8 billion (December 21, 2012),” Ilagan said.
She also cited at least P30.7 billion in large, lump sum items, including P10.1 billion for “various infrastructure project,” “various local projects,” and “various priority projects,” and P10.9 billion for “peace and development-related” projects.
“There was also P2.0 billion for national roads in the President’s home province of Tarlac and even P43 million for “capacity-building” of NGOs and people’s organizations,” Ilagan said.
“The hearing revealed the truth about how Aquino and Abad usurped the power of Congress, stole public funds and allotted them to questionable and anomalous bribery projects. Inconsistencies of the Palace data and their explanations have been exposed. They have failed and continue to fail to account for DAP funds allotted to lawmakers and LGUs, favored politicians and pet projects,” said Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan chairman, who is also an impeachment complainant.
The Palace ploy, Crisostomo ssaid, was to confuse the public and muddle the issue.
“Abad made ridiculous claims such as DAP being ‘legal and constitutional’ and lied regarding the Palace ‘good intentions.’ They cannot hide the fact that DAP is illegal, it is stolen money and it is
a crime committed by Aquino and his pork gang,” Crisostomo said. He also said the Senate hearing avoided mentioning two important words regarding DAP: Corona and Impeachment.
“What savings?” asked Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, an impeachment complainant against the President.
“Secretary Butch Abad and Senate President Franklin Drilon have both apparently overlooked what the Supreme Court said about the claim that DAP came from savings. In so many words, the SC clearly defined how and when public funds can be considered savings and why DAP funds cannot be considered as savings,” Ridon said.
During the Senate hearing, Abad confirmed that P237.5 billion were set aside by DBM for DAP, while P167 billion worth of projects were proposed for the mechanism, and P144.3 billion was eventually released. Abad repeatedly told the Senate that the DAP funds were sourced from “savings.”
However, Ridon pointed out that in the Supreme Court decision on DAP, it said “unreleased appropriations and withdrawn unobligated allotments under the DAP were not savings, and the use of such appropriations contravened Section 25(5), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution.”
“The SC decision is as clear as day. The Executive has withdrawn funds and discontinued GAA-listed projects illegally to fund DAP. Secretary Abad, repeating the word ‘savings’ over and over and over will not change that fact,” said Ridon, who earlier filed plunder charges against Abad over the same program.
“This is the same reason why Abad and Drilon’s comparison of DAP to the disbursement programs of past administrations does not hold water. In past administrations, the funds used were savings and not withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations,” Ridon added.
Ridon also said Drilon’s “Nombra argument” or that legislators only “nominated” projects for DAP – which Abad confirmed – only established the fact that DAP was created and executed by none other than the Executive department.
“This is the very reason why Malacañang simply cannot pass the blame solely on to legislators. If there were indeed DAP funds embezzled by certain legislators, as some quarters claim, they could not have done it alone. In such a scenario, it is highly probable that the Palace – DBM at the very least – would have acted in collaboration with probable unscrupulous lawmakers to [divert] public funds,” Ridon said.
Ridon also said that he was not surprised at how the Senate President acted during the hearing on DAP.
“Of course, Drilon would defend DAP to the best of his abilities. After all, he received P450 million for the Jaluar Dam that did not go through the General Appropriations Act,” Ridon said.
“Secretary Abad repeated the argument that DAP was necessary to fast-track public spending, following consecutive quarters of underspending. But Abad did not disclose the rest of the story: that it is also the administration’s fault why government had been severely underspending in the early part of Aquino’s term as president,” Ridon said.
“What can be gleaned from the Senate hearing is this simple fact: that the Executive clearly usurped the congressional power of the purse and toyed with billions of public funds with impunity, using underspending as a cover for their criminal acts,” Ridon said.
Ridon echoed Ilagan’s views that Abad’s testimony in the Senate only made the arguments in the pending impeachment complaints stronger.
On Tuesday, Ridon endorsed the second impeachment complaint filed against Aquino in the House of Representatives over DAP.
Addressing the Budget secretary directly, he said: “Secretary Abad, repeating a lie a thousand times – even on live television – cannot make it a truth. Why don’t you just call a spade a spade, and admit liability over DAP?”
Ridon also disclosed that his group, along with Youth Act Now, will file a supplemental complaint with the Ombudsman Friday against Abad, to add 116 counts of technical malversation to the charge of plunder that theyfiled a few weeks ago.
“Abad clearly committed technical malversation. From his Senate testimony, we can clearly see that he engineered the illegal program, and authorized the transfer of funds. We need to hold him accountable for this,” Ridon said.
“Secretary Abad’s defense of the Disbursement Acceleration Program clearly shows President Aquino’s unyielding and kapit-tuko attitude on the presidential pork. The people’s situation on the ground belies claims that it benefitted the economy and the poor and lump sum allocations to various projects endorsed by legislators clearly indicate that it is pork,” Ilagan said.
“Abad’s arguments on how the DAP benefitted the poor, how it stimulated the economy and how allocations were done in good faith have long been debunked. We need only to look at the growing number of hungry, homeless, impoverished people among the few living lavishly on pork grime to know who benefitted from the DAP. Aquino’s drop in popularity ratings reflect a growing dissatisfaction among Filipinos. Certainly it is not the poor, not the majority,” Ilagan said.
In Thursday’s hearing, only three senators—including two newcomers—questioned Abad’s claims about the DAP.
With the Cabinet in the session hall, Drilon posed leading questions to enable Abad to cite the program’s supposed benefits.
In the hearing that lasted almost seven hours, Senator Nancy Binay found that the administration also got additional funding for projects and programs from other sources outside the DAP.
Early in his testimony, Abad said P4.1 billion in additional funds from the DAP were given to the Commission on Elections to buy ballot-counting machines. Later, however, he said the allocation was not under the DAP but came from “regular savings.”
But Binay questioned why the special allotment release order or SARO was issued in December 2012, when the deed of sale for the machines was dated March 2012.
Binay also grilled Abad on which projects approved by Congress had their funds withdrawn to create “savings” for the DAP.
One of these projects, she reminded Abad, was the rehabilitation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 and some of the country’s lighthouses and seaports.
Abad said Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya withdrew the NAIA project after they found out there were structural problems that needed to be addressed first.
He disclosed that the Department of Public Work and Highways did not have any expert who could certify a performance-based design, “so we procured a consultant who could perform performance-based design.” He also said the terminal also needed to undergo stress test.
“In hindsight, now I see that the DOTC lacked the organization and personnel to push out these problems. It is only now that we have the opportunity to have the resources,” said Abad.
Senator JV Ejercito also questioned Abad on why the Palace did not just submit a supplemental budget to Congress, where they have a majority.
In defending the DAP, Abad again cited the Administrative Code.
But Ejercito said the administration was simply “trying to justify technical malversation.”
He said that’s the intent of the plaw against technical malversation was to tell the people that one cannot juggle funds no matter how good the intention is.
“They should have just respected the Supreme Court. It could have passed an appropriation measure from Congress but it ignored the co-equal branch of government,” he said.
“As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” he added.
Administration Senator Ralph Recto raised the possibility of a cut in income taxes if the government has big savings which amounted to P237 billion in a span of three years as testified by Abad.
“With the huge savings, these can also be added to the salaries of teachers,” he added.
He also questioned the DAP allocation of P2.8 billion to pay the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation (PDIC) for the debts of the Bureau of Customs to the SGS which had never helped the economy.
He also hit the lack of transparency in the allocation of DAP funds to state-owned companies.
Senator Grace Poe also asked how the Palace determined priority projects under the DAP, and questioned why the PDIC payment was made a priority.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the government decided to include the settlement of the obligations in the “house cleaning” undertaken by the Aquino administration.
Poe also asked for a list of SARO releases for the DAP-funded projects.
Senator Sergio Osmena III, an administration ally, said the government should have used the Malampaya fund to pay for electrication and other energy projects instead of using the DAP.
Trillanes, however, defended the DAP and urged the Palace to make its communications group do “double time to explain this is constitutional.”
In his testimony, Abad said the Court ruling on the DAP could reverse the country’s economic growth.
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