Ryan Ponce Pacpaco
STORY #2 “QUESTION”
THE House independent minority bloc urged yesterday the House leadership to summon Budget Sec. Florencio “Butch” Abad Jr. to a question hour to shed light on the many undisclosed and confusing details regarding the controversial utilization of P157 billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, head of the bloc, and Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (Buhay) party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said it is high time for the government to reveal in public the total amount released for DAP.
Romualdez stressed that the question hour is aimed at making clarifications for accountability and transparency purposes especially now that the Supreme Court (SC) declared portions of DAP unconstitutional.
With the SC ruling, Romualdez said the issue of sub judice rule on DAP can no longer be invoked and Abad should address their concerns.
“We are all for transparency and accountability and the question hour will give us answers to so many confusing DAP details. It (question hour) was meant to seek clarifications,” Romualdez, a lawyer and president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) which was one of the nine petitioners in SC questioning the legality of DAP.
DAP was created by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) which gave President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III the power to realign government savings and windfall state revenues to fund priority programs of the administration and lawmakers.
For his part, Atienza, a member of Romualdez bloc, said Abad should not waste the golden opportunity to face lawmakers to a question hour for him to clarify the so many “secrets” regarding DAP implementation.
“We need better answers to so many questions and we are hoping that Sec. Abad would make good use of that and tell everything in a very honest way he can,” Atienza stressed.
“If indeed, these DAP funds were put in (Janet Lim) Napoles-like NGOs (non-government organizations), then a clear case of plunder should be filed against those who received and those who disbursed it,” Atienza pointed out.
Even if the Speaker would allow a question hour, Abad needs a clearance from President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III before facing lawmakers at the House of Representatives pursuant to Section 22, Article VI of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Quezon City Rep. Winston “Winnie” Castelo said the SC ruling does not in any way show that government’s handling of DAP was ever tainted by corruption.
Castelo said the SC decision, in a worst case, could be gleaned as something that involved administrative lapses, although it did not show stealing of public funds or misuse of people’s money.
“At best, the administration of DAP funds involved a sweeping authority that was moved by the best intention, which was primarily to spur growth of the Philippine economy through increased government spending,” said Castelo.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio “Pidi” Barzaga Jr., House leader for the National Unity Party (NUP), urged DAP critics to show evidence that these funds were misused.
“There must be proofs of abuses in the use and utilization of DAP funds before concluding any irregularities,” said Barzaga, adding it would be impossible to return the disbursed DAP funds because the SC decision is not retroactive just like its decision vs. the legality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) which was declared unconstitutional last November.
“I don’ think DAP funds can be returned to the government because these were spent to purchase computers, build roads and bridges, among others,” Barzaga, a veteran lawyer and chairman of the House committee on games and amusement, pointed out.
Pork barrel or PDAF used to be the discretionary fund of the lawmakers before which they are mandated to spend for the benefit of their constituents.
Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, one of the party-list bloc leaders, backed the full accounting of DAP funds to stop the opposition from speculating that these were allegedly disbursed illegally.
”Aside from transparency and accountability, an accounting of the DAP funds is necessary to squelch speculation and unfounded perceptions on what the DAP was. As it is, the DAP now is being parlayed by the opposition as something inherently evil as if it constitutes a raid and plunder of government funds. An accounting and probe on how DAP funds were spent, therefore, would reveal the real score,” Batocabe pointed out.
Based on DBM records, at least P157 billion worth of funding sourced from DAP were released.
Of this amount, the DBM said P82.5 billion were released in 2011, P54.8 billion in 2012 and P14.4 billion in 2013.
The DBM also claimed that of the P137.3 DAP funds released in 2011 and 2012, 91 percent was channeled to projects under various government agencies and local government units while the remaining nine percent went to the lawmakers’ priority projects.
In the case of P14.4 DAP funds in 2013, it was released to the victims of Typhoon Pablo in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, as well as displaced families and restoration in Zamboanga from the previous siege that happened in the region.
The SC outlawed parts of DAP, particularly its provisions on: withdrawal of unobligated allotment from implementing agencies and declaration of withdrawn allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to end of fiscal year; cross-border transfers of savings of Executive to augment appropriations of other offices outside of the Executive and funding of projects, activities and programs not covered by any appropriation in General Appropriations Act.(RPP)
ATTENTION: PEOPLE’S TONIGHT Desk
Ryan Ponce Pacpaco
STORY #3 “BUDGET”
CONGRESS should ensure that next year’s P2.6 trillion proposed national budget would comply with the Supreme Court (SC) ruling by disallowing Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)-like initiatives from Malacañang, House independent minority bloc leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez urged yesterday.
Romualdez, a lawyer, said Congress should put some provisions in the 2015 national budget that would prevent the Executive from practicing supposed illegal schemes of using savings to augment budgetary requirements of projects not itemized or funded by Congress under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“Congress should take note of the ruling made by the Supreme Court when it outlawed some portions of DAP by putting provisions in the national budget that would silence or bar DAP-like initiatives. We have to guarantee a budget that is free from any abuses by the Palace’s fiscal utilization of government savings,” Romualdez stressed.
He said Congress must took note of the SC ruling which declared unconstitutional the withdrawal of unobligated allotment from implementing agencies and declaration of
withdrawn allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to end of fiscal year; cross-border transfers of savings of Executive to augment appropriations of other offices outside of the Executive and funding of projects, activities and programs not covered by any appropriation in General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Responding to Romualdez’s call, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, who chairs the House committee on appropriations, vowed to address the points raised by the head of the House independent minority bloc.
Ungab assured that Congress will respect the SC ruling by ensuring that the Executive will not repeat DAP-like schemes.
“Congress will abide by the SC ruling. The recent ruling is clear. What has been declared unconstitutional cannot be done anymore during budget execution,” Ungab assured.
“No more DAP clones or any kind of similar schemes in the national budget next year,” said Ungab, adding Congress will put a line in the general or special provisions in the GAA disallowing DAP-like initiatives from the Executive branch.
Nevertheless, Ungab said lawmakers see nothing wrong with augmenting funds to continue pushing through the congressional initiatives even before the SC made a ruling on DAP.
Earlier, Malacañang said it is eyeing a P2.6 trillion national budget for next year which is higher than this years’s P2.265 trillion national budget.
The budget proposal is likely to be submitted to the House shortly after President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone vowed to file a proposed law that will clearly define savings to prevent confusion and legal entanglements in the future on the use of unused funds.
Evardone said the measure will amend the GAA of 2014 and will be included in future GAAs “so that the hands of the government is not tied for one year.”
“The bill will allow the use of savings every quarter so we don’t have idle funds until the end of the year. Congress must exercise its constitutional duty on appropriation measures,” said Evardone.
“The SC definition of savings is unacceptable and impractical. Public funds must be used properly and timely to spur economic growth. We don’t have to wait until the end of the year to use savings,” Evardone added.(RPP)