In a privilege speech on Sept. 25, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada startled the public with the revelation that the Aquino administration released P1.107 billion in additional pork barrel to 20 senators in October last year after the Senate voted to convict then Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012, as a payoff for their vote.
The speech revealed the existence of the little-known and now controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a scheme created by the Aquino administration in July 2012 (before the impeachment trial of Corona), to enable the government to extract unfettered large amounts of taxpayer money from the national treasury, funneling the money into a gargantuan state patronage-dispensing machine, with omnibus functions, including economic pump-priming, punishing enemies of the regime, rewarding its allies and pursuing its political agenda driven by its “matuwid na daan” slogan.
The multipurpose objectives of the DAP have aroused fears that the scheme may have armed President Aquino with a weapon to juggle the financial resources of the state as he pleases. It has also raised alarms from some sectors that the DAP has become a threat, eroding and usurping the legislature’s constitutional power of the purse.
In fact, the administration has come under heavy criticism from veteran senators—specifically, Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who voted for the acquittal of Corona—for the release of additional pork barrel funds to senators after the conviction of Corona.
They denounced the DAP as illegal, arguing that it was neither provided for under the General Appropriations Act nor in any of the country’s laws. “This DAP is a creation of the Department of Budget Management (DBM) and being a creation only of the department, that is illegal and disbursements of DAP would only be illegal,” Arroyo said.
The DBM, he said, “has no business issuing or forming this DAP because they cannot do that without a supporting law.”
“The DAP involves money so to disburse that they have the authority (to do so). Nowhere in any of our laws and any of our General Appropriations Act does it appear that the DAP was created at all with the sanction or support of Congress …. It is a crime … releasing money without legal support,” Arroyo said.
On the issue of whether the illegal disbursements would result in an impeachment complaint against the President, Arroyo said: “I wouldn’t want to anticipate what would happen.” Although he was not sure how much had been released by the DAP up to now, he said that “at the height of the impeachment, about the month of April, over P500 million was taken from the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) … and given to, I think, 11 senators …. After the impeachment, another P50 milllion was given to whoever I don’t know …. That was about in the months of August to December. Where did this come from? From the DAP?”
Attacking from another issue, Senator Santiago described the “scandalous DAP” as illegal because “it was not contained in the 2011 or 2012 budgets and because alleged savings were used to augment new budget items, which were not previously authorized by Congress.
She argued that the DAP violated the constitutional provision: “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President … may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”
Throwing good money
Santiago added that the Constitution allowed fund transfers only if there were savings, meaning that the project was completed, and yet the appropriation was not exhausted. But there were no savings if a project was merely deferred, she stressed.
She pointed out that it appeared that the DAP funds were taken from alleged slow-moving projects, concluding with impeccable logic, that “if so, no savings were generated, and therefore illegal.”
This debate has now sparked public demand for the abolition of the DAP as a huge government pork barrel machine designed to replace the graft-ridden and widely condemned PDAF.
Santiago’s attack focused on the administration’s claim that the DAP had an economic function.
In a statement on Sept. 28, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad confirmed that 20 senators had received additional pork barrel fund releases but these came from the DAP that was introduced in 2011 to “ramp up spending and help economic expansion.”
This was in response to Senator Estrada’s charge that the additional releases were either “bribes,” “rewards” or “incentives” to senators who voted for Corona’s conviction.
“In the interest of transparency, we want to set the record straight on releases made to support projects that were proposed by senators on top of their regular PDAF allocation toward the end of 2012,” Abad said.
The releases were mostly for infrastructure projects and were part of the DAP designed to ramp up investments on public-private partnerships amid government underspending on these flagship projects.
How the DAF would serve as a catalyst or stimulus for capital formation, Abad did not explain. It is hard to justify or make sense of how putting more on congressional pork barrel would pump-prime the economy. This is like throwing good money after bad.