Is the Disbursement Acceleration Program constitutional? Legal hotshots such as former senator Joker Arroyo, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and former Constitutional Commission member Joaquin Bernas, SJ, have all thundered forth against it. In their view, by pooling supposed savings from government agencies and realigning these to other projects and programs, Malacañang through its budget secretary is, in effect, bypassing the General Appropriations Act. Since the power of the purse is vested solely in Congress, juggling funds from one GAA-approved agency or project to something else that may not have the same budget authorization undermines that power, and allows Malacañang to usurp a function not granted it by the Constitution.
The hue and cry over the DAP’s legality has all but obscured other, more pressing concerns related to lawmakers’ misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund—which is a pity, because in terms of what is urgent and actionable at this point, the PDAF controversy should remain paramount in the public consciousness. This is not hair-splitting, or ignoring one alleged irregularity over another. This is recognizing that, in the hierarchy of issues and questions that the pork-barrel scam has spawned, the taint of wrongdoing in one is clearer and more damning at this point, and therefore deserves greater scrutiny and more immediate prosecution.
The DAP, in other words, is a question of law that can be settled with finality by a ruling from the Supreme Court. And it is well and good that petitions have been filed asking the high court to clarify the issue. But until the question is settled, the DAP remains a controversy only in the feigned ignorance of many lawmakers who are now said to be shocked to learn that their requested additional budget allotments had come from an unknown government funding mechanism—despite the budget department’s official announcement of the new funding program back in 2011.
That supposed ignorance begs the question: If lawmakers knew from the start their set PDAF allocations—P200 million for senators, P70 million for congressmen—and then they ask for additional funds on top of that, where did they think the money would come from? Before the DAP exploded and quickly became just another dubious acronym in the public mind, none of them bothered to ask where Malacañang was getting the funds that they were only too happy to receive for their pet projects.
Distinctions are important. As in the case of the PDAF, mere receipt of pork-barrel funds is not, by itself, an act of irregularity, or else that would damn everyone, including the leftist party-list groups that also received PDAF disbursements over the years, until the fund’s misuse by some so stank that these organizations turned around and became its fiercest denouncers—barely acknowledging now that they had also benefited from it. The abuse of public funds—not their mere receipt—is what should be front and center of the discussion. And that is why it is imperative that the spotlight not be hijacked by sidebar issues such as the DAP, and swung away from the likes of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla.
Lest we forget, these lawmakers are implicated not only by whistle-blower testimony but also by official documents, in what appears to be the massive misappropriation of their PDAF. Their names have appeared consistently in every mention of the pork-barrel scam—from the affidavits of Benhur Luy et al. to the Commission on Audit report. Interestingly, the DAP disbursements, while under question as to their legal basis, have so far escaped the taint of the wholesale theft associated with the PDAF—except, again, in the case of Estrada and Revilla, and two more senators this time, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vicente Sotto III.
Documents show that the four requested an extra P100 million each for themselves, then sought to have the funds—assigned to the Department of Agrarian Reform under the DAP—channeled to projects under the National Livelihood Development Corp. Napoles’ bogus NGOs then received the money to implement the so-called projects, on the basis of the lawmakers’ nomination of the NGOs.
First things first. Let the Supreme Court settle the issue of the DAP’s constitutionality. In the meantime, the public must not be distracted from pursuing accountability from those already implicated by prima facie evidence in the plunder of the PDAF.