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There’s the Rub

By any other name

/ 10:50 PM October 01, 2013

From the start, it sounded like palusot. To begin with, Frank Drilon’s and Butch Abad’s immediate response to Jinggoy Estrada’s accusation that Malacañang paid off the senators to vote to convict Renato Corona didn’t jibe.

For Drilon the P50 million each the senators got wasn’t additional at all, it was their regular PDAF which had been suspended preparatory to the impeachment to prevent suspicion of impropriety, or precisely that the senators were being bribed. The money was released later on when it was safe to do so.

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For Abad, the P50 million was in fact additional PDAF, but was completely justifiable. “These fund releases have recently been touted as ‘bribes,’ ‘rewards,’ or ‘incentives.’ They were not. The releases, which were mostly for infrastructure projects, were part of what is called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) designed by the Department of Budget and Management to ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion.”

The second pretty much refutes the first, and we take it to be the more reliable because Abad ought to know, he is the budget secretary. But his explanation is full of holes too. The most obvious is that if the P50 million each given to the senators was a way of precipitating growth by funding their favorite infrastructure projects, how come Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Bongbong Marcos got nothing? Both voted in favor of Corona, along with Joker Arroyo.

Of course by rights Marcos shouldn’t be given any money for whatever reason—in fact money of the order of billions of dollars ought to be seized from him and his mother—but that is another story altogether. The point is simply that it refutes Abad’s contention of what the money was for.

Quite apart from that, you want to spur growth—and true enough it was held back in the second half of 2010 and the whole of 2011 by lack of public spending—why need the senators at all? Why course it through the PDAF at all? Government doesn’t lack for priority projects, or priority infrastructure projects. Education is chief of them, as the Constitution itself bids, building classrooms is chief of them. Why not just allocate it to it? Why think pork? Why go pork?

But comes now an even bigger blow to Abad’s explanations. Arroyo is furious about being used as a stooge and has every reason to be. To dissimulate the fact that those who did not vote for Corona’s conviction got no additional PDAF, Abad made it appear that Arroyo did so as well. Specifically, he said Arroyo got P47 million from the DAP.

That’s a lie, says Arroyo. The P47 million in fact came from “amendments introduced in the General Appropriation Act of 2013 and not PDAF by any language…. Secretary Abad maliciously bundled the budgetary amendments I introduced for medical and educational provisions together with the questioned 2012 releases. He said the funds given to the senators came from a newly minted program designed by the DBM, called the DAP, yet again another one of those lump-sum appropriations unheard of until he pulled it out of his hat.”

That’s not just unethical, Arroyo proposed, that’s criminal. Abad, he said, has just opened himself up to prosecution for falsification of legislative documents. The Penal Code holds liable “any public officer … who causes it to appear that persons have participated in any act or proceeding (when they did not do so) or making untruthful statement in the narration of facts.”

I don’t know that jail awaits Abad, however Arroyo and others loudly call for his head. But it doesn’t help to know that government itself is capable not just of tolerating lump-sum appropriations, which are the most toxic element in the PDAF, putting public money beyond the pale of close scrutiny and allowing scams like Janet Napoles’ to spawn, but of inventing them. The DAP is not something the government can attribute to the Gloria Arroyo regime. It deals the final, mortal blow at pork, robbing it of any justification whatsoever. The idea that government can make pork safe by instituting corrective measures isn’t strengthened by the DBM’s own willingness, if not eagerness, to resort to things like this to keep Congress in line.

Indeed, the prospect that Malacañang will be tempted to resort to things like this to pursue its agenda, or to raze down the things that stand in its path, may no longer make pork palatable, if it was so at all from the start. Arguably, the agenda is good, the daang matuwid is something worth fighting for. Arguably, people like Corona are not, they are worth fighting against. But the means cannot justify the end, the daang matuwid cannot be prosecuted through the daang baluktot. The latter will always be a minefield that could blow up anytime in your face. This fiasco shows so.

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The irony is that the prosecution of Corona didn’t need pork at all, didn’t need greasing at all. It was popular in the extreme. True, at the end of the day it was the senators that were going to rule on it, it was the senators that stood to push or block government’s effort to get at Gloria, Corona simply being an obstacle to it.

But those senators also knew that in trials like those, as shown by the Erap impeachment, it wasn’t just the tried that was on trial, it was the triers too. It wasn’t just Corona who was on trial, the senators were too. With the people sitting as judges, and with elections the following year to make their judgment known.

What could have been is speculative, what has been is not. And what has been is that government gave P50 million additional PDAF to those who voted against Corona. Call it incentive, call it reward, call it bribe: A rose by any other name will smell just as sweet.

“Additional PDAF” by any other name will smell just as bad.

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TAGS: Conrado de Quiros, dap, Disbursement Acceleration Program, Florencio “Butch” Abad, Franklin Drilon, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, opinion, PDAF, pork barrel scam, Renato corona, There’s the Rub
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