Panic overreaction | Inquirer Opinion
Analysis

Panic overreaction

/ 10:32 PM October 31, 2013

CANBERRA—The “I am not a thief” 12-minute defense by President Aquino of the much-criticized Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) on Wednesday night was an absolute waste of prime media time.

It was a hysterical and unnecessary assertion of political virtue that muddled the issues surrounding the DAP, marked by mud-slinging and name-calling. It marked a new low in the level of public discourse, and bristled with venomous spite that offered scant illumination of the issues involved in such an important controversy as the disbursement of public funds allocated to the congressional pork barrel.

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In the President’s emergency speech, apparently hurriedly staged in response to his plummeting popularity ratings in public opinion surveys, he misrepresented the issues in the DAP debate. It appears that the rating slump had so shocked the President that it pushed his back to the wall, driving him into spasms of panic overreaction, which, it would seem, accounts for the conversion of his speech into a vociferous rant. In this circumstance, the speech failed to clarify the issues. Instead, it sowed more confusion, and left the impression that the President had fallen victim to a siege mentality that sees conspiracies plotting his downfall.

If dear readers don’t agree with me, allow me to reproduce excerpts from the President’s speech. Storming into the rows of microphones in Malacañang, he opened fire:

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“The issue here is theft,” he said. “I’m not a thief.” Nobody has ever said he was stealing public funds. Air time for the speech was purportedly sought by the Palace “to set the record straight” on the DAP, which it claimed as an economic stimulus program whose constitutionality has been challenged in the Supreme Court, along with the special funds at the disposal of the President in the national budget. Critics have described these funds as the President’s own pork barrel.

“Those who have been accused of stealing are those who are sowing confusion; they want to dismantle all that we have worked so hard to achieve on the straight path,” the President went on. “We were stolen from, we were deceived—and now we are being asked to explain! I have pursued truth and justice and have been dismantling the systems that breed the abuse of power—and yet I am the one being called the ‘pork barrel king?’”

And then came the now-familiar threat of retribution. He vowed to go after those who had pocketed millions of pesos in pork barrel funds. “If you think that this will stop me from going after you, if you think that you can divert the public’s attention, if you think you can get away with stealing from our countrymen, you have sorely underestimated me and the Filipino people,” he warned.

He then took pains to point out the strategy used by those accused of misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). “If you can’t explain it, muddle it; if you can’t deodorize it, make everyone else stink; if you can’t look good, make everyone else look bad,” he said.

This is exactly what the President is doing.

The opposition’s view of the DAP squarely contradicts that of the administration. Thus, the opposition attacked the President’s justification of the pooling of government savings and using these for projects of his choice, through the mechanism of the DAP. According to Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco of the opposition, the President was trying to “defend the indefensible.”

“The question is simple: Is there DAP in the budget?” Tiangco said. “If there’s no DAP in the national budget, then it’s illegal, no matter how you try to justify, even if you claim that the money was spent for the public good. The President can’t just pool so-called savings and spend where he wants to without the knowledge of Congress. And it cannot be justified.”

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The President distorted the issue by claiming that the critics of the DAP were accusing him of stealing public funds, virtually putting words in their mouths.

The speech was the second time the President sought to address the public on the pork barrel scandal since it erupted four months ago. The first time was on Aug. 23, on the eve of the Million People March against the pork barrel at Rizal Park. He announced that he would scrap the PDAF, saying it was time to abolish it. But it’s still there.

It’s unclear how long the pork barrel will stay, with pressure from civil society protest groups continuing to gain momentum and contributing to the fall of the President’s popularity rating. Rather than fulfilling his pledge last August, he continues to defy the public outrage.

He again fanned outrage when he addressed the nation last Wednesday night, maintaining that the DAP is constitutional and has been used effectively as a mechanism to stimulate economic growth. He claimed that there had been no irregularities in the implementation of DAP projects, unlike the PDAF, which the administration has falsely claimed it had abolished.

Despite the contrasting views of reputable lawyers, the President insisted that the DAP is not pork barrel. “Spending through DAP is clearly allowed by the Constitution, and by other laws. DAP is only the name of a process in which the government can spend both savings and new and additional revenues,” he said.

The President’s word is not the law of the land. The legality of the DAP is now being discussed in the Supreme Court.

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TAGS: dap, Disbursement Acceleration Program, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, PDAF, President Benigno Aquino III, Priority Development Assistance Fund, public opinion surveys, Rizal Park, Supreme Court
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