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DAP: thinking in time

Technology has given us wristwatches that tell time within a fraction of a second. This has not necessarily made us more punctual in our habits. Often, we still have to guess the duration of a given “Filipino time” or, more common regionally, “rubber time.”

This casual attitude toward time, unfortunately, can lead beyond missed appointments or mistakes in judgment. Take the case of the claim that the administration released additional pork barrel funds through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to buy the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. Why has this allegation appeared plausible, despite its dubious source, a senator charged with plunder?

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The administration has denied that DAP funds were given as pork barrel and dismissed any link between the release of these funds and the impeachment trial. This response, critics will say, was only to be expected.

But, second, no senator has come forward to admit that his or her vote had been bought. Even Jinggoy Estrada, who first raised the bribery issue, maintained that the pork, which he accepted, did not influence his decision, although he could not speak for his colleagues. No one has confessed to voting on the basis of a bribe.

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Third, some senators who voted to acquit apparently received these funds, while others who voted to convict did not.

These factual considerations alone should have laid the bribery charge to rest. And yet, the suspicion persists, and it may be drawing traction not just from parties desperately trying to divert public attention from the Priority Development Assistance Fund plunder cases against Janet Napoles and her partner-legislators. It lingers also, I suspect, because the diversion effort exploits how we naturally think about causality and time.

The Senate impeached Corona. And then—actually, about six months later—they received DAP funds. Therefore, they must have received these funds because they had agreed to impeach Corona. The premise that what happened before caused what happened after appears plausible, since the cause must come before the effect.

Our philosophy teacher used a favorite example of this fallacy that mistakes a temporal sequence for a causal relationship: Roosters crow just before daybreak. Should we believe that the crowing of the cocks causes the sun to rise?

Respecting the chronology of events would also help avoid unwarranted conclusions. Newspaper headlines, for instance, have called attention to the continuing irregularities in the use of PDAF and DAP funds in the P-Noy administration.  Whether intended or not, such headlines sell the spin that the administration already knew about the Napoles racket, but knowingly permitted it to continue. It insinuates administration complicity in the corruption.

Even the Commission on Audit, however, only saw the evidence of the PDAF scam at about the time that the Napoles staff started blowing the whistle. Why it took the COA so long to undertake the audit is an important side issue, but it bears stressing that the order to do so came only with the advent of the P-Noy administration. Until that time, PDAF operations, whose origins preceded P-Noy, enjoyed the presumption of legality.

Given this  presumption, the administration, in implementing the DAP, allowed 9 percent of the funds to be treated like the PDAF, allowing legislators to recommend projects, as long as they met DAP guidelines. Unfortunately, some senators—and the media have surfaced, among others, the names of Senators Vicente Sotto, Gregorio Honasan and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.—have allegedly managed to direct these funds to Napoles and, perhaps, other bogus nongovernment organizations.

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It is disappointing that former senator Ping Lacson should ask why senators had to be consulted if the DAP targeted already approved projects. As he must know, very few legislators can be accused of doing the right thing only because it is the right thing to do. The project may be good, but the perennial question comes up: What is in it for me, or, less crassly, for “my constituency?”

Legislators are politicians, and politics everywhere is a negotiations game. The executive branch would prefer cordial relations with Congress to keep the bargaining within the bounds of decency. The Napoles scam, whether the funds came from the PDAF, DAP or Malampaya Fund clearly breached ethical and legal boundaries.

The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the PDAF and of the DAP. These are two different mechanisms, neither invulnerable to corruption. But the constitutional issues are separate from the criminal charges filed and to be filed against those accused of plundering public funds.

In a recent national address, P-Noy reassured his “bosses” that he will pursue to its conclusion the investigation and prosecution of the pork barrel cases. The scale and brazenness of the corruption already exposed now make imperative the accounting of the use of pork barrel funds by all legislators, whether from the opposition or the administration.

Hopefully, we will see this in Philippine standard time, not in rubber time.

Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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TAGS: dap, Disbursement Acceleration Program, pork barrel, Renato corona
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