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The target

/ 10:36 PM November 13, 2013

My heart goes out to the poor, poor people of the Visayas. We must help them, all of us. Even the smallest amount can add up. I’d suggest through the Red Cross, an organization designed to assist in emergencies, and we can trust it to do the job.

There are ever so many changes needed—some fully concrete (including the roof) safety buildings in every community, for one. It will be expensive, but the inevitable and frequent natural disasters in the Philippines command the need. Power lines and communication cables should be installed underground. The lack of both is making recovery ever so much more difficult.

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There seems to be a blurring of the distinction between the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and I can’t help but think it’s deliberate. The two are vastly different. The PDAF scandal is, purely and simply, theft. Theft of our money. The DAP is a reallocation of government funds from one project to another.

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Now whether that’s constitutional or not is something the Supreme Court has been asked to decide. But the key point I must reemphasize is that DAP funds did not go into someone’s pocket. This is a red herring raised by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to deflect the accusation against him and his cohorts of purported involvement in the theft of the people’s money by diverting their lump-sum pork barrel into personal hands. Whether their hands, or someone else’s, the courts may eventually decide. However, I’m not holding my breath on that one. History shows that a decade or two, or three, can go by before any decision is reached—if it’s reached at all. And history again does not augur well on that one. As far as I can recall, since the end of martial law no—I repeat, no—national leader in this society has gone to jail for theft of public funds.

But back to the DAP. I remember well that back at the end of 2011 we were all complaining about the slow pace of government spending on much-needed infrastructure, and how this was slowing the economy (a reality that happened: GDP grew at only 3.9 percent that year). The Aquino administration put it down to the need to scrutinize every project very carefully given the questionable (a kind word) reputation of the past administration. Was a project necessary? Was it correctly priced? That takes time to determine. Add to that the fact that many in the upper echelons of the key government departments were new and still learning the job—and you ended up with projects stalled.

So the President and his Cabinet decided to fast-track generally smaller projects that could start quickly with little controversy. A total of P140 billion was released in 2011 and 2012 and did indeed go into projects. The problem was, these weren’t specifically budgeted, and that’s where the question comes up. Is this constitutionally allowable? I think it is, or should be, but I’m not a Supreme Court justice, or even a lawyer, just a practical mind that wants things done.

I defer to former Chief Justice Art Panganiban whose as-always-erudite explanation last Sunday explains it well. Even he leaves it to the Supreme Court to decide, but does say it all hinges on the relatively minor  point (to theft) of whether items chosen for accelerated funding were in the budget, or not. Neither he (if I read him correctly) nor I believe any criminality was involved here.

That’s vastly different from the pork barrel where there’s no question at all but that P10 billion (and much, much more yet to be uncovered) of the people’s money was stolen. The only question is by who, and with what accomplices. We should not allow ourselves to be diverted by a moving of funds around from one project to another, which any organization needs to be able to do.

No one can predict all likely events 12 months, or even 12 hours, into the future. I don’t think anyone will deny that the President needs some flexibility, and not just for calamities. We all agree that the President should get all the money he wants to truly help all those poor, suffering people who’ve lost so much in this fearsome typhoon, and in its predecessor, the 7.2-magnitude earthquake.

And there are also unexpected, legitimate needs that come up (just think of your own household). In 2010 when the budget was formed, it was expected that the planned projects would be done. They couldn’t be, so you can either leave the funds to rot in the bank, or use them productively elsewhere. Elsewhere makes an awful lot of sense. The 6.6-percent GDP growth in 2012 seems to say there’s no doubt that P140 billion did indeed stimulate the economy.

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The three senators and five former congressmen have to answer the charges against them, not accuse others of offenses. That’s no defense. Neither is ignorance. Claiming they didn’t know and their signatures were forged is not a defense; it’s an admission of guilt—at the very least, of not properly controlling funds entrusted to them. Perhaps it’s not an offense that merits a jail term, but certainly it’s one you fall upon your sword on, or resign your post on, for betraying the people’s trust in you. That would be the honorable thing to do—apologize to the people for letting them down. It’s called command responsibility: You as a leader are responsible for the actions of your people even if you yourself are innocent. It may seem unfair, but it’s the way civilized societies are structured.

The DAP, within its constitutional limitations, must stay. The pork barrel in all its forms must go, but, I’d suggest, in a phased-out manner, because the need it meets still has to be provided for, but in another way.

The target is a barrel—a barrel of pork. It must go.

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TAGS: dap, Like It Is, opinion, PDAF, Peter Wallace, pork barrel
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