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Editorial

Proof of non-abuse

/ 01:19 AM July 18, 2014

To a great extent, President Aquino’s startling challenge to the Supreme Court to reconsider its unanimous view on the unconstitutionality of the means by which the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was implemented depends on proving one thing: That the DAP funds were not abused, or used for corrupt purposes.

Legally, it shouldn’t matter. The Supreme Court, voting unanimously, struck down three modes of implementation: the way the Aquino administration creatively redefined savings; the transfer of some of these savings across the borders of government, so to speak; and the funding of unprogrammed projects. Whether “cross border” transfers (to choose just one possibility) ended up funding a government project or lining an official’s pocket should ultimately have no bearing on the court’s reasoning. It was the means of implementation which was found unconstitutional.

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But politically, morally, it matters terribly. In part this is because the President has chosen to adopt the now-popular view of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, as synonymous with corruption. In his nationwide address last Monday, he drew a sharp contrast between the PDAF and the DAP. “Excuse me. DAP is different from PDAF. With PDAF, the corrupt funneled government funds into fake NGOs, money then allegedly divided among themselves. It’s clear that with DAP the people’s money was never stolen—the funds were used for the benefit of Filipinos.”

We can understand why the President chose to highlight the contrast. But his is an untenable, and revisionist, view. Before the so-called Million People March in Rizal Park last August, the President issued a robust defense of the budget system, and sought to “purify” the PDAF through new reforms. Now he has apparently come around to the simplistic view of some of his most vocal critics. Like them, he has learned to conflate the pork barrel system the Supreme Court belatedly found unconstitutional with the pork barrel scam itself—the diversion of earmarked funds into fake NGOs, for which alleged mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Ejercito Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., among others, are now facing plunder and graft charges.

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In part, also, proving that DAP funds were not themselves systematically abused matters a great deal because, in presenting his defense of the controversial economic stimulus program, President Aquino chose to paint an absolutist view of the DAP. “It’s clear that with DAP the people’s money was never stolen”—but in fact several senators are reported to have used the same problematic NGOs associated with Napoles to put their DAP allocations to use. Is the President offering his diminished but still considerable political capital as cover for those senators?

Right after his Monday address, the Department of Budget and Management made an itemized list of projects funded by the DAP available on its website. The projects number 116 in all, and the list shows that P144 billion were released in six stages between late 2011 and mid 2013.

It includes big-ticket items like the recapitalization of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (all told, P30 billion of the new capital came from the DAP, in two tranches); the construction of “in-city medium-rise buildings” for families living in danger zones (P10 billion); and the multi-agency Comprehensive Peace and Development Intervention program in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (about P8.3 billion released, out of an P8.5-billion allocation).

But—here’s the problem—the list also includes what looks for all the world like lump-sum allocations exactly similar to the PDAF, which proved vulnerable to plunder and corruption. Project No. 73 is identified merely as “Other Various Infrastructure Projects” and described as follows: “This item shall fund other priority local projects nationwide requested by legislators, local government officials and national agencies.” Total amount released: over P8 billion.

Whether he likes it or not, President Aquino is faced with the unenviable task of proving the negative. His administration, then, must provide a further itemization for allocations like that for Project No. 73, to prove that with the DAP there was no abuse. Placeholder item titles like “Other Various Infrastructure Projects” simply won’t do.

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TAGS: Aquino administration, Benigno Aquino III, Disbursement Acceleration Program, Million People March, PDAF, President Aquino, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Rizal Park, Supreme Court
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