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Corruption under the presidential letterhead

/ 06:55 AM December 17, 2014

The biggest and most brazen corruption issue since the years of the dictatorship erupted during the watch of Benigno Aquino III, and ironically, while mocking the thematic anticorruption imagery upon which he founds his legitimacy, there is really no philosophical disconnect. Corruption and the governance over which Mr. Aquino has so far presided apparently ride in tandem, as these had during his predecessor’s administration, and the one before that.

Dereliction allows corruption tremendous leeway. The lack of discipline gives it free rein. And the inability to discern perpetuates it.

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Three presidencies ago, corruption centered on the executive skimming off from special taxes and receiving protection money from illegal gambling. Imagine a crooked small-town mayor and then raise the thievery to the nth degree.

The next presidency was a tad more sophisticated and pursued government contracts intended to yield not mere one-time, big-time kickbacks but a continuous flow. From petty thievery to international fraud, the manner of presidential corruption broadened.

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In each instance, corruption centered along the Pasig and the complexity upped an inch even as duplicity forged forward in quantum degrees.

Today’s corruption is essentially no different. It is just spun differently. Same dog. Same collar. Even the fleas look familiar.

Corruption, however, seems to have entered its renaissance. The paradigm shifted from simply skimming off taxes and grand fraud to corrupting the core bureaucracy between the executive and the legislature. Under Mr. Aquino, billions of pesos in patronage funds ominously called “accelerated disbursement” intended for pump-priming the economy were rechanneled from implementing agencies and placed under the control of friends and allies.

Familiar? Same pork barrel. Same collar. Deeper deception.

The insidious design was as disingenuous as it was crooked as billions of pesos from prematurely declared savings were spirited away under the presidential letterhead. It is the use of that letterhead that differentiates this latent model from the cliche pork barrel.

The public that installed Mr. Aquino had wrongly concluded that, given wounds inflicted under Gloria Arroyo, matters would be different. The more discerning knew otherwise.

For those familiar with the breadth and depth of Mr. Aquino’s leadership, or for many, its lack, they did not only expect a deepening of corruption within the pork barrel system but, where it morphed into the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), they also knew exactly how to manipulate hollow inexperience and the lack of discernment and transform those into a viable political-patronage enterprise.

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The parasites that be, those who need Mr. Aquino’s popularity to compensate for their shortcomings, recognize the opportunities presented by a responsibility-dazed Walter Mitty preoccupied with other matters that to him might be more important than the complex intellectual intricacies of fiscal prudence and productive spending.

See how the pork barrel system worsened. The DAP, uniquely Mr. Aquino’s pork barrel mutation, where billions of pesos are allocated, not by statute where pork barrel models operate within congressional budget systems, but one more sinister, insidious and criminal, is fueled primarily by the awesome powers of the presidency.

To perpetuate such pork, officials have resorted to disguising the pork barrel and mutating the DAP to fit the parameters set by the Supreme Court.

Note the helter-skelter hustle and haste to slip by a supplemental budget on the heels of the General Appropriations Act (GAA). Last year, the supplemental budget passed via a congressional resolution. Technically, resolutions cannot amend a statute, which is what the GAA is. This year the Senate is being forced to pass a second law authorizing the supplemental allocations within days in the middle of the Christmas rush, despite the fact that the principal GAA remains unsigned and is technically in-process.

Such sleight of hand is brazen deception. Our lawmakers have converted their august chambers into a unicameral pigsty. The supplement allocates lump-sum funds absent in the GAA. Mocking the high courtís decision, it perpetuates what has been denied.

Analyze its intended usage. Many were old cross-border transfers. Each, exactly the same, for which the PDAF (Priority Disbursement Allocation Fund) and the DAP were realigned prior to the high court’s ruling.

As much as P1.849 billion settles obligations from past PDAF projects. Of 26 incremental items, 10 were old DAP transfers. The largest is P2.8 billion for the “operational transformation” of the Philippine National Police, P300 million is for the Department of Science and Technology, P5.2 million is for transferring a couple of offices, P240 million is for the province of Quezon. And P250 million is for a library.

How are any of these economic stimuli that the DAP claims to fuel?

As these bloat expenditures in time for 2016, many fear that these insidiously fund ambitions—thus, once more, inextricably forming a diabolic hydra of the PDAF, the DAP and the presidency.

Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a consultant to the Joint Congressional Power Commission. He authored a book on energy governance tool kits and teaches finance, investment mathematics and corporate strategy.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, corruption, Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), President Aquino
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