MANILA, NOVEMBER 4, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Delon Porcalla - Malacañang indicated yesterday that President Aquino is open to holding a dialogue with critics of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), if only to clarify the issue that has apparently pulled down his approval ratings.

Press Secretary Herminio Coloma said Aquino is “willing to hold a dialogue with groups opposed to DAP to resolve the conflict.”

Coloma said Aquino’s televised address last week was part of that objective to inform the public that he is open to dialogue with the citizenry.

“President Aquino is open to any suggestion and will take the opportunity to know the sentiments of the people on this issue,” Coloma said.

At the same time, Coloma assured the public that the government will hold accountable those involved in the pork barrel scam, regardless of political affiliation, as long as the evidence warrants prosecution.

Coloma issued the statement in light of a 100-day deadline imposed by netizens for the Aquino administration to file charges against its political allies allegedly involved in the scandal, and not only opposition lawmakers.

“The President has already declared this from the very start: let the evidence point the direction of the inquiry. This was the very basis for the charges being filed – based on the evidence,” Coloma said.

He emphasized the principle behind the depiction of justice as a blindfolded woman who does not distinguish between political affiliation, position or status in society.

“Everybody is equal under the law, and in dispensing justice as well,” Coloma said.

Lawmakers had been asking for an investigation into the DAP following allegations of fund misuse by the administration.

There had been proposals in Congress to limit the power of the President to realign savings as well as to restore congressional oversight over the use of certain lump sum funds.

Taking the cue from Malacañang, Sen. Francis Escudero said the Senate investigation into the DAP will not be prioritized once Congress resumes on Nov. 18.

Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said the Senate’s schedule will be full in dealing with the P2.268-trillion proposed budget for next year.

It will take about one to two weeks to tackle the budget before the plenary, he said.

After that, Escudero expressed confidence that the bicameral conference will be done by end of the month to ensure that the budget is approved by December.

Escudero noted the failure of Congress to pass the budget on time will put to naught the administration’s efforts to provide an itemized allocation under the 2014 budget.

He gave assurance that the resolution filed by Sen. Juan Victor Ejercito calling for a probe on DAP will still be acted upon once formally referred to the finance committee.

Escudero sees two options on dealing with the DAP issue.

First, the regular hearings will be conducted although the schedule might have conflict since there will be budget debates in the plenary.

The second option is for the Senate to discuss the DAP during the plenary debates for the 2014 budget.

“If they want they can bring the issue before the plenary debates… if they want the budget secretary (Florencio Abad) to answer this issue, more than the committee on finance which will convert into a committee of the whole, they can ask the secretary himself,” Escudero said.

Escudero said the use of savings under DAP does not need any reportorial requirements. Even past administrations did not report how they used savings, he pointed out.

Just wait

Sen. Nancy Binay said it would be more appropriate if Malacañang will wait for the final ruling of the Supreme Court rather than argue the merits of the DAP on national television.

“The case is already pending in the Supreme Court. It is prudent for all of us to just wait for the final decision of the high tribunal,” Binay said.

“If we really want to explain the benefits, the purpose of this ‘impounding mechanism,’ then it would be more appropriate if the DBM explains this in detail at the proper forum wherein the facts of the DAP can be scrutinized and discussed,” she added.

Binay was referring to a resolution filed by Ejercito last month seeking an inquiry into the DAP facility, urging for the “proper Senate committee” to examine the mechanism.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 287, Ejercito said the DAP should be further examined following allegations that the funds released through the program came from the government’s slow-moving projects and not from savings.

According to Ejercito, the DAP may be considered to be in violation of the Constitution.

Binay said that the Senate inquiry would be different from the Supreme Court hearing as it might touch and discuss certain dimensions of the program.

Binay added Abad should have spared the President from explaining DAP since the budget secretary would be the best resource person to defend it.

Abad earlier said the DAP was sourced from national government savings, including unprogrammed funds generated from windfall revenue collections, unreleased appropriations from slow-moving projects, terminated programs, as well as the withdrawal of unused allotments already released to government agencies.

Calls to curtail presidential discretion over the disbursement of lump sums came after the Department of Justice uncovered the funneling of over P900 million in Malampaya funds – allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles – to bogus non-government organizations in the guise of funding rehabilitation projects of communities hit by typhoons in 2009.

Powers limited

Congressmen are gearing up to tackle proposals seeking to limit the powers of the President over the DAP.

Deputy majority leader and Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said the House of Representatives can now focus on other measures after passing the proposed P2.268-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) before it went on a break last month.

“We can now discuss bills related to the GAA as well as proposals limiting the discretion of the President to realign savings and other funds. The authors said there is wide support for the measure that will be tackled by the committee on appropriations,” Tugna said, referring to the members of the independent bloc in the House.

Tugna said the appropriations panel is also expected to calendar for hearing bills seeking to limit presidential discretion over certain lump sums – like the Malampaya fund – such as House Bill 2690 filed by Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, vice chairman of the committee.

Evardone suggested amending Presidential Decree 910, which laid down the policy on the use of the Malampaya fund and allowed the President to spend the fund even on non-energy related programs.

Evardone stressed the need for Congress to revisit and modify the law in the exercise of its constitutional duty to check on the activities of the executive branch.

“This bill seeks to limit the prerogatives of Chief Executive insofar as the disposition of the special funds, and thus avoid the recurrence of scandalous expenditure of moneys coming from said fund. This bill proposes the course of action Congress must take to restore the balance of power for the benefit of the people,” Evardone said.

“We need to stop the anomalous exercise of the broad executive discretion,” he said.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. backed the proposal but suggested to expand the use of proceeds from the Malampaya natural gas project for poverty alleviation programs.

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, leader of the independent bloc, said they are seeking to standardize all provisions on the realignment and use of savings, income, fees, donations, grants and other such funds embedded in the budget of various agencies.

Romualdez said it would be too much for the administration to claim huge savings and making large disbursements from it when the government is in a deficit.

“You can only realign and use savings so much. There must be some limit to Malacañang’s discretion,” he said.

More open and transparent

Abad, for his part, said the government is prepared to intensify its bid for greater transparency and accountability in government.

“What is particularly significant about our participation is that despite the challenges we’re facing in our transparency and accountability campaign, the administration is keener than ever on reinforcing the strength of our good governance agenda,” Abad told the recently concluded Open Government Partnership Summit (OGP) in London.

“We’re just as determined to push for greater reform toward sustainable public engagement, so that government processes – especially those related to the budget – will increasingly involve the participation of an empowered citizenry,” he said.

Abad was among the officials of the Philippine delegation – led by presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Commission on Audit (COA) commissioner Heidi Mendoza that presented the country’s OGP Action Plan for 2013 to 2015 in the forum in the United Kingdom.

The summit ended on a high note for the Philippines, with the country besting six other finalists to win the Bright Spots Competition.

Lacierda said while the current Philippine government “initiatives for transparency and openness will require further improvement, government has not lost it sights on deepening citizen participation and ensuring better public accessibility to government data.”

Lacierda spoke before other participants in the Asia Regional Caucus.

“We will need to tighten coordination among our agencies to ensure that the disclosure of information is always efficient, timely, and accurate. With civil society and the public already very interested in what we’re doing, though, it shouldn’t be difficult for us to engage them in an even deeper and more earnest discussion on government reform. The forthcoming launch of our Open Data portal this November is a decisive step toward that,” Lacierda said. –Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero


Aquino’s Cabinet unwilling to take bullet for him, Joker Arroyo
By Philippine Daily Inquirer Philippine Daily Inquirer 10:23 pm | Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Former Senator Joker Arroyo FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — A lot has changed since Cory’s time.

While President Corazon C. Aquino’s men took the bullets for her, her son — President Aquino — has been less fortunate, retired Senator Joker Arroyo said on Sunday.

Arroyo recalled that Aquino’s senior officers – Rene Saguisag, Fulgencio “Jun’’ Factoran Jr., Teodoro “Teddy Boy’’ Locsin and Mariano “Dodo’’ Sarmiento – were quick to defend her every time she was criticized.

And they were no ordinary President’s men; they were Harvard graduates and bar topnotchers, said Arroyo, Mrs. Aquino’s first executive secretary.

“Whenever President Cory was attacked by her detractors, her senior officers — Rene Saguisag, Jun Factoran, Teddy Boy Locsin, Dodo Sarmiento — all Harvard graduates and bar topnotchers, took the bullets for [her] and circled their wagons around her to protect her,’’ he said.

In contrast, Aquino is fighting all alone criticism of his administration over the pork barrel and charges that he rewarded 20 senators with millions of pesos in additional pork for voting to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona of betrayal of public trust after an impeachment trial in 2012.

And nowhere has the weakness of the President’s men been so starkly shown than in the pork barrel scandal that has been roiling the government and Congress since July, especially after the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) came to light and got challenged in the Supreme Court.

“Now that President Noynoy is under siege, his officers also rushed [forward, but positioned] themselves behind the President for him to take the bullets for them,’’ he said.

And with them nowhere to be seen, the President addressed the nation on television last Wednesday night, but his speech writer ruined it for him, Arroyo said.

“The President’s speech writer did him incalculable disservice with [that] `I am not a thief’ [line]. That was a non-issue, as nobody [has] accused him of [stealing]. It only dragged the President to the level of his subalterns’ transgressions,’’ Arroyo said.

In his speech, Aquino accused his critics of “muddling the issue” to undermine his administration.

Aquino lamented that while he was haling the people behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam into court, he was being taken to task for the DAP and being called “pork barrel king.”

Trying to explain the distinction between the DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), Aquino said the DAP was not a pork barrel.

But Aquino admitted that only 9 percent of disbursements from the DAP in 2011 and 2012 went to projects recommended by lawmakers.

The PDAF, being a spending program that channels funds to congressional districts, is a pork barrel. The little-known DAP is a temporary holding program for unused development funds.

But Aquino failed to make that clear. Instead, he said: “The issue here is theft. I am not a thief.’’

The thief line is a reworking of Richard Nixon’s statement to the American press, “I’m not a crook,” at the height of the Watergate scandal in November 1973.

Malacañang has not commented on criticisms about the lack of originality of a line that critics have called irrelevant to Aquino’s message.

Arroyo, who has also raised questions about the DAP, suggested that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had only itself to blame for the controversy.

“The DAP has no paternity; it is the illegitimate spawn of the DBM’s misadventures,’’ Arroyo said.

Arroyo earlier protested an attempt by the administration to “deodorize’’ the DAP by naming him as one the recipients in the Senate.

He explained that what he requested was funding for projects from regular items in the General Appropriations Act, not from the DAP.

The DAP came to light after Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, pinpointed by the Commission on Audit as one of the lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam, disclosed in a privilege speech in late September the release of P50 million to finance projects endorsed by the 20 senators who voted for the conviction of Corona.

Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Arroyo voted to acquit Corona and got nothing.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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