Palace factionalism at work in DAP

Posted at 07/07/14 8:57 AM

MANILA - President Aquino's former chief legal counsel admitted that he knew nothing about the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the Supreme Court recently declared as unconstitutional.

Former chief presidential legal counsel Eduardo de Mesa confirmed recently to The STAR that he was not consulted by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad about the DAP.

De Mesa headed Malacañang’s legal team in 2011 when the controversial budget scheme was implemented.

"No," was his firm reply when asked if he was made aware of the DAP’s legality.

De Mesa was later transferred to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, and was succeeded in January 2013 by incumbent legal adviser Benjamin Caguioa, Aquino’s classmate at Ateneo.

Abad is also a lawyer by profession, a Batanes congressman and has served as a Cabinet member in various capacities – as agrarian reform secretary during the term of the late President Corazon Aquino, the current President’s mother, and education secretary during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

De Mesa belongs to the so-called Samar group within Aquino’s Cabinet and he is closely identified with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., who was himself kept out of the loop regarding Abad’s plan to realign pooled savings among agencies.

On the other hand, Abad a close friend of Aquino and a Liberal Party stalwart is associated with the Balay group headed by Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

Palace insiders revealed that while it was made to appear on paper that Ochoa was furnished a copy of DAP communications, Abad had in truth “hand-carried” the letter personally to Aquino in late 2011.

It was “at the height of the issue of factionalism” that DAP was created, another source said, noting that it is also an open secret that Aquino allows such factionalism to exist if only to ensure that officials don’t conspire and keep tabs on each other.

Among the many agencies where factionalism is prevalent are those of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police; the Presidential Communications Group, and the Department of Transportation and Communications when Roxas was still the secretary, and the Land Transportation Office.

Reliable sources say Ochoa learned about the DAP only through Aquino, who showed him a copy of Abad’s letter.

It was also learned that although all concerns should have passed through Ochoa’s office, only DAP was not brought to his attention.

Under the regular office procedure, it is Ochoa’s job to assign and refer issues that concern the appropriate agencies, being the head of the Cabinet, the very rationale why the executive secretary is dubbed as “Little President.”

The tenor behind Ochoa’s June 2013 memorandum to Abad was somehow baffling, where he forwarded all of the DBM’s three memos to Aquino – dated June and September 2012 and September 2013 – which had all been sanctioned by the President.

“Relative thereto, attached is a copy of your memo with the President’s approval and further instructions. For your appropriate action,” read a portion of Ochoa’s single-page letter, which Abad also furnished to the Supreme Court.

It simply meant that it had Aquino’s imprimatur and only had to go through Ochoa’s office as a matter of procedure.

Palace insiders also related that Abad called on his fellow economic managers and convened the Development Budget Coordinating Council (DBCC) that eventually became the “vehicle” for DAP to be approved by Aquino.