Hunt on for hidden 'pork'
MANILA, Philippines - The devil is in the details for members of the so-called House independent bloc as they vowed to dig for more hidden lump sums – and potential sources of alleged payoffs for Malacanang -- through a jumble of figures and data in the proposed 2014 budget.
Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, the acknowledged head of the bloc, said they would have to undertake closer scrutiny of the proposed budget program in light of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s admission that the nearly P2 billion released to senators last year and early this year came from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a heretofore unknown allocation.
Some quarters have insinuated that funds drawn from DAP were given to senators as reward for their ouster of chief justice Renato Corona.
Sources told The STAR that the DAP was funded by consolidated savings from the unused appropriations of agencies.
For 2011, the DAP reportedly amounted to some P85 billion, as most agencies were slow to utilize their funds since they were more careful about contracts.
For 2012, the amount from savings dropped to about P50 billion because of the improved absorptive capacities of implementing agencies.
“The Aquino administration has been very preachy on transparency but now we have this so-called DAP. Who knows what more acronyms, programs, or initiatives and other budgetary items are embedded in the national budget that Malacañang hid from us and the rest of the Filipino people,” Romualdez said.
“They did not only hide this DAP from us, they also used it – according to one of our much-respected colleagues in the Senate – allegedly as some kind of reward,” he said. He was referring to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada who revealed the release of the money in a privilege speech last week.
The lawmaker said Abad would not have admitted the existence of the fund had it not been for Estrada’s revelation.
Romualdez said Malacañang should not simply brush aside the issue by claiming that DAP is no longer in the proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) for next year. The House approved the 2014 GAA on second reading last week.
“Who knows what new name they’ve inserted in the GAA this time, we in Congress must be vigilant,” he said.
He said the House should go over the proposed budget again before lawmakers vote on it on third and final reading next month.
He bewailed the administration’s keeping P450-billion lump sum funds – considered President Aquino’s own pork barrel – despite the House’s scrapping of the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for lawmakers.
Reps. Jonathan de la Cruz (Abakada-Guro party-list) and Lito Atienza (Buhay party-list) renewed their call to put Aquino’s discretionary funds under line item budget for the sake of transparency.
At the Senate, the President’s allies closed ranks to defend the release of DAP funds.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III confirmed having received funds on top of his regular PDAF allocation but clarified the money went to infrastructure projects in Cebu and Negros. He said he is sure the funds he received ended up in legitimate projects.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said that while it was the first he heard of the DAP, he was sure it was not in the budget.
“Now, I find out that there’s another item called DAP. That is not in the budget. There’s no such animal in budget. So I suppose these (funds) came from the savings of the different government agencies,” Recto said.
Recto maintained that all his pork barrel fund releases were used in infrastructure projects. “As far as I am concerned, these are all PDAF,” he said.
He also stressed there is nothing wrong with the government setting aside funds for DAP.
“What is important is whether it was properly disbursed or not. Whether the funds went to (alleged pork barrel scam mastermind) Janet Lim-Napoles or not… wasted on corruption or not,” Recto said.
“I did not think of it as bribery. For me, there was no bribery,” Recto said, debunking insinuations by some senators.
Sen. Francis Escudero also said the funds released to him were spent properly.
In a press statement, Escudero also clarified that he received P96 million for projects and not P99 million, as initially reported by the DBM.
“I have made several requests to the OP to boost program funding requests of the LGUs through our office,” Escudero said.
“The whole amount went to the construction or repair of public markets of LGUs for P500,000 each,” he said.
Escudero, who was the first among his peers in the Senate to move for the abolition of the pork barrel through Senate Resolution No. 193, reiterated his position that it’s the responsibility of legislators to ensure proper disbursement of funds entrusted to them.
“PDAF is not evil at all. It only becomes such when these have been used as tools for malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance,” Escudero said.
“As I have moved for the abolition of PDAF, it is also a good question to all legislators to ask where all these funding go and how were these utilized? It would also help to ease the unsettling of the public if we could all be transparent in the utilization of our funds by making all facts and figures available to the public,” he said.
Probe DAP, COA told
But for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, DAP should be investigated by the Commission on Audit (COA).
“I understand that the COA is now busy updating the special audit reports on the PDAF. Nonetheless, I appeal for your early compliance with this request for information, because I believe there is now a compelling state interest in stabilizing the country, in the midst of multiple public outrage,” Santiago said in a letter sent to COA Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan.
“Both scams are equally repulsive. But the alleged bribery scam is intended by the political opposition to cover up the Napoles NGO pork scam,” Santiago said.
“At the heart of both scams is then Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile. He is charged with plunder because he gave phoney Napoles NGOs some P400 million. Now he is trying to hide behind the exposé of the alleged bribery scam,” Santiago said.
“Unfortunately, he is still the arch villain, because he alleged received P100 million as a bribe, while others received only P50 million,” she said.
“I would like to know in particular if it is legal for the budget department to discriminate among senators. While all other senators received an average of P50 million, reportedly three senators got P100 million each. They are Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Franklin Drilon, and Sen. Francis Escudero,” Santiago said.
“In releasing funds, the executive branch cannot play favorites when carrying out constitutional commands such as social justice, social services, and equal work opportunities. The DAP releases, flawed as they were from the very beginning, played favorites among senators. That was clearly unconstitutional,” she said.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., for his part, defended DAP. “It’s not illegal or immoral,” he said.
Barzaga, a member of the National Unity Party, said it is just normal for legislators to ask for funding of projects needed by their districts.
“What is important is the DBM, through Sec. (Florencio) Abad is informing the public how funds are released. After all, projects funded through these releases are subject to Commission on Audit scrutiny,” he said.
He said the COA can also conduct a special audit on the DAP if the audit agency thinks that the funds were misused.
Reply to Joker
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda confirmed yesterday that the P47 million former senator Joker Arroyo got in February this year was drawn from the DAP, and not from an amendment he sought for the 2012 GAA.
Lacierda pointed out there could not have been any more amendments to the 2012 appropriations since this national budget allocation was approved as early as December 2011.
In a briefing, he explained that Arroyo’s letter to Sen. Drilon was sent in February, prompting Abad to source the requested funds from DAP and not from the 2012 appropriations law.
“It cannot be accommodated. So, they utilized and consolidated the savings of DAP. We used the DAP to accommodate the laudable projects of Arroyo,” Lacierda stressed. “This didn’t come from the (2012) GAA amendments.”
DAP, according to Lacierda, is “not the normal PDAF” or pork barrel funds despised by many.
Asked if DAP was covered by the Supreme Court suspension order, he said it was, quoting Abad.
Arroyo, who had never availed of his pork barrel funds, said he was surprised that he was among the listed recipients of the over P1-billion allocation for senators who voted to convict Corona.
Arroyo was among the three who voted to acquit Corona in May 2012.
Meanwhile, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap joined yesterday calls for an independent investigation into allegations of bogus NGOs being allowed by the Department of Agriculture to get a share of PDAF.
“A full probe of the entire Department of Agriculture is necessary. We want paper trails, the signatories, the operators and masterminds of this department-wide scam,” Hicap said in a statement.
In Malolos City, an NGO called Focus on Development Goals Foundation (FDGF) admitted receiving P145 million from Senators Gregorio Honasan and Lito Lapid but that it had submitted regular liquidation reports to Philippine Forest Corp. (PhilForest).
Salvador Gaerlan, president of FDGF issued the statement over Radyo Bulacan. With Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy, Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez, Dino Balabo