Why P17.5B DAP was 'pork barrel'

By Gigi Grande, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 17 2014 08:30 PM | Updated as of Sep 18 2014 08:04 AM

MANILA - "Excuse me, DAP is not PDAF."

That's how President Benigno Aquino III defended his administration's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in a televised speech 2 weeks after the Supreme Court declared it partially unconstitutional in July this year.

The President hoped to distinguish DAP from the equally scandal-tainted Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), also known as pork barrel fund. The High Court declared the PDAF unconstitutional in November 2013.

Critics have long said DAP was a form of pork barrel.

As it turns out, the critics may have been right. A report uploaded by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) itself shows at least P17.5 billion out of P144 billion in DAP releases between 2011 to 2013 were lump sum, discretionary funds -- the generally accepted description of pork barrel.

Approved by the President under “Other Various Local Projects,” the amount was intended to “fund local priority projects nationwide requested by legislators, local government officials, and national agencies," DBM documents say.

The lump sums were approved in October 2011 under DAP 1, June 2012 under DAP 3, and December 2012 under DAP 5.

DAP FOR FOOD, BURIAL, BEAUTIFICATION

Over a third of the P17.5 billion DAP -- or P6.2 billion -- went to Assistance to Local Government Units (ALGU) over a 3-year period.

In defending the DAP before a Senate hearing last July, Budget Secretary Butch Abad said, “we had to use idle funds - money that was not moving- for projects that could not only be implemented quickly, but would also create a real impact on the country’s economy,” he said.

But instead of high-impact projects, the ALGU was partly spent on items like food and gas, burial assistance, greening and beautification, transportation, scholarships, educational incentives, assistance to indigent patients, livelihood projects, and training.

“PDAF was used mainly for political purposes -- to ensure legislators they get reelected,” former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno explained. “They used it to fund what their supporters wanted them to -- a small project here, a small road or bridge there, scholarships, healthcare, some medicine. In a sense, the DAP was also in that nature.”

The above-mentioned projects also fall squarely into the Commission on Audit’s list of items that pork barrel was intended to fund.

“If you are a dishonest public official, talagang madaling nakawin yun,” said Rep. Neri Colmenares, whose party-list group Bayan Muna, challenged DAP before the Supreme Court. “Ang hirap i-audit nun,ang hirap i-trace.”

WHERE DID P4.3 B GO?

While the DBM report shows the ALGU was partly used to pave roads, repair public markets, and construct day care centers, there is no data to show how P4.3 billion of P6.2 billion was spent by local governments.

The DBM report simply leaves the “actual output” column blank, or indicates it has not yet received a report on the project, even if funds were released between one to three years ago.

When the President sought to differentiate DAP from PDAF, he said that unlike PDAF, DAP did not end up in the pockets of lawmakers and bogus NGOs.

“It’s clear that with DAP the people’s money was never stolen—the funds were used for the benefit of Filipinos,” the President said.

But Colmenares questions how the President can be certain DAP funds were not misused. “They’ll say, hindi naman ninakaw yan. Hindi mo nga ma-account eh, how can you say hindi ninakaw yan?” asked Colmenares.

A previous report had linked four senators to the misuse of the DAP.

The Commission on Audit is set to look into the use of the DAP.

The DBM data also raises more questions about whether DAP really played a significant role in pulling up the country’s GDP between 2011 and 2012.

“How can you say it stimulates the economy when many were not even accounted for? Di mo nga alam kung natuloy yung proyekto o hindi,” Colmenares said.

Economists previously said DAP disbursements were too small relative to the country’s GDP, it had little, if any impact, at all.

MILK FEEDING PROGRAM

Of the P17.5 billion lump sum discretionary funds released, disbursements of P213 million also went to a milk feeding program approved under “GOCCS: Other Various Local Projects.”

That this was pork barrel was confirmed by no less than one of the proponents, former congressman and now Senator JV Ejercito.

“I was told we would be getting additional P10 million on top of our regular allocation of P70 million PDAF,” Ejercito said.

He said he received a call from the office of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte just days after he signed the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato Corona in December 2011, and was asked to choose projects from a limited menu.

Ejercito opted to use his lump sum allocation on the milk feeding program and a call center training program.

Data from the National Dairy Authority show at least 40 congressmen – all of whom signed the impeachment complaint against Corona- received DAP allocations that went to the milk feeding program.

TOO HOT TO HIRE NEW AGENTS?

In 2011, the year over 248,000 crimes were reported in the country, the President approved the use of P11.2 million to hire 50 new National Bureau of Investigation agents and 15 state prosecutors under the DAP.

“The amount shall cover the hiring of new NBI agents and lawyers. Aside from undergoing training, the 50 NBI agents…will be provided with a set of equipment to carry out their operations,” the project description says.

The amount was spent, all right-- but neither a single NBI agent, nor a single prosecutor was hired. Instead, the funds went to installing air conditioners.

It also went to the purchase of pistols, laptops, desk computers, photocopiers, printers, and others.

Based on the DBM report, even heads of agencies like Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had their share of pork barrel, wielding discretion over funds the President had already approved for a specific purpose.

“Itong sa other public officials like cabinet secretaries, it’s still pork barrel. Ang tawag dyan, lump sum. Bakit pork ang lump sum? Because in the end, only one person decides,“ Colmenares said.

DAP AS A 2016 CAMPAIGN CHEST?

DAP was finally terminated in December 2013 amid an outcry over the misuse of PDAF.

Government, however, said it was terminated because it had served the purpose for which it was created.

“With the marked improvement in the speed, quality, and accountability of government spending, DAP as a policy intervention has clearly achieved its purpose,” according to the DBM website.

But Diokno said the real intent of DAP may have had nothing to do with pump-priming the economy.

“DAP 2011, I think, was in response to the growing criticism that the Aquino administration was very slow in disbursing what was already in the budget. So they made all this to make it appear as though they were quick in spending. But I think DAP 2012 -2013 was already building a huge campaign chest leading to 2016,” he said. “They could have used this all the way to the 2016 elections. Can you imagine if the SC didn’t stop them from doing this?”

Government has filed a motion for reconsideration before the Supreme Court.

Abad was unavailable for interview, as of posting.