MANILA - Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Tuesday praised the Supreme Court decision declaring several acts and practices under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.
"It's basically a no-brainer. The DAP is illegal because it was not contained in the 2011 or 2012 budgets, and because the alleged savings were used to augment new budget items which was not previously authorized by Congress,” Santiago said in a statement.
The senator pointed out the same logic in the SC ruling: that the Constitution allows fund transfers only if there are savings, meaning that the project was completed, and yet the appropriation was not exhausted.
Santiago said there are no savings if a project was merely deferred.
"The first issue is that the DAP was not taken from savings. The second issue is that the DAP was not used to augment items in the budget that were previously authorized by Congress. The alleged savings were used to augment new budget items not previously authorized by Congress,” the former UP College of Law constitutional law professor said.
Santiago said that it appeared that DAP funds were taken from alleged slow-moving projects. She said the budget department should have sought the approval of Congress, because under the Constitution, it is Congress that exercises the power of the purse.
"Using the DAP, the budget department is basically realigning funds without public discussion in Congress. In effect, they are chipping away at the legislative power of the purse by fiddling with the budget,” she said.
Nine petitions were filed against the DAP, which some believe was a form of presidential pork.
The discretionary fund earlier hit the headlines when Senator Jinggoy Estrada bared that several senators received some P50 million to P100 million supposedly in exchange for voting to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Estrada had questioned the “persecution” he has received for allegedly diverting his pork barrel, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), to bogus nongovernment organizations.
The PDAF, which was also a discretionary fund, has since been declared unconstitutional by the SC.
Malacanang, through the Department of Budget and Management, denied the DAP was used to bribe the senators.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the DAP funds were realigned savings meant to spur government spending.
Santiago said the DAP funds appear to have been disbursed in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
According to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, additional funds under the so-called DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) were released reportedly during and after the impeachment trial against former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Santiago said it should be illegal for the budget department to discriminate among senators.
"While all other senators received an average of P50 million in DAP funds, reportedly three senators got P100 million each. They are Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Franklin Drilon, and Sen. Francis Escudero,” she said.
The three senators did not explain why they got more than the others, but merely defended themselves with the excuse that they spent the money on public projects. By contrast, each representative allegedly received P15 million.
Those who were not given any additional pork from the DAP were Santiago, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, and Sen. Joker Arroyo—the three senators who voted against impeachment.
Legislators bribed with DAP?
Santiago has renewed her call for the Commission on Audit to probe into the alleged bribery of Congress members during the impeachment trial of ex-Chief Justice Renato Corona in connection with the DAP.
"Both the pork barrel and DAP scandals are equally repulsive, and the Supreme Court declared both funds as unconstitutional. I wholeheartedly welcome the impartial adjudication of these abominable abuses of public funds by the Supreme Court since I cannot obtain relief from the Senate itself, which appeared to have been complicit in bribery,” she said.
She quoted Article 210: “Direct Bribery. – Any public officer who shall agree to perform an act constituting a crime, in connection with the performance of his official duties, in consideration of any offer, promise, gift, or present received by such officer.”
Santiago said that every senator who voted to convict, and every representative who voted to indict, if each one is shown to have received additional pork during and immediately after the impeachment trial, are presumably guilty of bribery, because of the close timing between the two events.
She said that under the Penal Code, each senator or representative was guilty of the crime of "knowingly rendering unjust judgment."
Santiago is also pushing for the passage of her Senate Bill No. 404, or the Budget Impoundment Control Bill, which seeks to increase congressional oversight and to limit executive influence over specific appropriations in the national budget.