Solon wants probe on P20B 'DAP clone'

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 22 2014 08:12 AM | Updated as of Jul 22 2014 04:12 PM

MANILA - There is a hidden ''Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)-clone'' in the 2014 national budget amounting to P20 billion that should be probed by Congress for possible corruption and abuse, Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said yesterday.

Ridon said the House of Representatives should investigate the implementation of projects, activities and programs (PAPs) under the multi-billion Grassroots Participatory Budgeting (GPB), a mechanism similar to one of the provisions of DAP, which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.

In House Resolution No. 1284 filed yesterday, the lawmaker exposed several vulnerabilities of the GPB, including a DAP-like provision that enables local government officials to cancel and replace projects already indicated in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Under the GPB process, select local government units (LGUs) are asked to come up with a wish list of P15 million worth of projects that they want to be funded by the national government, through consultations with local basic sector organizations and civil society groups.

When the mechanism started in 2013, the fund under GPB reached P8.4 billion spread over 595 municipalities. For 2014, the budget under GPB soared to a total of P20.03 billion spread over 1,226 municipalities, almost at par with the budget for the now defunct Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.

He said in 2015, the government announced that the GPB would again be expanded to include all municipalities and have a budget amounting to P22 billion.

“The first red flag on the GPB is that it gives LGUs the ability to cancel and replace certain programs and projects, a characteristic similar to that of DAP,” Ridon said.

“By allowing the cancellation and replacement of projects already identified in the GAA, the GPB has actually opened a new way for the executive department to usurp the congressional power of the purse,” he said.

In the recent ruling on DAP, the SC struck down as unconstitutional the funding of PAPs that were not covered by any appropriation in the GAA.

“Replacing a project or program already approved by Congress through the GPB mechanism is thus illegal and unconstitutional,” the lawmaker said.

Notices of disallowance

Members of the group Reform Philippines Movement (RPM) asked the Commission on Audit (COA) yesterday to start issuing notices of disallowance to all “unlawful disbursements” of government funds arising from the DAP.

State auditors were urged to conduct an investigation into the DAP, which the Supreme Court has unanimously declared unconstitutional.

In a letter to COA Chairperson Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan, RPM lead convenor Greco Belgica said the agency should take action so that those who violated the law will be punished.

“Your honor’s faithful performance of her constitutional mandate will begin the process of giving justice to the unjustly accused and also to the abused, our countrymen,” he said.

He told Tan that her action would assure the people that they were not betrayed by all officials in the government.

Tan earlier told The STAR that an investigation or special audit on the DAP is already being conducted.

“We have been auditing the utilization of DAP funds since last year in the course of our regular audit of recipient agencies, including COA,” she said.

Belgica’s group also filed yesterday before the SC a partial motion for reconsideration seeking to declare as unconstitutional and illegal DAP expenditures used for PAPs not deemed deficient.

Through lawyer Harry Roque Jr., the petitioners said they were not satisfied with the SC ruling that only prohibited withdrawal of unobligated allotments from implementing agencies and their use as savings prior to end of fiscal year, cross-border transfers of savings of the executive to augment funds of agencies outside the department and funding of PAPs not covered by the GAA.

They stressed in the 23-page motion that the high court failed to declare “augmentations can only be made to cover deficient appropriation items up to the extent of the maximum recommendation of the President for the PAPs subject of the augmentation.”

Petitioners said there is a need for a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court on the power of the President to augment the funds to cover a deficit in a program for which public funds had been earmarked under the annual appropriations law.

They pointed out that under the DAP, President Aquino on many occasions augmented or added funds from government savings for projects in amounts that exceeded many times the original funding for them under the GAA.

“To do so would mean giving the President more money for a project that he failed to properly assess and evaluate how much it would cost to implement. To allow him to use more money than he initially determined would be required for a certain project would be to disregard the process of budgeting required to be observed under the law,” they stressed.

Among the projects cited by petitioners as proof of this scheme is the Dream project of the Department of Science and Technology, which received P1.6 billion in 2011 on top of its P537.9 million budget under the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) category in the GAA.

Meanwhile, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV urged the COA to probe how the Philippine National Police (PNP) spent the supposed P4 billion in DAP funds given to the agency in 2013.

“With regard to the PNP funds, we have to call in the COA special audit report if the funds were used properly. As for the performance of the PNP it will be the leadership that should be made to answer,” Trillanes said.

Sen. Grace Poe said that she would just wait for the detailed audit of the P3-billion DAP allotted to the PNP before coming up with a position on the issue.

Poe is the chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, which has jurisdiction on matters relating to peace and order, the PNP, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and private security agencies.

The PNP said about P4 billion has been spent to hire new personnel, procurement of additional equipment including patrol cars and firearms, construction of new police stations and upgrade capabilities.

About P2 billion went to the police modernization program.

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) expressed dismay over the partisan generosity of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, the Liberal Party’s presumed presidential bet in 2016, who apparently received funds from DAP for projects already funded in the department’s regular budget.

“Aside from the allocation in the DILG budget for relocation, it now appears that Secretary Roxas got another P10 billion from DAP,” said Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, also UNA secretary-general. – With Michael Punongbayan, Edu Punay, Christina Mendez, Jose Rodel Clapano