MANILA - He was being innovative and creative. This is how Budget Secretary Butch Abad defended the controversial disbursement acceleration program before senators in the first Senate hearing on the DAP.
With the whole Cabinet in tow, Abad told the Senate the Philippines did not become one of Asia's best-performing economies by playing it safe.
He said the DAP was created precisely to free up operational bottlenecks to achieve its goal of stimulating economic growth.
"We did not not become government pioneers in transparency and openness by playing it safe. We did all these through the bold and single-minded pursuit of innovation and reform under the leadership of President Aquino. But how can we now compel our public institutions to find inventive solutions to persistent problems when we stifle creativity?" he asked.
In his presentation, Abad explained that projects in various government agencies languished in a maze of paperwork and signatures, compounded by poor planning and slow procurement. If funds were released to a particular agency, it usually took more than a year for the project to get started.
Abad said that by the third quarter of 2011, it became clear that the government needed to use idle funds to accelerate public spending. He noted the acceleration of expenditures played a sure role in the expansion of our economy.
The budget chief pointed out that before the DAP, the economy grew only by 3.2 percent. In 2012, the country's GDP rose 6.8 percent and then grew by 7.3 percent last year.
"While I bow to SC wisdom, I must say, with all due respect, that its decision on these issues may undo progress we've been making," he said.
Abad explained cross-border transfer of funds was necessary to achieve an urgent public good even though this was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
He cited an instance in 2012 when the court ordered the Commission on Elections to buy precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines but the poll body did not have enough savings and there was not enough time to seek a supplemental budget before the 2013 elections.
He said the Comelec had no choice but to go to the Executive.
"I likewise respect Supreme Court decision on cross-border transfers which was found unconstitutional as practiced under DAP. Nonetheless, I think it also behooves us in the executive to clarify why cross border transfers were made through DAP and why these transfers do not jeopardize the principle of separation of powers. As separate as the 3 branches of government are, there remains a relationship of interdependence among them. Belonging as they are to a single govt, this interdependence is such that the success of one hinges on the ability of the other two to support it," he said.
Abad insisted that the Aquino administration has always been transparent about the DAP since it was launched in 2011. This runs contrary to the opinion of some critics that the DAP was shrouded in secrecy.
"We were frequently told nobody has heard of it. Some groups even implied that the program was deliberately kept under wraps so that the [Department of Budget and Management] would avoid the burden of accountability but this is ridiculous. Not only did the DBM announce the existence of DAP from its very inception, the launching of DAP was covered by major broadsheets, like the Manila Bulletin, Business Mirror, and Philippine Daily Inquirer. We later informed the press about fund releases made by the DAP," he said.
He also said he should not be held liable for implementing DAP, citing the opinion of a Supreme Court justice.
"How can criminal, civil, and administrative liability be even suggested in this case when the Court earlier found that the doctrine of operative fact applies to the adoption and implementation of DAP? And here I must quote Associate Justice Marvic Leonen who in his concurring opinion said, that and I quote, :'The declaration of unconstitutionality per se is the basis for determining liability is a dangerous proposition. It is not proper that there are suggestions of administrative or criminal liability even before the proper charges are raised, investigated, and filed,'" he said.