MANILA (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III reiterated that the release of funds under the disbursement acceleration program (DAP) is legal and challenged critics to impeach him over its alleged misuse.
"Isulong nila kung palagay nilang nasa tama sila. Pero kakabasa ko lang sa Constitution, merong authority sa savings to put to other uses basta nandoon sa ating budget," Aquino told reporters when asked for his reaction to reported statements of former Senator Joker Arroyo and Senator Miriam Santiago that DAP is illegal.
Aquino also denied using the DAP as a means to bribe or reward senators for voting to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
He pointed out that Corona was convicted in May 2012 while funds under the DAP were not released until October.
"So meron bang bribe after the fact?" he said.
Aquino said that the DAP was meant to spur public spending amid observations that the government was not spending much.
He also took exception to his being called as "pork barrel king" by critics.
He said that his administration has been careful in using public funds adding that the budget has been enacted on time to minimize room for corruption.
He said that he has abolished priority development assistance fund (PDAF) system and has been using the Malampaya funds strictly for energy-related projects.
Aquino said,"Tinanggal ko na naman 'yung kakayahan ko na mamudmod, 'di ba, binawasan ko. Walang namilit sa akin 'yan. Walang nagturo sa akin 'yan. Walang nag-insist 'di ba. Pero ginawa ko. So marami na akong ginawa e. Tapos tatawagin nila akong pork barrel king, medyo sa totoo lang, executive ang... gagastos ng national budget, napaka-ingat natin kung papaano gastusin dahil kailangan nating mapagtanggol at anytime kung sino man ang kritiko na tama ang paggugol ng kaban ng bayan."
Diokno blasts DAP
Aquino's critics include former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and opposition Senator JV Ejercito.
Diokno, in an interview with ANC Wednesday, said couldn't believe that government was able to save P72 billion in 2011.
He also lashed out at the government for using DAP to allegedly fund new items in the budget.
"This is worse than the PDAF because this is illegal. At least the PDAF is in there in the budget," he said.
Among the items Diokno is questioning is a P750-million fund allotted to Quezon province, which was used to pay off its debts to the National Power Corp.
The others are P8.59 billion for the ARMM, when it already had its own budget in 2011; P1.8 billion financial support for the Cordillera People's Liberation Army and the MNLF, wWhich is not even in the budget; P1.1 billion for the human resources development of the business process outsourcing sector; and P625 million for a Department of Budget and Management (DBM) survey on farmers and fishermen.
"That's a new item. They cannot do that. Out of savings, kung totoong may savings, you cannot use that to augment non-existent items in the budget," Diokno said.
He said Malacañang's decision to realign funds without informing Congress sacks of disrespect.
"Bastusan ito to eh. Kasi the power to authorize belongs to Congress. Heto ginawa ng executive, they sliced and diced the budget and repackaged it and came up with a new budget worth P72 billion," he said.
A constitutionalist, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, said government savings cannot be used to fund new items in the budget.
Savings from one department cannot be transferred to another, either.
"The Constitution says Congress may authorize the President to transfer savings from their departments to augment savings in the same department," Bernas told ANC. "So savings in the President's budget can be transferred to items in his budget (and) not to other departments."
Diokno challenged Budget Secretary Butch Abad to detail where the P72 billion savings came from.
JV: DAP an impeachable offense
For Senator JV Ejercito, meanwhile, the release of funds through the DAP constitutes an impeachable offense for the President.
"Somebody has to take the bullet from the President, 'ika nga," he said.
Ejercito said he and other senators are not aware of the DAP.
However, he admitted that his office, when he was congressman, received an additional P10 million after the Corona impeachment trial.
Abad: Senators made fund requests
According to the DBM, funds were released through the DAP only after lawmakers such as Senator Jinggoy Estrada and others made requests for projects.
"These fund releases have recently been touted as ‘bribes,’ ‘rewards,’ or ‘incentives.’ They were not," Abad said in a statement.
"In 2012, most releases were made during the period October-December, based entirely on letters of request submitted to us by the senators," he added.
Those who received releases during that period and their corresponding amounts were:
- Sen. Antonio Trillanes (October 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Manuel Villar (October 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Ramon Revilla (October 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Francis Pangilinan (October 2012–P30M),
- Sen. Loren Legarda (October 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Lito Lapid (October 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Jinggoy Estrada (October 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Alan Cayetano (October 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Edgardo Angara (October 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Ralph Recto (October 2012–P23M; December 2012–P27M),
- Sen. Koko Pimentel (October 2012–P25.5M; November 2012–P5M; December 2012–P15M),
- Sen. Tito Sotto (October 2012–P11M; November 2012–P39M),
- Sen. Teofisto Guingona (October 2012–P35M; December 2012–P9M),
- Sen. Serge Osmena (December 2012–P50M),
- Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile (December 2012–P92M)
- Sen. Frank Drilon (December 2012–P100M).
Abad said Senators Gringo Honasan (P50 million) and Sen. Francis Escudero (P99 million) also got funds via the DAP, which was first rolled out in 2011 as an economic stimulus program
Abad also said this year, releases were made for funding requests from the office of Sen. Joker Arroyo (February 2013, P47 million) and Sen. Pia Cayetano (January 2013, P50 million).
"To be clear, DAP releases are never made to legislators themselves but rather to the implementing agency identified by lawmakers," Abad said.
The Palace has insisted the DAP is legal, with deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte enumerating provisions in the law as legal bases
that authorize the President to use savings for certain purposes.
She cited the Constitution’s Article VI, Section 25 (5) and the Administrative Code’s Chapter 5, Book VI, Sections 39 and 49. - with reports from Pinky Webb, ABS-CBN News; ANC