Stripped of immunity and entitlements, former President Benigno S. Aquino III and former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. have finally been criminally charged for their roles in the notorious Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) which the Supreme Court had declared as unconstitutional and illegal in 2014.
Ten militant groups charged Aquino and Abad with technical malversation of public funds, usurpation of legislative powers, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service and gross dishonesty.
The Supreme Court had ruled in July 2014 in a 13-0 vote that parts of the DAP were unconstitutional and the acts made out of the DAP program were illegal. The high tribunal even recommended that those responsible for these acts be prosecuted.
Despite the high tribunal’s directive “to investigate and accordingly prosecute all government officials and/or private individuals for possible criminal offenses related to the irregular, improper and/or unlawful disbursement/utilization of all funds under the Pork Barrel System,” not a single soul, particularly Abad, were subjected to investigation or prosecution by the Department of Justice.
Aquino could not be charged at that time because he enjoyed presidential immunity nor could he be impeached because of the overwhelming majority of the administration coalition in the House of Representatives.
Abad, on the other hand, remained untouched because of Malacanang’s protection and this apparently emboldened the former budget secretary because even after the Supreme Court had ruled that his acts under the DAP were illegal, Abad continued to include in the 2015 national budget billions of pesos in un-programmed funds.
Either Abad had no respect for the law or the Supreme Court decision, or the need to create lump sums for the 2016 elections was so dire that he was willing to risk admonition from the court.
Abad tried to save himself from possible prosecution and to allow him and his Malacanang colleagues to continue their illegal DAP program by asking Congress to pass a bill he had submitted that sought to redefine “savings” and make the law retroactive.
In a letter to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Abad asked Congress to adopt and prioritize the draft bill that would effectively redefine the practice of impounding savings that the SC ruled as illegal and unconstitutional. He even requested Belmonte to consider the bill a priority measure.
With the redefinition of savings, the DBM had hoped that unspent funds for programmed projects even in the middle of the year could be pooled as savings, contrary to the SC ruling. Fortunately, the bill did not pass.
Aquino and Abad said the DAP was created in “good faith” but a statement in a bill filed by then Senator Aquino in 2008, Senate Bill 3121 entitled “The Budget Impoundment Control Act” showed that he had knowledge of the unconstitutionality and illegality of converting funds into “savings” in mid-year or realigning them outside of the congressional appropriations law, as they did under the DAP.
These were his exact words in the explanatory note of the proposed law:
“Clearly… while it is the President who proposes the national budget, it is the Congress that prescribes the form, content and manner of budget preparation albeit subject to the limitations found in the Constitution. Hence, as the ‘power of the sword’ belongs to the President, the ‘power of the purse’ resides in Congress.”
“While its constitutional conferment is not expressed, the Administrative Code has given the President specific authority, when in his judgment the public interest requires and upon due notice to the head of office concerned, to suspend or otherwise stop further expenditure of funds allotted for any agency.”
“Of recent times however, this presidential prerogative has been misused and abused, and has emasculated Congress’ authority to check the President’s discretionary power to spend public funds. In effect, the President seems to have a vast and unbridled control over the national budget.”
“What Aquino denounced then as immoral, abuse and misuse of powers, Aquino was also doing now in the case of the illegal DAP,” former Bayan Muna party list Rep. Nilo Colmenares said then. “President Aquino from the start knew that the DAP was illegal.”
Using DAP funds, Malacanang released from P50 million to P100 million to each senators a few weeks after the Senate voted 20-3 to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial in 2012.
Was it just coincidental that the three senators who voted against conviction — Senators Bongbong Marcos, the late Miriam Santiago and Joker Arroyo – did not get a single centavo from the DAP? Or perhaps the three didn’t have urgent projects that merited an ‘accelerated disbursement”?
At that time, the militants vowed to file criminal charges against Aquino and Abad once they left Malacanang, and last July 8, the groups, led by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), trooped to the Office of the Ombudsman and filed a 26-page complaint against the two former officials.
“The DAP was nothing more than presidential pork taken from forced savings then realigned for pet projects of the President,” Zarate said. “It was not a stimulus program as many of the projects approved by Aquino had nothing to do with stimulating the economy.”
The ball is now in the hands of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, the former Supreme Court justice who swore Aquino into office in 2010 and who was appointed by Aquino to her present position. Let’s hope she has not been bitten by the “selective justice” bug that was prevalent under the Aquino administration. ([email protected])