MANILA (Mabuhay) – A former budget secretary believes Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch”Abad should take the fall for the disbursement acceleration program after it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno said Abad cannot escape accountability for the DAP after he was identified as the program’s brainchild. He also said the DAP could not have been implemented without the President’s approval.
“The President took the bullet for him on October 13, 2013. He made that speech. Hindi mo nga makita si Butch Abad but here is the President defending the DAP. I think it is time for Butch to take the bullet for the President,” he said.
“You are the secretary on budget affairs. Dapat si Butch Abad ang mananagot diyan. To me, that is the minimum…you cannot keep this hanging. Somebody has to pay,” he added.
He said it is up to Congress if the offense could be used to impeach the President.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out as unconstitutional a fund overseen by President Benigno Aquino III to stimulate the economy, dealing a setback to his bid to portray himself as a champion of the fight against corruption.
Theodore Te, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, said certain “acts and practices” under the president’s DAP were illegal and unconstitutional. The vote among 13 justices was unanimous.
Te said the government had violated the constitution by allowing practices like cross-border transfers of government savings to increase funds available to other offices. It was also illegal, the court said, for the government to fund projects “not covered by any general appropriation act”.
Nearly 158 billion pesos ($3.62 billion) from 2011 to 2013 were disbursed under the DAP.
Diokno said the Supreme Court decision is consistent with its earlier ruling that declared the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) as illegal.
He said the practice of collecting government funds in the middle of the fiscal year and declaring the funds as “savings” was clearly illegal.
“The President impounded in the middle of the fiscal year the money from the agencies and then put them together and called them savings. That is illegal,” he said.
“What they are saying is – mabagal kayong gumastos, kukunin namin yan, savings na yan. Mali yun.”
Former Manila Councilor Greco Belgica, one of the petitioners against the DAP, even described the DAP as one of the biggest corruption scandals in Philippine history.
“Not even President Marcos could pull in funds all to himself until he declared martial law. Ito walang batas, walang Senado, walang Kongreso, sila lang,” he said.
Also illegal is the use of those savings to fund new projects, programs and activities of the executive department not included in the national budget.
Diokno said that under the Constitution, savings can only be used to augment an item already in the budget.
He said one item declared as illegal is the cross border transfer of funds. These include the use of DAP funds to buy new cars for the Commission on Audit and additional funds for the confidential funds of the Commission on Elections chairman.
The former budget chief said he does not see how senators and congressmen could be held liable for the DAP. “Walang liability ang senators because they only identified projects. There should be liability in the part of the executive department,” he said.
What is more disturbing, he said, are allegations that some lawmakers were allegedly bribed to render a guilty verdict in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“To behave in a certain way, call it bribery, incentive or coffee money. That is a different case…Mas mabigat yun,” he said.
Diokno said the beauty of the SC decision is that it will force the executive to spend more time on preparing the national budget before it is approved by Congress.
“Now the rules on fiscal behavior are more defined and the agencies will be more careful. They will give budget preparation a lot of respect,” he said.
He also said it does not matter if Malacanang claims the money did not go to corruption. He said the power of the purse still resides with Congress, not the executive.
“Kahit na done in good faith. Kaya ka nga may Gabinete, may legal staff. Hindi mo pwedeng sabihin ‘Oops, hindi ko po alam.’ This is a P150 billion mistake. Dapat pinag-aaralan yan,” he said. (MNS)