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With DAP money, Aquino was a Marcos

President Benigno Aquino 3rd acted like the dictator Marcos in handling his P149 billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) money, allocating billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money to whatever use he decided solely on his own, according to documents as well as sources from the Budget department.

Just as Marcos flooded his Ilocos Norte province with infrastructure funds in the 1970s, Aquino allocated P2 billion for “arterial and secondary roads” to his Tarlac home province, an area considered to have had the most developed road network, especially those around his clan’s Hacienda Luisita.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s memorandum dated June 25, 2012 to Aquino showed that the initial plan was just for P1 billion, but this was doubled to P2 billion “after DPWH reviewed and adjusted the costing.”

The biggest source of corruption in pork barrel and infrastructure funds have been through politicians’ ability to direct such expenditures to their home provinces. This is because the actual road-building projects would be undertaken by local contractors, who would rig the bidding procedures, and give a kickback to the politician responsible for the budget allocation to the area.

Another big source of corruption is bribe money, as any businessman who has dealt with government knows, for the release of funds by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), for obligations already incurred by an agency.

It is obviously a bigger source of corruption if only a single individual determines or two determine where and how government money will be used, disregarding the budget law Congress painstakingly formulates for nearly a whole year. In the case of DAP only Abad and Aquino controlled the P149 billion fund. No accountability whatsoever – perhaps except to each other. (This P149 billion amount is based on the evidence packet Aquino’s officials submitted to the Supreme Court.)

That Aquino acted as a dictator with absolute control of people’s money was obvious in the DAP’s P1 billion allocation for “agrarian reform beneficiaries,” to be managed by the Land Bank.

How did this item emerge in Abad’s June 25, 2012 memorandum? Less than two weeks before that on June 14, 2012, Aquino had committed to it in a meeting with “farmer-marchers.”

Supreme Court Justice Arturo Brion certainly wasn’t exaggerating when he pointed out in his concurring opinion:

Biggest scandal
“The present DAP case, for its part, involves circumstances that are similar to the PDAF and much more: it involves funds amounting to almost P150 Billion or almost 15 times the PDAF case . . . personalities at the very highest level in both the Executive and the Legislative Departments of government; and demonstrated lack of respect for public funds, institutions, and the Constitution. This case, in my view, is the biggest (scandal) since I came to the Court in terms of these factors alone.”

Based on Abad’s memorandum and accounts from DBM officials, the following had been the process for the DAP allocations:

Abad would meet with Aquino to decide on a list of agencies and projects they would fund through the DAP. Abad the next day would send a memorandum to Aquino that would authorize the use of the funds and its use, with the President mostly ticking off the “check-box” in the document approving it.

Abad and Aquino’s claims that the DAP was designed to stimulate the economy was a total lie, a smokescreen for the P35 billion the president needed as slush money for his pet projects. (See details in my column last Friday, “DAP: A tale of bribery, greed, and Hacienda Luisita”)

No study of any kind was made to find out if a particular project that Abad and Aquino decided to fund with DAP money would have the effect of stimulating the economy.

Several of the big allocations involved transfer of funds among government agencies and the freezing of billions of money in institutions’ vaults, due to accountant-Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima’s intense lobbying, and therefore had no impact on economic activity.

Among these: P20 billion as additional capital of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas; the payment by the Bureau of Customs of its P2.8 billion debts to the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.; payment by the education department of its P4.1 billion debts to the Government Service Insurance System; and the P2.2 billion repurchase from the Home Guarantee Corp. of the “air” or vertical rights of Philippine National Railways’ tracks.

How on earth could these expenditures have stimulated the economy?

Abad practically kept the DAP allocations approved by the President a top secret.

Except for one particular memorandum, Abad did not course his DAP requests through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa. This is contrary to established Malacañang protocol under which the Executive Secretary signs with the notation “noted” all official documents issued or approved by the President. This is, in part, to assure that these were actually signed by the President.

“We were all shocked that Abad would issue SAROs involving billions of pesos for projects that were not in the budget law, invoking an approval by the President,” a veteran DBM official said. “They were handling the P149 billion DAP money as if it were their own personal kitty to distribute at their whim,” the official added. (SAROs are the Special Allotment Release Order from DBM, a document that triggers the release of funds.)

The only memorandum Abad coursed through Ochoa was dated December 28, 2013 — which recommended the DAP’s termination. This was after Senator Jinggoy Estrada indirectly exposed the existence of the DAP in September, and several people and organizations filed cases the following month at the Supreme Court asking it to declare the scheme unconstitutional.

The President rather stupidly – or intentionally – didn’t even get the advice of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (CPLC) who normally has to clear all documents to be signed by the President to make sure these conform to law.

Sources say that Malacañng has been in a panic mode after the Supreme Court issued its decision July 1, as if Aquino’s house was being torn asunder by the crisis.

Ochoa and his allies according to sources, have been lobbying Aquino to fire Abad and make him the scapegoat for the DAP mess. Ochoa has been mad with Abad as early as last year for deliberately concealing from him the setting up of the DAP, and for not even conferring with him if he needs to be given allocations for his own pet projects.

On the other side, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas and the so-called Hyatt 10 conspirators, mainly secretaries Corazon Soliman and peace adviser Teresita Deles have been begging Aquino to retain Abad.

Billions of pesos
Their support actually is not just because of loyalty to Abad, but because he gave them funds. In fact, they got billions of pesos in allocations for their departments, which they couldn’t get Congress to approve since 2011:

• P13.3 billion to Roxas’ DILG: P6.5 billion as “LGU Support Fund”; P6.5 billion “various other local projects”; and an additional P250 million for his “Performance Challenge Fund” – all of which he distributes to cities, provinces and towns at his whim, to build up local support for his bid to run for president in 2016;

• P2.6 billion disbursed directly to Deles’ office, so she could bribe insurgent groups to keep quiet, at least during Aquino’s term, and P8.6 billion to local government officials of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, for them to acquiesce in Aquino’s pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that would give them their own Bangsamoro sub-state; and

• P1.5 billion to Soliman’s department for its “expanded internship program” and other projects.

Obviously as part of the Aquino’s government’s plot to further demonize former President Gloria Arroyo and opposition senators intending to run for high office in 2016 the Commission on Audit in October 2011 rushed to audit P900 million allegedly disbursed from the Malampaya funds to the agrarian reform department.

Has COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan, since the scandal of P149 billion DAP funds broke out eight months ago, issued an order to audit these use of taxpayers’ money?

Or is Tan, as I will discuss in succeeding columns, a conspirator in Aquino’s DAP scheme?