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A shameless Senate licks Abad’s boots

The Senate hearing yesterday where Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was supposed to enlighten our people on what the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was all about turned out to be a bootlicking show.

Since the time the DAP was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, we have been waiting for a proper explanation from the executive, alongside the appropriate “checking and balancing” by the Senate. Instead, Filipinos saw a scripted show that was obviously intended to deodorize that scandalous unconstitutional hijacking of taxpayers’ money.

Except for Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay who asked very revealing questions, all the senators proved to be mouthpieces of Abad and Aquino. The incarceration of three opposition senators, and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s illness, certainly proved helpful for Abad.

Remember the names of the senators yesterday who spoke like marionettes – you don’t want a dummy for your next president, vice president, or senator. The following senators do not care where your hard-earned tax money are going: Escudero, Drilon, Trillanes, Bam Aquino, Angara, Guingona, Recto, Osmena.

Senators Ralph Recto and Sergio Osmena asked the right questions that revealed how the DAP created Aquino’s own budget beyond the scrutiny of Congress, but only to conclude that a “future president” could abuse such a DAP-scheme.

The senator-puppets talked for and on behalf of Abad that all Abad needed to say was, “That’s correct.”

We know now where Abad has been spending the past several days since the Court declared DAP unconstitutional: Preparing himself, the other secretaries, and even their favorite senators, for yesterday’s moro-moro.

It is shocking how senators even seemed to clap and applaud over details of how President Aquino disregarded the Senate’s role over the country’s purse.

How obsequious is that? It is the legislative department, which has the power of the purse. The strict limits set on the executive from interfering with that power is even discussed at length in the Constitution’s Article VI, which is devoted to “The Legislative Department.” But in yesterday’s hearing, it is the Senate that supported the President’s hijacking of its role over the budget.

Well-paid prostitute

Former Senator Joker Arroyo’s analogy was that the Senate has become a willing rape victim in the DAP issue. He is wrong. Rather, the Senate led by its President Franklin Drilon has become a well-paid prostitute under Aquino, willing to do any perverted sex act before the public as long as it gets its pork barrel money.

Our country has moved into dangerous territory. The Supreme Court stands alone in enforcing the rule of law—or an enlightened people’s armed forces.

After asking only the most inane questions, Senator Antonio Trillanes blamed Abad and the administration for one thing: “You do not have a good communications program.” Senator Edgardo Angara, Jr., whose home province, Quezon, got a P750-million windfall from DAP, after saying how happy he was over DAP, asked Abad to advertise his purported reforms at his department. Senator Teofisto Guingona III even told Abad—a point most probably fed to him in a note—how to get the Court to reverse its ruling.

I could write a list of questions triple the length of this column on what a real, genuine Senate could have asked Abad. Among the most important questions that the brown-nosing senators failed to ask:

• How much in new pork barrel funds, that is, not in the 2011 budget law, especially those given to Congress shortly before and after the Senate decision to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2011, came from the DAP? How much in new funds under the sole discretionary control of Aquino, Abad, and Mar Roxas were raised through it?

• If the DAP was so important to the economy as Abad and Aquino claimed, why had they kept it secret, why wasn’t it even mentioned in the President’s budget messages from 2011, 2012, and 2103? If the DAP-funded projects were so important, why didn’t Aquino and Abad propose these in the appropriations bill for these years?

• If the DAP was intended to stimulate the economy, how were these projects determined? To her credit, Senator Grace Poe asked this question, and she got only a vague reply from a stammering Abad, that such projects “could have been proposed” by Cabinet secretaries.

• Why is it that over half of the P144 billion DAP funds released were not, by any stretch of the imagination, designed to stimulate the economy? Among these: the distribution of P9 billion to politicians in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, P8 billion for “livelihood” projects that would benefit rebels with whom Aquino has been undertaking peace talks, P14 billion for “local projects” disbursed under the discretion of Mar Roxas, P30 billion to build up the central bank’s capitalization, which actually takes that much money out of the economy; and P500 million spent for advertisements abroad for the tourism slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

• How could P12 billion given to local projects that members of Congress proposed be considered to be priority projects that would stimulate the economy? Look at the list, even of the small DAP projects, and they not only do not stimulate the economy, but only make the offices of top Cabinet secretaries as comfortable as they wanted, for instance, the P250 million move to the posh Makati district by the tourism department and certain offices of the interior and local government department.

• Some P65 billion or half of the DAP releases were lump-sum funds, in contrast to appropriations under the budget laws, which are minutely examined during the yearlong budget hearings of the Congress. How much of these are disbursed solely under the discretion of Aquino, Abad, and Roxas?

Grand scheme

And no senator asked Abad the most important question:

How do you interpret Section 29 (Section 1) of Article VI of the Constitution: “No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law?”

This goes to the crux of the DAP controversy. It was a grand scheme to go around the Constitution, so Aquino would have his own budget he can use at his whim, by changing the definition of “savings.”

Why were there so many projects that were haphazardly chosen, like in a mad rush (stem cell project, spanking new offices anyone?). The reason is that the projects were a mere smoke-screen for DAP’s main purpose – to secretly raise bribe money for the Congress to take out Corona, and then to accumulate such a huge slush fund for the 2016 elections in a magnitude unprecedented in the history of this republic. Even the finance secretary said that they couldn’t get enough projects for DAP that he proposed settling a P2.5 debt of the Bureau of Customs to the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp., which already had P85 billion in deposit insurance funds.

Instead of asking Abad probing questions such as why was Tarlac, of all provinces, given P2 billion in DAP funds (even if we assume these were for legitimate projects), instead of Samar or any other of the country’s poorest provinces, Senate President Franklin Drilon, instead presented, in the guise of asking questions, a legal defense of DAP, which I think he himself knows, so that all Abad had to do was to say, “That’s correct.”

I couldn’t believe how Drilon has prostituted his once brilliant legal mind. He said in the hearing that the DAP couldn’t be unconstitutional as it violated only the budget laws that defined what “savings” were, which funded the DAP. (And the Senate he heads was a part of the Congress that enacted those budget laws!)

But that’s precisely what the Supreme Court does, which is not only to declare certain government actions as directly violating the constitution, but that they violate laws, and therefore, are unconstitutional. A prime example of this was the Court’s decision declaring Hacienda Luisita’s scheme of land reform as violating agrarian reform laws.

Again, the big lie

As I pointed out in an earlier column (“World Bank backtracks on DAP,” The Manila Times, July 2014), Aquino and Abad’s big-lie propaganda technique in the DAP issue is to repeat again and again ad nauseam the fallacy that their hijacking of funds benefited the economy.

Abad repeated this lie again and again in yesterday’s hearing. The Aquino government’s claim of the DAP being good for the economy was based on the World Bank report of March 2012. However, subsequent reports of the World Bank showed that it backtracked on its original pronouncement.

In its July 2012 update, the World Bank pointed out that in the first place, the DAP meant only a “mere realignment of funds”. That is, the DAP were funds already in the budget but which Aquino and Abad hijacked to use for other projects. Secondly, the World Bank pointed out that the DAP amounts were “miniscule (at less than 0.01 percentage point) relative to the size of the economy” to have any effect on its growth. In contrast, former President Arroyo’s program to stimulate the economy to weather the 2009 global financial crisis, involved P220 billion in new funds, mostly approved by Congress, and almost all devoted to infrastructure.

Succeeding WB reports, especially its annual updates on the Philippine economy, didn’t bother to mention the DAP as it was so irrelevant to the country’s economic performance.

Even Abad yesterday unwittingly admitted how irrelevant the DAP was to economic growth when in his attempt to downplay its size, he claimed that it was only 2.7 percent of the budget for the three years. How could this stimulate the economy?

To realize the stupidity of the claim that the DAP stimulated the economy, consider this: DAP’s P144 billion from 2011 to 2013 is smaller than the P169 billion sales revenue of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. in one year. San Miguel Corp’s revenue in 2012 is five times the total DAP, at P700 billion.

However, DAP money certainly would be gargantuan as bribes to members of the Senate and Congress. And that’s not an understatement. It was a good “investment” for the Aquino government, as the senators certainly gave all a toady show.

Never have we had such a sycophantic Senate as we have now.