Remember President Aquino’s blatant hijacking of the budget in 2012 to 2013, masked as the Disbursement Acceleration Plan (DAP)?
It raised the hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel-like funds, which, with the regular pork barrel money, “convinced” the 20 senators to remove from office Chief Justice Renato Corona on the flimsy ground of his incomplete SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth). It also rechanneled funds to finance such Aquino whims as the P2-billion road projects for his home province of Tarlac and the P9 billion to bribe officials of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao to support his BBL fantasy.
As the fund allocations deviated from those specified in the General Appropriations Acts for 2012 and 2013, the accounting got so messy that P8 to P21 billion to this day couldn’t be accounted for. Abad also had sloppy days when he released P29 billion for projects which Aquino had disapproved in his marginal notes to the budget secretary’s request. (See my column, August 17, 2014, “P29B or 20% of DAP projects solely on Abad’s say-so”)
The Supreme Court quite expectedly ruled it unconstitutional in July 2014, and if our nation had been a more rational one, Aquino would have been toppled and jailed for such a blatant usurpation of Congress’ sole power to determine how taxpayers’ money should be used.
It is an indication of this Administration’s hubris, or its arrogance that it can ride roughshod over Congress, that it has, in effect, inserted provisions in the 2015 Budget that would allow it to replicate the DAP’s hijacking of the budget.
“After the PDAF, we also discovered the obvious reincarnation of the DAP,” Senator Panfilo Lacson, who is (or was) President Aquino’s ally claimed in a speech July 13 at an assembly of the Philippine Institute of Public Accountants.
By “PDAF” (which stood for the old-style pork barrel, called the Priority Development Assistance Fund), Lacson referred to P424 billion in “lump-sum” funds (or those with no specifics) in the 2015 Budget, which he exposed as de facto pork barrel funds that could be released at President Aquino’s or his budget secretary Florencio Abad’s whim. (See my column July 14, “Aquino stunned, livid over Lacson’s P424-B hidden pork accusations.”)
The DAP funds were raised between 2012 and 2014 through the infamous National Budget Circular 541 of July 18, 2012, which out of the blue declared that funds allocated by the budget laws that had not been used by the middle of the year, were to be classified as “savings” and assigned by Aquino and his budget secretary to other projects or programs – most of which were not even mentioned by the budget laws.
The Supreme Court, of course, in July 2014 saw it as merely an ingenious way of not following the budget laws, and declared it unconstitutional. It affirmed its decision in February 2015 and even indicated that administration officials responsible for the DAP should be prosecuted.
Lacson explained that the DAP’s “reincarnation is contained in Sections 70 and 73 in the General Provisions” section of the 2015 General Appropriations Act.
Indeed, Section 70 had, among its several definitions of “savings,” budget allocations for projects and programs that are “not commenced” by the agency “not because of its fault.”
That definition is an entirely new one. It wasn’t in the previous General Appropriations Acts, which defined “savings” in its ordinary usage as “left-over” funds, or those that remain for various reasons after a project or program is implemented. In previous budget laws, budgets for projects or programs that are not implemented (not “commenced”) are simply not released.
That new definition would allow Aquino’s officials to undertake a host of actions so that the agency cannot “commence” its project or program. That would allow Aquino – as he did in the case of the DAP scheme – to use (“realign”) that allocation for any other project or program at his whim, which was what the DAP was. It would essentially be the “DAP” again, with the advantage that no over-arching program is announced, therefore, concealing it from the public.
What Lacson did not point out is that the 2015 budget law has one significant feature, which was started only last year.
In all previous budget laws, the appropriations could be used only for that particular fiscal year (which is also the calendar year). Section 61 of the 2015 GAA, though, provides that the MOOE (Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses) and capital outlays authorized in the 2015 Budget may be available “for a period extending to one fiscal year after the end of the year in which such items were appropriated.”
That means that the appropriations authorized for this year can be used even next year – not coincidentally when national elections are undertaken in May. For example, the Department of Interior and Local Government Department could just delay its P4 billion allocation for urban-poor housing this year, and for impact, undertake it in the months before the May elections. (The ban that starts April is only for infrastructure projects.)