by Mario Casuyuran
At least 11 senators received P500 million in pork barrel funds at the height of the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona last year, according to former Senator Joker Arroyo.
After Corona was convicted, Arroyo said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released an additional P1.1 billion to several senators under the guise of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Three of the senators – Juan Ponce Enrile, Franklin Drilon and Francis Escudero – each received in excess of P100 million from DAP alone, Arroyo disclosed.
Arroyo echoed Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s assertion that the DAP is illegal.
‘’Where did all these amounts (given after the impeachment trial?) from August to December (last year)? From DAP. The DBM cannot just say this is nothing. The DBM tossed around P1.1 billion. We cannot continue this way,’’ Arroyo said. “The pork barrel system is bad but the DAP is worse. DAP is a can of worms.”
“The budget department should have sought the approval of Congress because under the Constitution it is Congress that exercises the power of the purse,’’ Santiago said.
During the press forum yesterday, Arroyo said he wants President Aquino to succeed “for his own sake but more importantly, for the country’s sake.”
“The country is faced with so many problems. You have the China problem, you have the Mindanao problem, you have the Napoles, now have the DAP problem and so many others. Those are cannot be solved overnight. The idea is to help,” said Arroyo.
Student council in Palace
The problem is this – that student council in Malacanang, instead of helping the President, perpetuates a system where they promote quarreling and conflict. Anyone who disagrees with the government they are as non-conformist,’’ Arroyo said.
Of all the senators-judges in the Senate impeachment court, only Arroyo, Santiago and Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. voted to acquit Corona of the charges leveled against him by the House of Representatives.
Asked whether the P50 million to most of the senators could be considered as a reward for convicting Corona, Arroyo replied: “I cannot pass judgment (on my former colleagues).’’
Queried whether the President knew about the alleged bribery by the DBM on senators, since Arroyo simply said he could not read the mind of the Chief Executive.
Santiago said that President Aquino should seize this rare opportunity to permanently fix the flawed budget system.
The lady senator said DAP violates the constitutional provision that: “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, . . . may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”
Santiago said that the Constitution allows fund transfers, only if there are savings, meaning that the project was completed, and yet the appropriation was not exhausted; but there are no savings if a project was merely deferred.
The senator said it appears that DAP funds were taken from alleged slow-moving projects. If so, no savings were generated, and therefore the DAP is illegal.
“The first issue is that the DAP was not taken from savings. The second issue is that the DAP was not used to augment items in the budget that were previously authorized by Congress. The alleged savings were used to augment new budget items not previously authorized by Congress,” she said.
Santiago said that the budget department should have sought the approval of Congress, because under the Constitution it is Congress that exercises the power of the purse.
Santiago also said that in 2011, President Aquino reacted to criticisms that his administration did not implement government programs fast enough. As a response, President Aquino authorized the budget department to set aside P85.5 billion for the DAP, without getting prior congressional approval.