Little did Benhur Luy know that when he blew the whistle on his former employer – and cousin — Janet Lim Napoles, it would unleash a tsunami of colossal magnitude that threatens the very survival of our political system.
All he wanted was for justice to be served on Napoles for allegedly detaining him against his will for three months. Instead justice gave him more than what he wished for: three senators were indicted for plunder.
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, in a privilege speech before the Senate last September 25, exposed the “secret dealings” and “behind closed-door” negotiations of high government officials to juggle taxpayers’ money including the pork barrel funds. Then he dropped the bombshell: Malacañang gave “incentives” — or bribes — to senators in the last two years in exchange for their support – and vote – for the President’s legislative agenda.
Jinggoy mentioned 20 senators who received an extra P50 million in the form of additional pork barrel for their vote to convict former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. But while Jinggoy admitted that he also received the $50 million extra pork, he denied that it was instrumental on how he voted. He claimed that he was never influenced by it.
But much to the dismay of a lot of people, while Jinggoy may have had jingled the alarm bells on the anomalies perpetrated by the lawmakers, he did not name the senators who were rewarded for their vote to convict Corona.
What Jinggoy did not realize was that he had unexpectedly sparked a “wildfire” that threatened to scorch Malacañang. The additional pork given to the 20 senators did not come from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which is the vehicle for pork barrel allocations; it came from a little-known “money machine” camouflaged under the harmless-sounding misnomer of Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). The Aquino administration created DAP in July 2012 for the purpose of extracting unspent amounts — or “savings” – from budget items to fund new budget items to be used by the President for any project that he wants.
A few days later, in an attempt to contain the “wildfire,” Butch Abad, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) — where all the pork originated — disclosed the releases made to the 20 senators totaling P1.1075 billion.
According to the Philippine government’s Official Gazette, DAP “is a stimulus package under the Aquino administration designed to fast-track public spending and push economic growth. This covers high-impact budgetary programs and projects which will be augmented out of the savings generated during the year and additional revenue sources.”
It cited Section 25 (5), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution as the basis for its creation, to wit: “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions 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.”
However, many legal minds believe that DAP is unconstitutional. Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a respected constitutionalist, said that “the creation of the DAP to fund new budget items is unconstitutional because the law limits the president to realign savings only in existing budget items.” He cited Article 6, Section 25 of the 1987 Constitution, which states, “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.”
He explained that the words used in the law is “to augment savings,” which means that “there are already items which can be augmented and this also means that you cannot create new items. If you create new items, it means you’re already making an appropriation. That can be done only by Congress.”
Another constitutional expert, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who is known for her acerbic tongue, said in a radio interview: “You can see the criminal minds of the people who thought of creating this [DAP]. They did not think that this is okay for as long as it is kept secret and confidential. The problem now is that this (DAP) was exposed, and uncovered.”
Instead of quelling public outcry over this questionable program, Abad’s disclosure opened a can worms that exacerbated the public’s disgust over the anomalous – and scandalous —disbursement of taxpayers’ money to lawmakers.
What we’re seeing here is institutionalized corruption in its naked form, which gives the lawmakers and the implementing executive branch unmitigated audacity to use taxpayers’ money through the pork barrel system for any purpose the President wants to do, including giving “incentives” to lawmakers purportedly to influence their vote. And as the PDAF and DAP scandals had shown, the money oftentimes end up in the lawmakers’ secret bank accounts, and little – or none — is spent in real projects, which benefit their constituents.
In my article, “Institutionalized corruption” (November 21, 2012), I wrote: “In many countries, like the United States, people with ill-gotten wealth deposit their money in banks in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, where bank secrecy laws protect the identity of depositors. But in the Philippines, a corrupt official, a drug lord or a jueteng operator doesn’t need to go abroad to hide their dirty money. Yep, they can go straight to their local bank and open a foreign currency deposit account and nobody can see it, not even government investigators.
“Known as ‘Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines,’ Republic Act (RA) 6426 was signed into law by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1974 during the martial law era. The law states that any information can only be disclosed ‘upon written permission of the depositor.’ Many believe that it was enacted for the purpose of hiding the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies.
“But RA 6426 survived when the people power revolution toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Oddly, it remains in the books to this day. Perhaps, the lawmakers find it useful.”
If President Aquino is really serious about fighting corruption, there are three things he could do: (1) Prioritize passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill; (2) Remove the secrecy lid of the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (RA 6426); and (3) Comply fully with international anti-money laundering requirements.
But for reasons unknown, Aquino has been coy about pursuing these things. They’re not on his legislative agenda, which makes one wonder if he’s hiding something or protecting someone? As some congressmen said, no legislative bill moves in Congress without the support of Aquino. What kind of support are they talking about? More DAP releases?
Perhaps, Jinggoy should be jingling some more until President Aquino hears the alarm bells, loud and clear. (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)