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Pork Barrel By Any Other Name

Posted By : PlayboyPH | Posted : September 4, 2014
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By Ira V. Panganiban

09/04/2014

The president calls it the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a way to speed up the economy; to get the funds to where they are needed the most quickly and efficiently. The people call it bullshit.

Too much fanfare has been attached to the issue of the pork barrel system in the Philippines that a whole nation has been polarized.

On the one end, militants, legal experts and those on the poverty line decry the act as corrupt, whimsical, and smacks of patronage. On the other hand, politicians, government functionaries and administration patrons call it necessary and bearer of good things.

The whole issue exploded into national consciousness when a certain Benhur Luy ran to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to seek protection from his alleged boss who was trying to illegally detain him.

In the process, it was found out that Luy’s boss, the now infamous Janet Lim-Napoles, was a government dealer specializing in brokering unscrupulous deals with politicians to turn their pork barrel into cash.

Now, let me explain a bit here. Pork barrel, also known in the country as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), is a natural political practice in any democratic state. It is the process wherein the legislative, which does not have access to the people’s money, receive largess from the executive, who are the constitutionally mandated body to dispense of tax money. It is named after that barrel of grease used to turn monkeys rolling in a circus. It is grease money.

In ordinary terms, congress (or the legislative branch) has the power to approve or disapprove a budget, the executive (or Malacañang) has the power to propose and spend the approved budget accordingly. Under our constitution, which is generally patterned after that of the United States of America, the national budget can only be spent according to the legislated manner it was approved as it is stated in the General Appropriations Act or GAA. Note that this is an act which has the power of law. To disobey the GAA is to break the law.

When Napoles was discovered to have made billions (10billion, in fact) from her dealings with politicians for the last decade, a huge outcry from the public forced the Supreme Court to declare it illegal. It was called re-allocation and is explicitly prohibited in our national charter.

Three senators of the land were prosecuted and then persecuted for having close ties with Napoles, long-since dubbed the ‘Pork Barrel Queen’. One of them, Senator Jinggoy Estrada decided to fight back.

In his privilege speech, Estrada revealed that during the process of impeaching a Supreme Court Chief Justice (this is another story for another day) the office of the President offered and gave the senators and congressmen tens to hundreds of millions of pesos to make sure the Chief Justice was kicked out of power. He questioned this and said it was pure bribery by the executive to get rid of an established enemy.

Malacañang’s proxies came out with an answer. They called the money distributed as DAP or Disbursement Acceleration Program, of which intention is to prime the economy by speeding up government spending through funding fast moving projects and not a bribe. These monies were culled and collected from the alleged savings of the executive department and distributed to different agencies both inside and outside the executive branch’s purview.

No one has ever heard of DAP before this.

Opposition, militants and a hungry public deplored this practice by the executive and called them to task by questioning the DAP in the Supreme Court, a court now headed by an appointee of the current president, Benigno Aquino III.

To the surprise of both Malacanang and the President, the Supreme Court voted a unanimous 13-0 with one abstention against the administrations fiscal program, the DAP.

It found the DAP to be unconstitutional on four counts. One is the use of savings when the year has not yet ended. Another was the pooling of funds from different sources and sending them over to another department which is technically re-allocation, a specifically prohibited act in the national charter. Another was the cross border transfer of budget from the executive to the legislative, which is also explicitly prohibited.

But the biggest blow to the current administration was the fact that President Aquino’s popularity fell drastically because of the issue. A favored and highly-appreciated President from the beginning of his term, President Aquino suddenly lost his huge mass base.

Surveys that used to show his approval rating at 79 to 85-percent suddenly showed him at 45 and then, very recently, down to an all-time low of 29-percent. Meanwhile, his political capital is beginning to show massive expenditure as allies and friends have begun to shy away from him.

Aquino tried to fight the Supreme Court decision by calling them out in a hurriedly formed speech broadcast over all radio and TV networks, preempting regular programming.

But the ploy backfired as pundits, legal experts, and observers all believed the Supreme Court ruling to be legitimate and proper. A former cellar-dweller in the popularity surveys, the Supreme Court suddenly became the darling of the masses for having the nerve to go against a President who was their patron. In fact, the new Chief Justice, a lady named Maria Lourdes Sereno, actually went against the wishes of the President who put her into power by voting against the DAP.

Backtracking, the President, in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), said he is willing to go through the process and file an appeal, a Motion for Reconsideration, at the Supreme Court to ask that the high court reverse its judgment against the DAP.

And that is where the DAP and the pork barrel issue is at today, awaiting further review by the Supreme Court as action on the petition. Although top legal experts say historically a majority decision by the Supreme Court en banc has never been reversed.

 

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