Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, July 21, 2014

DAP crisis has provoked so much outrage that pundits are speculating about beginning of the end for President Aquino and emergence of National Transformation Council in interim. Winter of people’s discontent is fueled by P-Noy admin's secrecy over DAP, viewed as LP’s means to control bureaucracy and politicos. DAP fall-out includes militants’ agitation over payment of Luisita lands ---which was settled at 1989 valuation while CJ Corona was at SC's helm, which new Justice Sereno fought. Pundits opine this was why Corona had to be ousted.

The Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is the worst crisis to hit the crisis-laden administration of President Aquino. The DAP has provoked so much outrage that some political pundits are already speculating whether this could spell the beginning of the end for him. On the other hand, already talks abound regarding a National Transformation Council that could become the interim political arrangement in the event of P-Noy's impeachment or resignation.

There are a number of reasons for this winter of our political discontent as a nation. First, the gravity of the DAP issue, which has been handled with such furtive secrecy by this administration, tending to project a strong sense of guilt about it. As a media commentator put it, if DAP is supposed to stimulate and energize the economy, why so secret about it?

Why did it take DBM Secretary Florencio Abad so long to disclose the list of recipients? Or as Sen. Francis Escudero, himself a DAP recipient (P99 million in 2012, next only to his predecessor as Senate Finance Committee Chair then, Franklin Drilon who bagged P100  million in DAP that time), was quoted as complaining about how incomplete the data submitted to his committee are.


Secondly, outrage over DAP is far worse than the senators’ PDAF, much of which was invested in Janet Napoles’ scam ring as well as in so-called “non-Napoles” syndicates.  Why is DAP worse? It’s because the PDAF is old hat in the scam world, dating from the Arroyo years, whereas DAP is a new invention approved by P-Noy on October 12,  2011, just a little over a year after he assumed the presidency---upon recommendation of the Development Budget Coordinating Committee and the Aquino Cabinet clusters.

DAP appears to have been surreptitiously concocted from executive savings by  Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Abad and Drilon, so much so that former Presidential Legal Adviser Ed de Mesa complained that he never saw the shadow of DAP at all until it hit the headlines.  


But the main aggrieved sentiment over DAP stems from the fact that it was the brainchild of the Aquino administration which has gone into all pretenses of epitomizing the “daang matuwid” (or straight path)---in contrast to the corruption of the Arroyo era. Many of the electorate bought the Aquino promise of scrupulosity with public funds hook, line and sinker.

Now, in the light of all the talk about massive bribery with DAP funds in the billions for legislators to impeach and convict sitting Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012; the subsequent 900 SAROs for solons; P10 billion DAP for DILG Secretary Mar Roxas’ alleged advance campaigning---and many other examples of wanton distribution of these public funds to administration allies with little need for due diligence and even much less for accounting ---many yellows now feel utterly betrayed by the lack of rectitude of intention.


Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno distinguishes between PDAF and DAP, both of which were struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, in this manner: Unlike PDAF which is in the appropriations act as congressional pork barrel, DAP projects are not covered by the national budget and therefore can be misused and abused by the powers that be---as out and out political patronage.  

The trouble is that both P-Noy and his Budget Chief cannot feign ignorance about these monster funds they caused to be invented and dissipated: as senator P-Noy had filed a bill prohibiting the “impoundment” of executive savings---the exact opposite of what DAP has done.

On the other hand, Abad is a lawyer and former two-term House member and chief of the powerful appropriations committee. Like P-Noy, he knows that--- as Fr. Ranhillo C. Aquino, Dean of the San Beda Graduate  School of Law, asserts--- invoking a provision of the Administrative Code of the early Cory era, even if it antedates the 1987 Constitution, “must always be read in consonance with the Constitution, and never against it.”

It was Abad’s National Budget Circular 541 issued on June 20, 2012 that allowed DBM to withdraw “unobligated allotments of agencies with low levels of obligation…for continuing and current allotments.” That got DAP started, and thanks to the lack of a sense of obligation of COA under Grace Pulido Tan, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima's hand-picked chair, it could cause government to fall. Tan is said to be the top-notcher in the JBC list for the SC. 


The first thing that strikes anyone trying to understand the controversy over DAP is that he simply cannot understand it. So much of DAP is secret and doubtless intentionally hazy and conflicting. To begin with, what DBM claims as DAP funds amounting to P144 billion--- disbursed since late 2011---may in reality have shot as high as P372 billion when all details are in.

The problem is, will the people ever see the whole picture, given the continued Palace dodging of disclosure and that the investigators of DAP in Congress are also its beneficiaries? Nineteen senator-judges who voted to convict CJ Corona in May 2012 received DAP funds of P50 million up to P100 million, but new revelations show there could have been a second tranche for them--- until late  2013 when Sen. Jinggoy Estrada took the floor to denounce the bribery through DAP. Suddenly the faucet closed.

Would the citizens ever know just how much DAP has been doled out to choice agencies, considering how wide and mind-boggling its coverage has been, and the strip-tease fashion with which data and information are released?


Star columnist Boo Chanco queries why public offices and agencies rewarded with DAP didn’t get their priority needs into the yearly national budget, which would then have been perfectly legal and valid. The answer is simple: very early on, P-Noy’s economic and finance advisers obviously saw the need for him to CONTROL the bureaucracy as well as the politicians, and what better way than to get them to ASK him for DAP allotments and for him to DOLE them out.

But as is obvious, DAP as tool for power control is also the best argument for corruption, with its selective choice of recipients and virtually no accounting. 

Interestingly, in GMA’s time the most popular DAP outlets were fertilizer projects where the stuff disappears quickly into the earth, cannot be investigated. Under P-Noy many billions have gone into dairy feeding programs and yet there are no cows around, and our rural children remain emaciated and sickly.  

Against this background of wanton release of DAP funds and little or no accountability, grim poverty statistics stare us in the face. 


Former Chief Justice Renato Corona

One of the biggest quarrels that erupted over DAP was the recent disclosure (in DBM's list of projects) that some P7.9 billion of DAP was to be paid to the Cojuangco-Aquino families to which P-Noy belongs, as compensation for lands of Hacienda Luisita redistributed to their farmers.

The Hacienda has had a controversial history,  as a stock distribution option (SDO) was specially crafted for it in President Cory’s time, unlike other farms that were immediately disposed to tenants. On April 24, 2012, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Renato Corona, then already embattled in his impeachment trial in the Senate, unanimously issued a final and executory order to have Luisita's lands re-distributed to its tenants, setting aside Cory’s SDO.   


During the SC deliberations, the problem was not  about redistributing the lands, but over the price the family should charge the tenants in installments.  A group of justices led by Corona wanted Luisita’s land valuation pegged at  P40,000/ha.---the very same price of the stock options offered to the tenants by the Cojuangco-Aquino family on Nov. 21, 1989. Whereas then newly-appointed justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno insisted at present-day valuation of P100,000/ha. which would be more costly for the farmers.

With Corona at SC’s helm the 1989 valuation held, but once he was ousted things changed.  In fact, during his Senate trial the popular view was that P-Noy went all out, including bribing senators with DAP, to ensure Corona’s conviction because of the Luisita issue.


The problem is that now militant farmers groups are angry over what they claim is the over-price by the Cojuangco-Aquinos of P100,000/ha. of Luisita--- more than double the value prescribed by SC under Corona of P40,000/ha. “Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura” asserts that the Cojuangcos were overpaid with DAP by as much as P167 million.

The militants insist that DAP funds worth P7.9 billion were released to Land Bank in order to primarily pay for Hacienda Luisita lands. Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes maintained, however, that those funds were the total of the 2010 and 2011 budget for landowners’ compensation approved by Congress and paid to more than 4,000 landowners, including Hacienda Luisita.

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