POSTSCRIPT / February 9, 2014 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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If DAP defeat certain, will Abad take the fall?

HIGH STAKES: With Malacañang meeting head-on all constitutional challenges to its Disbursement Acceleration Program, it is either sure of the path it is treading, or is prepared with an escape route in case of defeat in the Supreme Court.

The stakes are high. Legally, if President Noynoy Aquino is proved to have disbursed Executive funds in violation of the Constitution, he would be open to possible impeachment (except that such move is not likely to prosper in the captive House of Representatives).

Politically, the President would lose a huge slab of presidential pork with which to dispense patronage (read: buy support) in the House and elsewhere, especially after the SC had cut off as unconstitutional the porky Priority Development Assistance Fund.

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ADMITTED: Instead of hedging, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza leading the Palace defense in the SC admitted all the questioned DAP disbursement – although he rationalized them in the name of public good.

Jardeleza laid his basis: “The President is the principal constitutional officer with the duty to formulate and implement the national budget as an instrument of national development… Through the (budget), the Congress authorizes the expenditure of public funds for programs, activities and projects proposed by the President.

“The President must have the ability to maximize and prioritize the use of this large amount (P2 trillion) which must be timely and judiciously spent.”

He dismissed as false the claims that the DAP is a fund, a “budget within a budget”, a scheme to invent savings, and pays for items not found in the budget.

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YES, NOY DID!: The SolGen summarized the anti-DAP questions thus: Did the President authorize the disbursements under the DAP, do they have an appropriation cover, and were there enough savings to support these disbursements?

“The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES,” Jardeleza told the tribunal.

The SolGen went on: “The 1st Evidence Packet xxx lists the 116 DAP-identified and approved projects. They show that every augmentation exercise was approved and duly signed by the President himself. This should lay to rest any suggestion that the DAP was carried out without presidential approval.”

The SolGen sounded that sure of his defense, but what is his escape route in case of a rout?

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GRAND CENTRAL: The admission that the questioned disbursements were approved by the President raises the question of accountability in the event the Court declares as unconstitutional any realignment of DAP funds.

There have been reports that the DAP was the idea of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, with the President too engrossed with other matters of state to examine the legality of this creature used to impound and realign “savings”.

Abad cannot escape responsibility for any DAP irregularity, as well as the scam involving the outlawed Priority Development Assistance Fund. The Budget Secretary’s office is the “Grand Central” through which all disbursements pass with his approval.

Will Abad eventually take the fall for the President if the DAP is declared unconstitutional?

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MOOT?: Jardeleza tried to dismiss the issue of accountability by making his now-famous assertion that the DAP is already “moot, extinct”.

He said: “As DBM Secretary Abad has shown you, the circumstances that justified the creation of DAP no longer obtain. The systemic issues that slowed down public spending have been resolved, and line agencies now have normal levels of budget utilization. This is indicated by the diminishing use of DAP, which lapsed into complete disuse in 2013.

“As a program, DAP no longer exists, thereby mooting these cases brought to challenge its constitutionality. Any constitutional challenge should no longer be at the level of the program, which is now extinct, but at the level of its prior applications or the specific disbursements under this now defunct policy.”

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FOREIGN INVESTMENTS: In the House, meanwhile, a number of congressmen are in a quandary over the rewriting of ground rules governing the entry of foreign investments.

Tarlac Rep. Susan A. Yap-Sulit hinted at this in a media forum Friday at the Clark Freeport in Pampanga as she described the ongoing debate on major bills, as well as the proposed easing of restrictions in the Constitution on foreign equity.

“We need to lay down the welcome mat to overseas groups interested in pumping much-needed capital in our country,” she told members of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI), host of the forum in partnership with the Social Security System and the Clark Development Corp.

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BELMONTE MOVE: The solon from the 2nd district of Tarlac cited the case of Vietnam’s attracting some $17 billion in foreign direct investments compared to the Philippines’ $5-billion to stress that the latter is losing out to its Asian neighbors.

What this calls for is an easing of foreign investment rules, Yap said, adding that this is the reason why “we in the Nationalist People’s Coalition fully support Resolution No. 1 that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. filed to push for revisions in the economic provisions of the Constitution.”

Some of the restrictions affect land ownership by foreigners, controlling stakes in media-related businesses, as well as academic institutions.

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ECONOMIC CHA-CHA: Belmonte has reported a consensus in the House to introduce only a simple amendment of economic provisions saying “unless otherwise provided by law,” thus leaving it up to the Congress to set the rules.

“We’re all for it,” Yap said, but cautioned that political realities, such as the presidential elections in 2016, could deter prompt approval of the so-called “economic Cha-Cha.”

She also reported on the lobby of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for more regulatory teeth so it could “look deeper into the make-up and provenance of foreign investments in domestic banks.” This could turn off foreign investors, she said.

BSP’s bid is tied to the proposed raising of its capitalization from P50 billion to P200 billion as part of its long-term rehabilitation program initiated during the regime of the late President Cory Aquino.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 9, 2014)

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