POSTSCRIPT / July 10, 2014 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Cross-border transfer motive is suspicious

THE END?: The two rulings of the Supreme Court against cross-border disbursement from the legislative and presidential pork barrel should put an end to the Executive branch practice of using public funds to corrupt and capture supposedly independent agencies of government.

Malacañang was routinely transferring huge sums, mostly from the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, to the Congress, the courts, and independent constitutional commissions.

This should not be. All agencies outside the Executive department have their respective budgets based on their submitted program of activities for the year. President Noynoy Aquino’s giving them money from executive funds is not only illegal but also suspect.

Such anomalous fund transfer across borders separating independent departments has been a practice even of previous administrations.

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BRIBERY: Taxpayers cannot be blamed for believing that such fund transfer is bribery, whatever good faith is invoked.

It is widely believed that Malacañang’s stuffing selected congressmen with millions in cash and pork barrel releases is meant to influence their vote on controversial administration measures and other congressional actions.

When then impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona was being tried, Malacañang gave P50 million from DAP funds to each of several senators before or after they voted to convict the SC chief.

The disclosure of the “incentives” in a privilege speech by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada broke the secrecy shrouding DAP that was later declared by the SC as unconstitutional.

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ON RECORD: Malacañang’s PDAF and DAP fund transfer to lawmakers is widely seen as an attempt to buy the independence of the lawmakers belonging to a separate branch of government.

Documents obtained from the House of Representatives by Jess Diaz of the Star have shown that cross-border fund augmentations from the Palace to the judiciary and constitutional commissions have been going on since 1992 until last year.

The papers disclosed, for instance, that in 2006 the Supreme Court itself received an additional P134.185 million from Malacañang.

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‘PAHABOL’: The Court of Appeals was reportedly given P35 million in December 2010 for its “zero backlog activities,” while the Court of Tax Appeals was given P13.5 million for its “operational requirements.”

The documents showed also that on June 6, 2013, Malacañang again realigned or transferred P10.133 million to the Court of Appeals for “additional funding requirements for traveling and other expenses.”

Why these “pahabol” funding? Whatever the courts need should have been included in their budget proposals to preclude illegal cross-border fund transfers from the Executive to the courts that open the judiciary to undue influence.

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COA ALSO: Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan of the Commission on Audit that is looking onto the abuse of PDAF and DAP funds has admitted that her agency was itself allocated P143.7 million from the DAP in 2012.

This amount, she said, was broken down into P68,352,737 for information technology infrastructure; P2,079,900 for closed-circuit television systems; P4,607,000 for legal and management consultants; and P5,115,000 for new cars for its officers.

When Estrada said that some COA officers were given cars bought with DAP funds, Pulido-Tan explained that her service vehicle was funded by the COA’s budget.

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COMELEC INTEL: The Commission on Elections, another constitutional body, received P30 million from Malacañang in February 2013 at the start of the election campaign allegedly to perform intelligence operations.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. justified his accepting intelligence funds from the Palace despite the poll body’s already having deputized law enforcement agencies to do intelligence work for it.

At the time the P30-million “assistance” was exposed, Malacañang was being accused of alleged negligence or involvement in supposed irregularities in the preparation for the automated elections.

Confirming receipt of P30 million, Brillantes said he distributed half of it to poll commissioners: P5 million to his office, P2 million to each of four senior commissioners, and P1 million each to new commissioners.

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NO RECEIPTS NEEDED: It is hard to believe that such fund Infusions to independent commissions do not influence their officials. Incidentally, Brillantes was the lead lawyer of then presidential candidate Benigno S. Aquino III in 2010.

Former Comelec commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman said poll officials received “intelligence funds” which they did not liquidate. He said he received P1.25 million as “I.F.” during his term but that he returned the money.

He added that for liquidation, the commissioners simply signed a generic declaration that the funds were used as intended. No receipts were required.

Lagman, an information technology expert, was asking too many questions when he was commissioner. President Aquino did not renew his ad interim appointment when it expired.

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AGGIE HOPES: The appointment of agriculture czar Secretary Francis Pangilinan is keeping alive hopes that the many problems bedeviling food production efforts will be solved during the Aquino administration.

Problems of supply and prices have affected rice, garlic and coconut. The issues hounding rice and garlic appear to be more political than agricultural. Pangilinan’s knowhow in both farming and politics should help him untangle the web.

The coconut industry’s problem appears to be more technical. The onslaught of pests which threaten to make the sector extinct could have been averted by foresight and better support from concerned agencies.

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TALONG THREATENED: Another food item in focus is the lowly eggplant. Filipino scientists led by agriculture experts from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños have been finding ways to help farmers produce more of this crop while spending less on chemical pesticides.

The scientific answer appears to be modern agriculture biotechnology. Using this, scientists have been studying the commercial possibilities for Bt Talong, a pest-resistant variety which does not require chemical pesticides to survive and be productive.

But these efforts have been under attack by the European pressure group Greenpeace. Last we heard, our scientists are appealing a recent decision by the Court of Appeals that Greenpeace got. The case is now at the Supreme Court.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 10, 2014)

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