WHEN Secretary Benjamin Diokno of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) appeared before the Commission on Appointments (CA) last week, the hearing centered on the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) implemented by the previous DBM secretary.
The Duterte administration will not repeat the mistake of the previous Aquino administration with regards to the DAP, Diokno assured the CA Committee on Budget and Management headed by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri. In just 15 minutes, the committee recommended Diokno’s confirmation by the CA which, in turn, immediately approved it. Diokno became the first Duterte Cabinet member to be confirmed by the CA.
The Zubiri committee’s pointed question to Diokno about DAP reflects the concern that vestiges of the discredited budgeting mechanism introduced by the previous secretary, Florencio Abad, may have survived in the new budget drawn up by Diokno.
The DAP, it may be recalled, was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on three counts – its declaration of savings before the end of the fiscal year so the funds could be realigned, the cross-border transfer of some funds to other government offices, and the allotment of funds to programs not approved by Congress.
The DAP ruling was issued by the Supreme Court on February 2, 2015. On July 8, 2016, a week after the end of the Aquino administration, charges of technical malversation, usurpation of legislative powers, and graft and corruption were filed by a group of party-list solons and an alliance of activist organizations, against Secretary Abad and President Benigno S. Aquino III, in connection with the use of DAP since 2011. Last week, the Ombudsman ordered the two high ex-officials to answer the technical malversation complaint.
It will take years before the criminal case will be resolved. Meantime, we must ensure that in the new budgeting process, there will be no repetition of the kind of fund releases made under the DAP. The previous administration had instituted the DAP as a means to accelerate spending and boost the economy, but it took shortcuts and undue liberties that were contrary to law.
Secretary Diokno has assured that all future budgets will be totally compliant with the Supreme Court decision. In addition, a budget reform bill will incorporate provisions of the Freedom of Information executive order of President Duterte. This will be an added mechanism against abuses in the use of public funds, an ancient problem in government.