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No DAP cases involving loss of funds to this day

TWO government spending programs were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court – the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) on November 19, 2013, and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) on July 1, 2014.

PDAF was the name used by the Aquino administration for the “pork barrel” system for members of Congress. Before the Supreme Court ruling, it was common practice for legislators, who approved the National Budget, to include funding for projects that benefitted their constituents and thus aided in their reelection. The Supreme Court, however, stopped this, saying that legislators should not be taking part in the implementation of Congress-approved projects; that should be left entirely to the executive.

The PDAF cases filed against several senators and congressmen were based not on the SC ruling that PDAF is unconstitutional but on charges that some PDAF funds went to non-government organizations (NGOs) identified with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, which did not carry out the projects at all. It was charged that millions of pesos were thus lost by the government, taken allegedly by the NGOs and by some legislators.

The DAP, on the other hand, was ruled unconstitutional for authorizing the withdrawal of budgeted funds unspent in the middle of the year, calling them savings, and then releasing them for programs not specifically approved by Congress. Some of the funds were cross-over transfers – from one branch of the government to another – in violation of the Constitution.

A DAP case was filed only after the end of the Aquino administration by the Ombudsman and only against President Aquino’s Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. Abad was charged with usurpation of legislative power and with simple misconduct. He was ordered suspended for three months but since he is no longer holding office, he was ordered to pay a fine equivalent to three months worth of salary.

Aquino and Abad were not charged with graft by the Ombudsman. To be so charged, an official must have acted with “manifest partiality, evident bad faith, and inexcusable negligence, and must have caused the government undue injury,” the Ombudsman said. Government must have been injured by losing public funds to private pockets.

In the wake of comments that the Ombudsman seems to be treating President Aquino and Secretary Abad lightly in the DAP case, compared to the non-bailable plunder cases filed against legislators in the PDAF cases, President Duterte in a press conference in Cagayan de Oro last Sunday vowed to expose those who benefited from the DAP. “I will reveal everything, how much they got,” he said.

PDAF cases involved specific amounts for specific projects. To this day, there are no DAP cases involving specific projects. Until conscientious investigative work can come up with cases that benefited certain officials, there will be no big DAP cases like the many PDAF cases that are now in the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan.