by Dean de la Paz , as originally posted at Blog Watch, Philippine Online Chronicles
When a presidential alter ego and the ruling party’s bet for 2016 went on a short and intimate albeit unscheduled road trip with a senator accused, arrested and then arraigned in the pork barrel scandal, we imagined that only among protagonists would persons be taken for a ride. We did not imagine then that whole constituencies would likewise be taken as fools.
Given the publicity campaign to counter the growing public disgust and disdain against Malacanang and to deodorize the president from the stench slowly wafting through and enveloping Benigno Aquino III’s public persona of a Dudley Do-Right albeit fatally ignorant of his minions’ alternate reputations, for such PR campaign to work government hucksters assume that the public can indeed be fooled.
It is insulting to the intelligence of the Filipino public, this presumption of our collective gullibility. But it is consistent with the same presumption that Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)-recipient solons applied when they first received from the Palace the very first centavo of DAP following their vote on the Corona impeachment. Never mind that the program’s logistics and processes technically usurped congressional budget powers. Never mind also that the billions flowed after a distinctly political exercise that reeked of partisanship and vengeance.
After all, the former Chief Justice was appointed by Gloria Arroyo. More important, he presided over a court that virtually took from Aquino’s family controversially ill-gotten property the size of Makati and Pasig combined.
The DAP is based on a demeaning foundation. The most brazen is the assumption that the public will believe that even the dirtiest politicians have the public welfare in mind when they get their greedy hands, fingers, talons and claws on billions of our tax money where these are off-budget, invisible to audit eyes, checks and balances, and which re-channeling and subsequent spending “in good faith” is sufficient justification to stave off prison terms.
Either that or our elected officials have all been stricken either myopic or blind since no one saw the obvious folly of the DAP when initially malversed outside the agency funds were originally budgeted for and then, through people whose day job it is is to write laws, pumped into personally-identified pet projects of that august chamber with offices right where we discharge our metropolitan sewage.
The blinding glare of billions is understandable. Since biblical times! Judases have been similarly incentivized. Silver shines so brightly it can obscure what’s underneath. More so if there were thirty pieces. Imagine the blinding glare. Imagine also Php 149 billion’s weight in gold.
One other blinding albeit ludicrous defense of misappropriating from the DAP is the argument that savings are produced when the usage or project for which a budget is intended under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) is either suspended or stopped in its tracks from being implemented. From the standpoint of prudent fiscal discipline that is wrong.
The perspective is simplistic. It is also contrary to prudent financial protocols. In finance and where fiduciary responsibility and trust are critical there is a vast difference between the definition of savings arrayed against unexpended or unspent funds. The Administrative Code allows for savings to be used by entities for projects or activities other than those for which the funds were budgeted. But unspent funds due to the suspension or cancellation of an expenditure does not constitute savings.
Savings result from variances between programmed funds and expense or cash flow forecasts and actual expenditures and cash flows upon actual operation. Projects must be undertaken to produce savings. This is a critical financial control measure than is even more important where funds belong to the trusting public. It is the rationale behind the necessity to revert unspent funds to the treasury. It ensures that all expenditures pass not only budgetary scrutiny but are statutorily authorized where violations are punished accordingly.
If the definition of savings were expanded to include cancelled or suspended expenditures then all budgets, whether public or private, and the GAA itself, a law for that matter, would be open-ended, porous, iffy, indefinite, contingent and subject to technical malversation. Gaps and loopholes would be so wide that a fleet of white Porches with backup SUVs could drive through with or without sirens blaring.
The integrity of the GAA and the process which establishes the GAA and elevates it from a mere budget to a yearly statute, a republic act for that matter, is likewise important in analyzing the SC decision on the DAP.
The budget is a law in order to protect its integrity. Beyond form and substance, the GAA is an authorization. Anything outside it is unauthorized. To deviate from it, or to violate it by spending outside its parameters, and thus outside congressional approval, becomes a criminal offense if only to emphasize GAA’s importance, its provisions and its allocations having gone through months of congressional scrutiny through both houses of congress.
Expenditures outside the GAA are expenditures outside the law. Those who operate outside the law are outlaws. Even non-lawyers can understand such simplicity. Even politicians. One has to be extremely stupid not to understand that. That turns the “good faith” paradigm into a mitigating circumstance that cannot erase the principal character of an act of misappropriation.
That is the definition of an illegal expenditure regardless of subsequent economic benefits and claims of GDP growth instituted by the very gang now enjoying the spartan hospitality of the PNP custodial center.
Thus, while certain officials might indeed be empowered by the Administrative Code to otherwise re-channel funds from GAA-authorized expenditures to non-GAA authorized cash outflows, these can only be for usages approved through the national budget mill.
Unfortunately, under the DAP, these last two safeguards against technical malversation were brazenly violated.
The SC decision is clear. DAP’s inherent nature as technically non-savings, its illegal diversion outside the original agency funds were intended for, and its non-inclusion in the GAA, makes its violation a criminal act under the malversation statutes.
Like a five-member band of mulcting traffic enforcers milling about on a four-cornered intersection, when surrounded, it makes sense to circle the wagons.
The consequent leaks by selected recipients of DAP funds likewise takes the public for fools. Not only are the attempts meant to show economic benefits following the catch-all definitions like “Priority activities to promote economic well-being” but the diversion from accusations of primary malversation is evident.
If we are being taken for a ride by these crooks and their paid hacks, at the end of the day this is still all our fault. We insist on electing to office and there empower characters who take us for fools. And then they rob us blind.