Manila, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday defended the legality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program and said that the criticisms against it are just used by plunderers to deter public’s attention from the scandal over the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

“Since I am in a room full of journalists, perhaps I can leave it to you to connect the dots: All of these attacks came after plunder cases, among others, that were filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against a few well-known politicians,” Aquino said in his speech during the annual forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

“And perhaps, again because I am in a room full of journalists, I do not need to remind you of the true issue that has seemingly been drowned out by all the background noise. And so I ask you: Let’s keep our eye on the ball…Plunderers should be taken to account,” he added.

Aquino further expressed that DAP has become a driver for the Philippines’ economic growth. It helped boost the country’s growth by 1.3 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2011, and the momentum has been sustained until now.

He said that funds under DAP went to the projects such as road projects, health and education programs for the poor, the program to relocate informal settlers, TESDA’s training for work scholarship program, and sitio electrification program, among others.

“I was perplexed to hear that some people equated the DAP with PDAF, when, simply, it was a program that strategically allocated funds to agencies that had already proven the capacity to implement projects and programs rapidly and efficiently. The legality of such a process has never been in question. As clearly stated in Executive Order 292, or the Administrative Code of 1987 amongst other laws. It is difficult to fathom how one could equate this program with PDAF,” Aquino said.

Aquino accused the suspected “plunderers” in the P10 billion pork barrel scam of being behind the criticisms against DAP. The criticisms were also followed by harangues against changes in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the bonuses of the officials of the Social Security System.

“In the midst of the cacophony of voices, the journalist must be able to separate the important from the frivolous, the spin from the facts, the malicious lies from the simple truth. I am confident that you will pursue the type of journalism that is not about page views or advertisers, or about renting a megaphone to the highest bidder; but rather, the type of journalism that those who came before us fought for, and at times, died for. The type of journalism that builds nations,” Aquino stated.

“Our media and our people are far too good, far too wise to be grossly and brazenly led to the wrong issue,” he added.

He urged the journalists not to be sidetracked by the “background noise” and rather focus their attention on the true issue.

DAP, BOC, and bonuses

DAP was brought to the forefront after Sen. Jinggoy Estrada revealed in a privilege speech that senators who voted to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona received P50 million each as additional funds for projects of their choice.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admitted after Estrada’s revelation that the funds came from DAP, but said they were not bribes for Corona’s upheaval.

Meanwhile, Aquino also came to the defense of the reforms being instituted in the BOC, specifically the reorganizing of certain personnel.

“Where is this ‘grave injustice,’ if I may ask, when these personnel would be paid exactly the same amount as they are making in their old posts with their seniority intact? I wonder what would happen to our country if every employee that was assigned a new task by his superior would find it prudent to petition for a TRO (temporary restraining order) to be granted,” he said.

It can be recalled that the president criticized the BOC during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July, touted the reshuffling as proof of his administration’s commitment to “Tuwid na Daan,” his platform against corruption.

On the other hand, the issue about the GOCC bonuses arose after it was reported that governing officials of the SSS received bonuses averaging a little over P1 million in 2012.

The Governance Commission for GOCCs (GCG) fortified the state-run pension fund, saying it had met its targets and that the number of complaints against it was less than one percent of the total number of transactions made by the agency.

Aquino also defended that the bonuses of the SSS board members were covered by the framework of the Governance Commission on GOCCs.

Arvia Claudine O. Denalo
ABCom/Leyte Normal University