“Alas, Aquino and Abad are now down from their makeshift pedestals, stripped off the entitlements and immunities that came with the power that they so extravagantly misused and abused.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA and KAREN ANN MACALALAD
MANILA — As former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III loses immunity from suit, progressive groups made true their promise to hold Aquino accountable for the anomalous Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and leaders of umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) filed with the Office of the Ombudsman a 26-page complaint against Aquino and former Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio Abad.
The groups charged Aquino and Abad with technical malversation of public funds, usurpation of legislative powers, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service and gross dishonesty.
“The DAP was nothing more than presidential pork taken from forced savings then realigned for pet projects of the President,” Zarate said. “It was not a stimulus program as many of the projects approved by Aquino had nothing to do with stimulating the economy.”
A total of P144 billion (US$3.05 billion) worth of projects, activities and programs were implemented through the DAP.
The Supreme Court, acting on several petitions filed against DAP, declared in July 2014 the following acts and practices under DAP unconstitutional: a) the withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies, and the declaration of the unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year; b) the cross-border transfers of the savings of the Executive to augment the appropriations of offices outside the Executive; and, c) the funding of projects, activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Citing Aquino’s own words when he filed Senate Bill 3121 or the Budget Impoundment Control Act in 2009, the complainants maintained that “Aquino already knew beforehand that his acts of tinkering with the annual GAAs and fiscal dictatorship are contrary to the Constitution and a grave sin to the principles of separation of powers, transparency, and good governance.
The allegations were cited in the impeachment complaint filed before the House of Representatives in 2014.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said the Liberal Party-dominated chamber did not give the impeachment complainants a chance to present evidence on the culpability of Aquino. “It is only now that Aquino is no longer in power that we are able to revive our push for accountability,” he said.
“It is our right to file a case to give justice to the Filipino people,” said Antonio Flores, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and one of the complainants.
He said billions of DAP funds went to the Department of Agrarian Reform to pay off landlords, including the Cojuangco-Aquino and Ayala families. Flores said it is also corruption to favor landlords, while many farmer beneficiaries remain landless.
Flores called on Filipinos and the Duterte administration to monitor the implementation of government policies.
“Policies in favor of the people should be supported, while those that favor foreign and rich companies should be stopped,” he said.
Members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) who assisted the complainants said in a separate statement, “Alas, Aquino and Abad are now down from their makeshift pedestals, stripped off the entitlements and immunities that came with the power that they so extravagantly misused and abused.”
Other complainants include Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) National Chairperson Benjamin Valbuena,Confederation For Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) President Ferdinand Gaite,Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) Founding Chairman/President Dante LA. Jimenez, Mae P. Paner of the Juana Change Movement, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Philipinas (KMP) Secretary General Antonio Flores, GABRIELA Secretary General Joan Mae Salvador, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) National Chairperson Gloria G. Arellano and Philippine Heart Center Employees Association-Alliance of Health Workers President Bonifacio S. Carmona, Jr.