Many faces of DAP

The Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP has many faces that can be viewed from different angles: economic, legal and political. I will take them up sequentially.

Economic and legal faces. The economic aspect I leave to the economists who look at the DAP as a stimulus program that helped propel our country to be the fastest-growing economy in Asia. Their thesis is backed by the Keynesian philosophy that to spur a laggard economy, reduce poverty and create employment, government must spend heavily. Many countries have done this successfully.

The legal aspects will be decided by the Supreme Court. Without preempting the oral argument on Nov. 19, but only to enable readers to understand the legal issues, I wrote on Nov. 2 that the legality of the DAP depended on whether the legal provisions relied upon by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad would pass the constitutional test that no public money may be spent without congressional authority, and that savings may be transferred from one budget item to augment another budget item existing in the same budget law.

Augmentation cannot be used to create a new budget item or to fund a new project not previously authorized by law. Legislators may recommend projects, but only for those authorized by law and only if the recommendations do not bind the executive agencies.

Now to the political aspect. Critics attack the DAP because it is allegedly a disguised form of political patronage that promotes partisanship and grants the President unbridled discretion. They say the DAP is merely a scheme to divert savings to dubious projects with little or no significance to the nation.

Undeniably, some legislators have been favored with DAP funds, about 9 percent of the total, to fuel their pet projects. However, to my knowledge, no one has come up with a credible claim that DAP funds have been diverted to bogus nongovernment organizations or to ghost projects.

In fact, to be fair, these projects are not necessarily evil. Aside from stimulating the economy, many of them (like airports, bridges and roads) are really needed. In any event, the vast portion of the DAP, a full 91 percent, was spent without the intervention of lawmakers and presumably used to stimulate the economy.

To stress, the use of some DAP funds for the legislators’ projects is not necessarily wrong, if anyway the projects are duly authorized by law and all that the President did was to realign savings to augment the original budget items for these authorized projects. Of course, the favored politicians scored brownie points and gained political capital for them.

The President defends this use of the DAP to help lawmakers who in turn help him push his legislative agenda. To stop his initiatives, these lawmakers did not have to oppose him. All they needed was to absent themselves from congressional sessions, thereby adjourning these due to lack of quorum. The President probably calculated that 9 percent of the DAP is the democratic cost of getting his programs and projects approved in the legislative mill.

True, the DAP (as well as most of the budget) grants the President wide discretion. But that is how it should be in our system of government. The President is elected to implement the laws, and many times such wide discretion is needed during calamities and emergencies, like the recent killer earthquake in Bohol and Cebu and the killer typhoon in Central Philippines.

The fear of the possible abuse of such discretion by a corrupt chief executive should not handcuff and frustrate an innovative president. After all, grave abuse of discretion is judicially actionable.

The political face of the DAP can be debated passionately to form robust public opinion, but in the end, the people themselves will be the ultimate judges when they cast their ballots.

Ideal Philippines. Which brings us to the next point: Reforming our political processes cannot be done overnight. It includes the education of our electorate, to ensure that only the truly qualified are elected. Unfortunately, many voters expect, if not demand, all types of largesse come election time.

I am not a politician. I can only depend on the political instincts of our President, who still enjoys wide public approval ratings, to do the politically right thing, at the right time, and for the right reasons. Since he is not running for reelection and has no more personal ambition, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in matters political.

In an ideal Philippines, there should be no political horse trading, no childish “I will scratch your back if you scratch mine,” no selfish “I will vote for your proposal if you vote for mine,” no pork barrel or political patronage to grease the wheels of government. Political principles and platforms should prevail only on sheer merit.

Political leaders should be elected for their qualifications, patriotism, and dedication to duty, in the mold of the senators of old, like Lorenzo Tañada, Claro M. Recto, Jose W. Diokno and Jovito R. Salonga, who did not have to sing and dance, or to point to new bridges and roads, much less to rig elections.

But until that ideal Philippines comes about, I am willing to face the reality that reforming governance, eliminating corruption and achieving first-world status cannot be done overnight. It takes patience, innovation and several intermediate steps or milestones to reach the top.

How to build and ascend those milestones deserves another full column. Any bright ideas on how to identify the milestones, dear readers?

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