DAP funds to be used to help quake victims
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - October 18, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The government has “a lot of money” and the funds needed to help quake victims and rehabilitate damaged communities and infrastructures will come from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Malacañang announced yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda made the announcement when asked to justify the P12-million expenses for the President’s state visit to South Korea amid the calamity that devastated Bohol and Cebu in the Central Visayas region.

Lacierda used the disaster to defend the need for DAP, which legality is being challenged before the Supreme Court (SC).

“We have savings. You may call it DAP, it’s savings. The question is if we have enough savings,” Lacierda told journalists in a press briefing.

The Palace said DAP is not a pork barrel of President Aquino but a mechanism to stimulate the economy by realigning savings.

Lacierda said savings were used to help victims of Typhoon Pablo in Mindanao, the Zamboanga City crisis and now the earthquake in Bohol and Cebu provinces.

For Typhoon Pablo, the P10.53-billion assistance was charged against savings or unprogrammed funds; the P3.89 billion for Zamboanga City will come from the 2013 calamity fund (P3.61 billion) and 2013 contingent fund (P285 million).

But Lacierda said there is no assessment yet on the damage caused by the earthquake. He said the victims were given relief assistance and buildings are being assessed for structural integrity and possible retrofitting.

The Palace official said the government would appreciate international assistance, but “we are not calling out for aid” because the administration had been prudent in using public funds.

“We just want to say that we have enough resources to handle the situation,” he said, adding the administration would need the help of foreign restoration experts to rebuild centuries-old churches and cultural heritage sites.

TRO vs funds

Asked about new petitions seeking to declare DAP unconstitutional and illegal, Lacierda said it would be up to the SC to decide on the matter.

“But if you’re to issue a temporary restraining order against DAP, you’re going to TRO the savings which is going to be used to help the people in need right now,” he said as he declined to comment on the effect of the TRO on the acceleration program of the government.

“It’s up to the Supreme Court. What we are telling you is that we are going to use the savings for victims of Pablo, for Zamboanga crisis and for quake victims in Bohol and Cebu,” he said.

The SC has not issued a TRO on DAP, but only on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Feel bad

When told about a comment of an SC justice that this argument was making people feel bad and guilty, Lacierda said: “However they feel bad, that’s the reality of it. We’re intending to use these savings for those situations and, in fact, that’s the reason why we’re able to use these savings properly.”

“Would you rather we park it somewhere else and do nothing about it? Or would you rather we use them properly and prudently where it should be placed? It’s not a question of guilt for the Supreme Court justices. It’s a question for the national government to prudently use these savings where they should be used,” he said.

Lacierda said the resolution filed by Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza asking the Department of Budget and Management to release P1.5 billion for Bohol and Cebu was good, but they would have to wait first for the damage assessment.

He said it would be up to the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to defend Memorandum Circular No. 541 which was the basis for DAP, and which nullification was being sought before the SC.

“We firmly believe that DAP is no more than realigned savings, so the Solicitor General can defend our position before the Supreme Court,” Lacierda said.

Re-brand DAP

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto wants to re-brand DAP in order to help rebuild disaster-hit areas.

Recto said the P7.5-billion calamity fund contained in the proposed 2014 national budget is not sufficient to address the needs of these areas.

“There’s certainly a need for bigger DAP or Disaster Aid Projects funds. This is the kind of DAP that we need,” he said in a statement.

The play on words was a rebuff of the DAP that the administration came up with in 2011 as a mechanism to catch up on spending, which it failed to do in 2010.

It was Sen. Jinggoy Estrada who cast doubt on the propriety of the DAP when he claimed that the additional funds released to senators in 2012 were rewards or incentives for the conviction of former chief justice Renato Corona.

Recto said his version of the DAP would mean either an increase in the calamity fund or the creation of an entirely new fund under the Department of Public Works and Highways dedicated to disaster relief.

He cited a third option, which would involve introducing a section in the unprogrammed fund of the General Appropriations Act qualifying disaster relief as among the activities that can be funded by excess revenues, new loans or savings.

“We can even rechannel the dismantled PDAF to disaster work. If we do this, then pork barrel will end up as rebuilding material,” Recto said. – With Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel

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