PRESIDENT BENIGNO S. AQUINO III delivered his fifth and penultimate State of the Nation Address Monday amid moves to impeach him for his administration’s controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), portions of which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Aquino, who was swept into power under a banner of transparency and good governance, faces his biggest challenge yet after several groups filed three impeachment complaints against him for the DAP, a stimulus program which involves pooling money saved from government programs to fund other unprogrammed activities, and for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which allows US forces greater access to Philippine facilities.

The President delivers his second to the last State of the Nation Address during a joint session of Congress at the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City at four in the afternoon Monday.

The President is expected to make a pitch for his legislative agenda for the last two years of his term. However, many also expect the President to again defend the controversial DAP program.

Below is a streaming live feed from Radio Televison Malacanang of the President’s full speech.

As the President gave his address, thousands of people took to the streets on Monday in what has already become a yearly SONA refrain, this time to register their protest over controversies rocking his administration. Chief among the issues was the DAP controversy.

The biggest group that assembled belonged to groups allied with the Makabayan block in Congress, composed of groups such as Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, and the Kilusang Mayo Uno.

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The protesters were blocked by several layers of riot policemen along Commonwealth Avenue several kilometers from the Batasan Pambansa. However, a small contingent of protesters, mostly belonging to an urban poor community, was able to sneak past security checkpoints and staged a lightning rally just 50 meters from the Batasan gate. The protesters were later joined by legislators from the Makabayan block, who staged a walkout just before the President gave his address.

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While the smaller rally dispersed peacefully, the main contingent along Commonwealth clashed with riot police just as the President wrapped up his speech.

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Policemen arrayed behind layers of riot shields akin to a Roman Testudo trained water cannons at the protesters as the activists pushed against concrete barriers and razor-sharp concertina wire, toppling several of the barriers.

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The confrontation played out in the streets, military helicopters clattered overhead to monitor events on the ground.

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Cooler heads however prevailed, preventing a riot from erupting.

Several injured people were seen being rushed away by paramedics.

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The protesters dispersed peacefully by six in the evening, as the President finished his speech, with a threat that they would be back next year with a bigger contingent.

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ON THE EVE OF President Benigno S. Aquino III’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, youth groups called on the President to finally make an unequivocal statement of support for the long-delayed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill when he addresses both chambers of Congress during the SONA.

This will be the second to the last SONA to be delivered by President Aquino before he steps down in 2016. The President had earlier expressed his support for the FOI bill when he was still running for president; however, Congress has failed to pass the measure because of what appeared to be mixed signals coming from Malacanang. The President has held off certifying the measure as urgent, even as he has become increasingly critical of the media.

More recently, the President has again started issuing statements in support of the FOI bill’s passage, saying earlier this month that the measure will see the light of day before his term ends in 2016.

However, FOI advocates have been trying to remind Malacanang of the danger of waiting until the last minute, or the last year, before putting its shoulders behind the measure.

The FOI Youth Initiative, a network of FOI advocates in the youth sector, released a statement Sunday asking the President to declare his support for the FOI measure during the SONA.

“We urge President Benigno S. Aquino III to make a stronger commitment to approve this important piece of legislation through an explicit declaration of support in his upcoming State of the Nation Address tomorrow,” the group said.

“The reforms being undertaken by this Administration will remain incomplete if we do not have a law that institutionalizes transparency, accountability, and people’s participation in governance. Corruption shall prevail over the promise of change if Malacañang and Congress will not act swiftly to push for the enactment of the People’s FOI Act,” the group said.

Asked whether the President was including the FOI bill in his SONA, where he usually discusses his legislative priorities, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda told FOI advocates last Friday that things were not yet certain as the speech was still being crafted.

However Lacierda pointed out that the President has already made a commitment to have the measure passed before he steps down in 2016, and that the President is bound to keep his word.

 

LACIERDA

MALACANANG on Friday renewed its commitment to ensure the passage of the long-delayed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill before the term of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s term ends in 2016, claiming the final FOI version would have even more unique provisions allowing easier access to government data.

The assurance was given by Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda during a meeting with leaders of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition who delivered the signatures of more than 38,000 people who are asking the President and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to speed up the passage of the FOI bill.

Coalition convenor Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan led representatives of 15 media and civil society groups in bringing the 3,000 pages of signatures to Malacanang’s Osmena Hall to be received by Lacierda. The signatures were collected both through an online petition on Change.org, and through offline signature booths scattered throughout the country.

In his meeting with coalition members, Lacierda said the President will stand by his word that the FOI will be passed within his term. This, even as coalition members expressed concern that the measure has still not been listed as a priority bill by Malacanang.

“It is a commitment,” Lacierda said. “(The President) has said it publicly that he expects the FOI before the end of his term.”

Lacierda also assured the FOI advocates that the administration is not dropping the FOI bill in favor of its own open data push. Earlier this year, the Aquino government launched its own government data portal Data.gov.ph, where it has begun making more information publicly available. While FOI advocates welcome the development of a government data portal, they say that this cannot take the place of a law granting any citizen access to information on demand.

Lacierda said the Aquino government is committed to both open data and to the FOI, and in fact intends to marry the two through the FOI law. He said this is being done with the help of Reps. Dina Abad and Leni Robredo, who are introducing open data provisions in the FOI bill.

“Open data democratizes FOI by ensuring that the request of one person should be given to the public, what we call release to one, release to all,” Lacierda said. “Also as part of open data, we require government agencies to upload to their websites.”

“Open data does not replace FOI,” Lacierda said.

“We recognize that there is (a) need to be transparent. We need a legislation that will truly bind the three branches of government,” Lacierda said.

In a press conference after the dialogue with Lacierda, Malaluan said the FOI advocates were encouraged by what he called “material differences” in the President’s apparent attitude towards the FOI. Malaluan said the President’s support for the FOI is now much clearer than in the last four years.

“We are happy with his statement at the Daylight Dialogue (last July 15) assuring the passage of the FOI. It was the first time it was said after he took his oath during his inauguration,” Malaluan said. “After that, it was not heard of again.”

“So these material differences we acknowledge , but at the end of the day, it is how the next concrete actions are done. Moving forward, that is what we will watch out for,” Malaluan added.

“We go by the benchmarks. Malaking kaibahan ngayon. First, we have Lacierda saying they are integrating the open data program with the FOI. Second, we know that (Manuel Luis) Manolo (Quezon III) regularly attends the TWG (technical working group) meetings. Third, PNoy, for the first time since his oath-taking, has said on live television that there will be an FOI within his term,” explained Malaluan.

Peter Perfecto, Executive Director of the Makati Business Club, said the business community believes that the FOI was the one thing that the Aquino government should have “accelerated.”

In fact, Perfecto joked, the FOI should be the new DAP, or Disclosure Acceleration Program, a play of the acronym for the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that has come under fire recently.

“This is the new DAP. Instead of disbursements, this time we expect to accelerate disclosures,” Perfecto said in jest to Lacierda. “It’s the disclosure acceleration program.”

“If there is one thing this government should have accelerated a long time ago, it is the passage of the FOI law,” he added.

Perfecto added that it would be best if the President could mention his support for the FOI in his State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 28.

As of Friday, signatories of the online petition through Change.org have reached 16,200 and another 21,900 from actual signature collection points all over the country—for a total of more than 38,100 signatures.

Inday Espina-Varona, campaigns director of Change.org Philippines said that the online petition, “Tayo Na Para sa FOI,” is one of the petitions with the most number of signatories that they have had.

“This petition is even bigger than the Yolanda petition,” she told Lacierda.

The roster of signatories represent Filipinos from all walks of life. There were Filipinos from 76 other countries who signified their support for the FOI.



For his part, Vincent Lazatin, executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network said that the President should “mobilize his allies” in the Lower House.

“Walang tuwid na daan kung walang FOI. Without access to information, the people cannot truly participate in governance,” said Lazatin.

When asked if he was convinced with Lacierda’s assurance, Malaluan said that it depends on the concrete actions the administration has taken. He added that in his assessment it appear the passage of the FOI bill seemed likely.

IF THE controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is meant to fund urgent, high-impact projects, why spend for such things as stem cell research instead of hospital beds?

The question was raised by Senator Nancy Binay during the Senate finance committee hearing on the DAP on Friday.

Binay questioned the priorities of the administration in its funding allocations, even while it claims that DAP was meant to give priority funding to projects that would have high impact on the public.

For example, Binay asked why P70 million was allotted to stem cell research equipment for the Lung Center of the Philippines when so many public hospitals lack basic things such as hospital beds.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona responded by saying that the equipment to be purchased would not be used exclusively for stem cell research.

However Binay said that if the government really meant DAP to respond to priority needs, then more basic health needs should have been the focus of funding.

“Hindi ninyo naisip bumili ng hospital beds instead of stem cell research,” Binay asked Ona. “Priority nga diba, what can help our people? Hindi ko makita ang priority.”

Ona then said that that while government recognizes these basic health needs, it also needs to look at the bigger picture.

“Tinitignan natin ang kakulangan in terms of preventive, promotive, curative, at rehabilitation,” Ona told the committee.

Ona added that the Health Department has already purchased ten thousand new hospital beds for public hospitals. However, when pressed by Binay how many public hospital beds would still be needed, Ona said another five to ten thousand.

“Why not put the P70 million to those instead of stem cell, why so special ang stem cell? Wala na nga sa GAA (General Appropriations Act), nakakuha pa ng pondo.”

 

ALL POST-MARCOS Presidents have made use of a mechanism similar to the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that was declared partly unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad told a Senate committee on Friday.

Interestingly, however, it was Senate President Franklin Drilon who did much of the explaining in behalf of Abad, his partymate.

Drilon made a powerpoint presentation where he showed that President Corazon Aquino had created what she called a reserve control account in 1989, from which she pooled savings to allocate to other projects. Drilon said that in 1989, the Cory government disbursed P17.5 billion from its reserve control account.

The practice was carried on by all Presidents since, with President Fidel Ramos disbursing P44 billion, President Joseph Estrada with P36.8 billion, and President Gloria Arroyo with P189.2 billion.

“This is equivalent to DAP,” Drilon said during the hearing. “Ganun din ang konsepto, iba lang ang tawag.”

Abad seconded Drilon’s opinion, saying that it was the practice then to declare an enforced savings of as much as 25 percent at the start of the fiscal year to offset the fiscal crisis.

“Itong mga account, iniimpound ang pera sa umpisa by as much as 25 percent,” Abad said. “Sa umpisa ng taon, may savings na nawithhold na.”

Drilon also sought to point out that cross border transfers of funds had been done by all administrations as well. For example, Drilon said that the Executive also transferred P7.39 billion to what was called Constitutionally Fiscally Autonomous Groups (CFAG), another name for constitutional bodies like the Commission on Audit, the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Elections. Drilon said more such transfers were done from 1996 to 2000.

The Supreme Court had ruled portions of DAP unconstitutional, including what it called cross border transfers of funds, or the use of savings to augment the budget of other branches of the government.

 

 

 

 

PRESIDENT BENIGNO S. AQUINO III himself personally approved all the 116 projects funded by the P144.38 billion in funds sourced from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Budget Secretary Florencio Abad told a senate committee on Thursday.

Abad told the Senate finance committee that the President had a personal hand in the approval of all DAP projects, and that the President gave the authority to consolidate savings under DAP.

The Supreme Court on July 1 declared certain parts of the DAP unconstitutional. In particular, the SC said it cannot allow the crossing over of funds to other branches of government, the withdrawal of funding for items already enrolled in the budget, and the transfer of these funds to items not in the budget.

“Ang bawat proyekto ng DAP ay binasbasan ng Pangulo,” Abad told the committee.

As for the SC ruling against cross border funding, Abad said there were only two instances when this occurred: for the eLibrary project of the House of Representatives, and the upgrade of the technical capability of the Commission on Audit.

Abad insisted that these incidents do not in anyway jeopardize the separation of powers, and that the funding of these projects were done “in the spirit of interdependence.”

Abad also said that these practices are not new, and that the Executive was shocked that the SC found it unconstitutional. For example, Abad said the Commission on Elections was the recipient of billions of pesos for the purchase of automated counting machines for the elections.

As well, Abad said they were shocked that the Supreme Court expected them to prove good faith on their part. Abad said this was worrisome for the bureaucracy because the presumption of regularity appears to have been discarded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IF MALACANANG is going to insist that its implementation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is well intentioned, then it may as well remember what the road to hell is paved with, said Senator JV Ejercito during the Senate finance committee hearing on the DAP controversy.

After grilling Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on the details of the DAP that he instituted in 2011, Ejercito said Abad was just trying to justify “technical malversation.”

Ejercito said Malacanang should have just respected both the Supreme Court and Congress by endorsing to the legislature the appropriate measure that would have funded the programs now being funded by DAP.

“You are just justifying technical malversation,” Ejercito said.

Abad and several cabinet members appeared before the Senate finance committee Thursday morning for a hearing on the DAP, parts of which had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Abad rattled off what he called the benefits of the DAP, saying this mechanism allowed the government to access more funds for public spending programs for infrastructure and social services. With DAP, Abad said, there was more money for the priority programs of the government without having to raise additional taxes.

“We have made unprecedented progress in key priorities,” Abad said.

To this, Ejercito reminded Abad that a declaration of good intentions is not enough. “One cannot juggle funds no matter how good the intention is,” Ejercito said.

For his part, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV seemed more sympathetic to Abad, asking him whether the Supreme Court had accused anyone in the administration of pocketing public funds.

“Sinabi ba ng Supreme Court na meron kayong ninakaw?” Trillanes asked Abad. Abad said no.

Trillanes said it was clear that the Aquino administration must come up with a better communications plan to fight “the better communications plan of the other side.”

At the same time Abad said that many DAP projects are now in limbo since the Supreme Court only found some parts of the project as unconstitutional.

Senator Francis Escudero asked Abad if the Department of Budget and Management would release funds for an ongoing DAP project if the contractor demands payment.

Abad said they would have to ask advise from their legal counsels on the matter.

He said the instruction of the President on the issue was this: “Kung hindi kayo sigurado, huwag ninyong galawin ang proyekto.”