Bernardo M. Villegas
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Finding Ways of Accelerating Disbursement

          The Supreme Court has unanimously decided that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the present Administration is unconstitutional.  The SC ruled that only funds left over from programmed appropriations at the end of the fiscal year can be classified as savings and impounded by the executive.  In effect, the decision ruled as unconstitutional Book VI, Chapter 5, Section 39 of the 1987 Administrative Code of the Philippines which states:  "Except as otherwise provided in the General Appropriations Act, any savings in the regular appropriations authorized in the General Appropriations Act for programs and projects of any department, office or agency, may, with the approval of the President, be used to cover a deficit in any other item of the regular appropriations."  The Filipino people will have to respect this decision of the judiciary, which is the only body capable of ruling on the constitutionality of any law or executive action.  On the other hand, the independent Executive Department has also all the right to ask for a reconsideration or appeal if its leaders are sincerely convinced that the SC decision will hurt the common good.  I am positive that the President will abide with the final decision after the appeal.  There need not be a constitutional crisis.

          What I am concerned about is that there is a dire need to find ways and means of accelerating disbursement of appropriated funds.  For the past two quarters, we have already felt the negative impact of the inability of some departments of the Government to spend on projects and programs that have already been funded by the budget.  Despite the general improvement in economic prospects over the last two to three years, the Philippines still suffers from comparison with its East Asian neighbors in its ability to improve the efficiency of its infrastructures.  It still has some of the worst airports, the worst rural infrastructures, the worst land transport systems, the worst rural electrification and water services.  Part of the problem can be attributed to a Department of Transport and Communication that seems to be eternally suffering from "paralysis by analysis."  Very few of the more than fifty Public-Private Partnership projects announced in the various State of the Nation Addresses have taken off.  I am afraid the next SONA will again be a statement of good intentions that will not be backed up by an aggressive implementation program.

          Before the Supreme Court issued its final judgment on DAP, I was inclined to support the President in his view that the Program was intended for the common good and that it was not as susceptible to corruption as the notorious PDAP in which dishonest legislators, with the connivance of some private citizens, channeled massive public funds to fake nongovernmental organizations that were put up to line the pockets of individuals in both the public and private sectors.  In my work with LGUs, I have personally witnessed DAP funding visibly benefiting infrastructure projects in such regions as Iloilo (through the active sponsorship of Senator Frank Drilon), Aurora (through former Senator Ed Angara), and Ilocos Norte (through Senator Bongbong Marcos).  Anyone with eyes to see can verify the impressive improvements in road networks, ports and other infrastructures in these regions.