Ombudsman probes Abad, subaltern
THE Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday ordered a preliminary investigation against Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Undersecretary Mario Relampagos for technical malversation and administrative charges they are facing in connection with the use of the now-discredited Disbursement Acceleration Program.
The DAP, created by Abad to shuffle funds from one project to another ostensibly to spur economic growth, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014. The Court reaffirmed its ruling in February this year.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Wednesday that a special panel of field investigators had completed its probe into the use of DAP funds under the Office of the President from 2011 to 2012 and recommended that Abad and Relampagos be investigated.
The two had authorized the use of pooled savings under the DAP to boost disbursements and to jump-start the government’s expenditure program by spending on projects that would have a “multiplier effect” on the economy, the Ombudsman said.
But records obtained by the investigators showed irregularities in the cross department transfer of funds to the Commission on Audit and the House of Representatives.
From a total of P31.9 billion in DAP funds, P250 million was released to Congress for the construction of its legislative library and archive building.
This was not among the projects approved by President Benigno Aquino III, the Ombudsman said.
At the same time, P143.7 million was released to CoA to augment its information technology infrastructure program and to recruit more litigation experts, under an approved special allotment release order.
Abad prepared and signed all the memoranda and issuances concerning DAP implementation while Relampagos signed the corresponding SAROs to the audit agency and Congress.
Under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code, the crime of technical malversation is committed by a public officer who disburses public funds or property for a purpose different from which they were originally appropriated by law or ordinance.
The Department of Budget and Management on Wednesday welcomed the Ombudsman’s decision to investigate Abad and Relampagos.
“The preliminary investigation on DAP is a welcome move from the Office of the Ombudsman. Not only will the inquiry enable the parties to present their views on all remaining issues involving DAP, we likewise trust that the Ombudsman will conduct the investigation with the soundest judgment,” the department said in a statement.
Abad has yet to issue his own statement.
The Budget Department statement said technical malversation “does not suggest that the individuals in question committed acts of graft or corruption.”
Nor did it mean that the individuals used the funds for their personal gain, it said.
“The inquiry involves the application of excess or unutilized public funds to existing priority government projects and programs that require additional funding. The investigation seeks to determine whether these uses of public funds constitute technical malversation, where public funds are used for a public purpose that differed—in a very technical sense—from the original plan,” the DBM also said.
Morales, who was appointed by Aquino, did not order him investigated.
But an opposition lawmaker said the President should be held accountable for the “highly anomalous, illegal and unconstitutional DAP.”
“If Abad and Relampagos are being investigated for the highly anomalous, illegal and unconstitutional DAP, then President Aquino all the more should be investigated because his signatures are all over the DAP documents, selecting and approving what projects to be funded, how much and who will benefit,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.
Morales had earlier said she has formed a fact-finding team in response to DAP-related complaints involving top officials of the executive department, including the President.
“We call on Ombudsman Morales to modify the findings of the Field Investigation Office by including in its investigation President Aquino and make him and all those who are involved in the DAP accountable,” Zarate added.
Zarate said the President may have immunity from suit now but he has no immunity from being investigated, especially in relation to his presidential pork, called DAP.
The DAP, a brainchild of Abad, was a mechanism to impound funds from various projects and divert them to other purposes not specified by Congress. With Sandy Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz