DAP setback: Govt needs to stay the course

KEEP GOING. Stay the course. This is our piece of advice to the PNoy administration in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to declare unconstitutional certain acts and practices under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and related executive issuances.

Although we disagree with the Supreme Court on certain areas, we recognize that our criticisms no longer have legal significance. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court as an institution has remained finicky and unpredictable, populist and politicized. This is not the occasion to expound on why the Supreme Court is prone to whim and prejudices. Instead, we refer readers to the essays that our colleague and legal scholar Raul Pangalangan have written on why the Supreme Court is swayed by populist appeal.

For the administration to keep going, it can in fact draw a passage from the Supreme Court ruling:

“The other side of the coin is that it has been adequately shown as to be beyond debate that the implementation of the DAP yielded undeniably positive results that enhanced the economic welfare of the country. To count the positive results may be impossible, but the visible ones like public infrastructure could easily include roads, bridges, homes for the homeless, hospitals, classrooms and the like. Not to apply the doctrine of operative fact to the DAP could literally cause the physical undoing of such worthy results by destruction, and would result in most desirable wastefulness.”

To stay the course means to continue the fiscal reforms that yield the positive gains that even the hostile Supreme Court has recognized. The DAP must be seen in the broader context of the innovative fiscal reforms that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has undertaken.

Here are some of the reforms that are part and parcel of transforming the national budget into an authentic people’s budget:

* Performance-informed budgeting: Through the performance-informed budgeting, the citizens obtain clearer and transparent information on how government agencies use public funds — the resources, the projects or activities, the outcomes and final outputs. Performance commitments are made explicit, and they can be monitored to measure performance and exact accountability.

* General Appropriations Act — as release document: This simplifies and speeds up the budget execution process by introducing direct payments without the use of cash or checks. It addresses three good attributes of public spending: efficiency, transparency and responsiveness.

* Grassroots participatory budgeting: People’s participation in the making of the budget gives substance to the principle that the budget is not only for the people, that the people likewise own the budget. After all, it is the people’s hard-earned taxes that finance the budget. For the 2014 budget, the DBM reports an inclusion of P20.1 billion in the general appropriations for local programs or projects in cities and municipalities, directly arising from grassroots participation in the budget process.

The DAP is one of the major innovations alongside the measures stated above. It is an instrument to ramp up public spending especially in infrastructure amid a sorry situation where spending is sluggish. The stimulus that DAP generated, to repeat what the Supreme Court said, had “undeniably positive results.”

For 2014, the national budget will again be a decisive instrument to sustain the high growth. A program essentially similar to DAP, but without the legal controversies, is necessary to make the budget responsive to what is now a binding constraint on growth: the inadequate infrastructure that has not correspondingly expanded with Philippine economic growth.

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms

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