MANILA, Philippines – A nationwide lawyers’ association asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday, October 16, to temporarily stop fund releases under Malacañang’s disbursement program, which the group calls unconstitutional.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) sought the issuance of a temporary restraining order on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as it joined other petitioners who had earlier asked that the DAP be declared unconstitutional.
The DAP was first exposed as the Executive’s source of additional pork barrel for lawmakers. It became more controversial after it was exposed by legal experts and a former budget secretary as a violation of Congress’ sole power to allocate funds.
The Palace has defended it, saying it is within the President’s power under the Constitution to realign savings – or excess funds from completed projects. However, the DAP has realigned even allocations for supposedly slow-moving projects and unimplemented projects, which experts say make it illegal.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was named respondent in the IBP’s 24-page petition for prohibition.
In seeking for a TRO, former University of the Philippines Law Dean Pacifico Agabin, representing the IBP, said, “The taxpayers will suffer irreparable injury because the money they have paid the government were illegally utilized.”
According to IBP, the Executive committed grave abuse of discretion and technical malversation when it disbursed funds without a valid appropriation.
Since the DAP is not in the General Appropriations Act of 2011, 2012, and 2013, the IBP said the program therefore violates Article VI, Section 29 of the Constitution. The provision says, “No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”
“To be sure, following the constitutional precepts above, respondent cannot, on his own, use public funds to create and utilize a program which had not been allowed by Congress. Neither is he allowed to spend additional public funds for projects beyond what was appropriated in the GAA without congressional approval. Such acts are beyond his jurisdiction and authority and violative of the Constitution,” the IBP petition said.
The IBP said Abad cannot use Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the Constitution to insist on the legality of DAP.
The provision says the President, Senate President, House Speaker, the Chief Justice, and the heads of constitutional commissions “may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”
The lawyers’ group said that provision requires 3 things:
- The savings must come from items in the GAA for the executive department.
- There has to be a law allowing the use of those savings.
- The savings must be used to augment items already found in the GAA.
“There is no appropriation for such a program, nor was there any allocation made by Congress therefor. Obviously, this is not a program submitted to Congress for its approval,” the IBP petition said.
The petition said Abad had failed to say exactly where DAP funds were used and whether these were indeed items included in the GAAs.
“There is no detailed accounting from where the savings supposedly originated from, or from what ‘slow-moving’ projects these funds were taken, or how much GOCC (government-owned and controlled corporations) dividends were received as a windfall. Neither is they any showing of whether there was in fact a deficit in the appropriation for the projects funded by the DAP,” IBP said.
Using DAP funds to supplement lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was also illegal, the lawyers’ group said. Quoting Article VI, Section 25, of the Constitution, the IBP said the President may only use savings to augment an item “for their respective offices.”
“What is clear is that respondent believes that he has a free hand over the use of the DAP, and an unbridled power to source its funding. Free enough to even supplant the PDAF allocations of certain senators,” the IBP said.
The IBP’s petition is the fifth to be filed before the SC calling for the scrapping of the program for being unconstitutional. The other petitions were filed by former Iloilo congressman Augusto Syjuco, Manuelito Luna, Jose Malvar Villegas, and the Philippine Constitution Association.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the cases on October 22.
The IBP has also asked the Court to direct the Commission on Audit to conduct an immediate audit of funds disbursed under the DAP. – Rappler.com