SC decision on DAP: Pressure from both sides

UP law professor Dan Gatmaytan both sides are only making 'political statements' and do not address the legal issues of realigning funds by the Palace

MEDIA WAR. As the oral arguments on DAP nears, talks on the alleged connection between impeachment moves vs SC justices and the DAP case are revived. File photo by Egay Aguilar

MANILA, Philippines – When one administration lawmaker threatens to impeach unnamed Supreme Court (SC) justices after the congressional pork barrel was struck down, and then a party mate expresses certainty that the High Court will not do the same with presidential discretionary funds, there must be “something fishy” going on.

This is the point raised recently – in fact, has been raised since December – by opposition congressman Toby Tiangco (Navotas), secretary general of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). The administration, he says, is “conditioning the public’s mind” that the Executive’s realignment of funds in the budget under its Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is legal.

Oriental Mindoro Representative Rey Umali, the one who made the impeachment threat, and Marikina Representative Miro Quimbo, who is “certain” that nothing’s wrong with DAP, deny they are out to pressure the SC.

A law professor says both sides are, in fact, trying to influence the High Court with their statements.

The SC is set to resume hearing oral arguments on the DAP on January 28, but the government is moving to postpone it to March 25. Petitioners want the DAP declared as unconstitutional because it infringes on Congress’ powers in shaping the budget.

The Constitution allows the President to realign savings in the budget, but in the case of DAP, Malacañang realigned items in the 2013 budget when these were not yet savings but allocations for slow moving or unfinished projects.

When the SC last heard oral arguments, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio pointed out that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad had been realigning items in the budget without written consent from the President.

‘Preemptive moves’

In a statement on Thursday, January 16, Tiangco scored the administration for its “preemptive moves…to condition the minds of the public on the legality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program.”

He said: “The confidence in Quimbo’s and Umali’s statement is likely grounded on something solid. I can only suspect that they have something up their sleeves that’s why they are now conditioning the public’s mind that the DAP will be declared constitutional by the SC because the law allows the President to freely transfer savings to projects which are not sufficiently funded.”

Quimbo earlier said: “I don’t think I will embarass the UP College of Law for saying that I am certain that it will be declared as constitutional.”

The Liberal Party congressman further said in a recent press conference: “What the SC only prohibited or declared unconstitutional is a lump sum that allows the legislature to decide after it has been approved as far as the budget is concerned. Once the budget act has been approved, Congress should not interfere with lump sums. That’s what’s in the Supreme Court decision. They did not say anything in so far as the lump sums with the executive are concerned.” 

Umali, who was also present at the press conference, denied the impeachment threat was not tied to the DAP. “My battle is how to defend Congress, the institution, and the HRET (House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal) – the constitutionally-mandated body that the SC should not undermine through a flip-flopping decision,” Umali said. 

Legal issues not addressed

Dan Gatmaytan, associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, said both sides are, in fact, “using the media to advance their respective agenda.”

“Representative Umali has been rallying members of Congress and the public against the Supreme Court. In previous statements, he suggested that the Supreme Court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of PDAF was merely the Court’s way of regaining its lost prestige. In his words, the Court was playing to the crowd,” Gatmaytan said.  

He added: “Tiangco, on the other hand, is himself conditioning the mind of the public into thinking that the Court’s ruling on the DAP case is the result of pressure on the Court. If the Court rules in favor of DAP, the opposition can say that the administration controls the Court.”

Amid the media war, Gatmaytan noted that the comments from both sides are only “political statements” and do not address the legal issues presented before the Court. 

Considering recent events involving the legislative and the judicial branches – such as the Corona impeachment and PDAF ruling – what does the impeachment move in the House of Representatives mean for the SC? 

“I think the Supreme Court cannot think about the possibility of impeachment when deciding any case. If it does, then the Court might promulgate a ruling that is inconsistent with the law. The Supreme Court is strongest when it adheres to the rule of law. It loses esteem when it succumbs to political pressure as it did during the Marcos and Arroyo years. I am confident that the Court will rule in accordance with the law. The PDAF decision is an example. Public respect for the Court is the best insulation against threats of impeachment,” Gatmaytan said. 

Buying time

Tiangco said the holiday break gave the administration a “convenient opportunity to buy time and increase pressure on the SC to rule favorably on the DAP.”

Oral arguments on the case were originally scheduled on January 28, but on Thursday, January 16, the government asked the Court to reset it to March 25. (READ: SC orals on DAP)

“The Palace and the Liberal Party are essentially disarming the SC and making them impotent. Let’s not forget that the goal is to protect the DAP at all costs, and ultimately control all branches of government which practically puts us in an undeclared dictatorship,” Tiangco said.

Hours after Tiangco issued his statement, Quimbo responded this way: “Tiangco’s statement betrays his utter lack of respect for and faith in the SC and our justices. By suggesting that the justices can be pressured into deciding in favor of DAP, Tiangco is putting the SC in a compromising position.”

“There is no pressure being put on the SC. My statement was based solely on my understanding of the budget process and the existing laws on budget execution and the use of savings. Tiangco should read the GAA (General Appropriations Act) – then he will know where I am coming from,” he added.