MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Smarting from a defeat at the Supreme Court, a combative President Benigno Aquino III faced the nation on Monday, July 14, and criticized the Philippines’ top justices for ruling against his administration’s spending program.
“My message to the Supreme Court: We do not want two equal branches of government to go head to head, needing a third branch to step in to intervene. We find it difficult to understand your decision,” the President said, referring to the Court’s decision on July 1 declaring key executive moves under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.
He maintained that Malacañang did not violate the law in implementing DAP and that his administration will appeal the verdict before the High Tribunal.
The President said the decision was “unreasonable,” likening the situation to a motorist arrested for parking in a “no parking zone” because he had to rush to save the life of an accident victim.
The situation might be worse, the President said. “I am after all being arrested for parking in an area that up to now hasn’t yet been declared a no-parking zone. Is this reasonable?”
Aquino was defiant. He maintained that DAP was necessary to correct flaws in the budget system and to fast-track government’s priority projects.
He cited as an example how DAP funded the urgent relocation of informal settlers to safer places. Under the regular budgetary system, Aquino argued it could take up to 2 years to meet all the requirements, including bidding and procurement.
“My conscience cannot bear this. I cannot accept that our countrymen will be exposed to danger because I let the process of bringing them assistance be unduly extended. Let us remember: The National Treasury belongs to our citizens,” he said.
Fight with Sereno Court
The speech was Aquino’s first open fight with the Sereno Court. The Court is led by his handpicked choice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, who replaced Renato Corona in August 2012.
Corona’s impeachment trial culminated in a guilty verdict in June 2012 and his removal as chief justice. A senator who voted “guilty” later disclosed that he received at least P50 million (about $1.15 million) from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) as an apparent bribe for his vote. It turned out the DBM used DAP for that release.
Sereno concurred with the majority decision on DAP. Aquino’s 3 other appointees, including former UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen, also voted to declare 3 schemes under DAP unconstitutional.
Supreme Court decisions are published so they can be read and understood carefully.— Marvic Leonen (@marvicleonen) July 14, 2014
The Court previously voted in favor of the President’s key legislative program, the Reproductive Health law.
This time, however, the President complained that the High Court did not consider the government’s legal defense of DAP.
“We were surprised to find that the Supreme Court decision did not take into account our legal basis for DAP. How can they say that our spending methods are unconstitutional when they did not look into our basis?,” Aquino said. He cited Section 39 of the Administrative Code.
In explaining their decision, however, the SC justices cited Article 6, Section 25 (5) of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which authorizes the President, the Senate President, the Speaker, the Chief Justice, and heads of Constitutional Comissions to transfer funds “within their respective offices.” (READ: Understanding the SC ruling on DAP)
In their verdict, the justices declared uconstitutional the following executive acts done under DAP:
- The withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Act
- Cross-border transfers of savings of the executive department to offices outside the executive department
- Funding of projects, activities, programs not covered by appropriations in the General Appropriations Act
“There are those who say that this decision might be a personal vendetta against me—that I am being dared to act in the same vindictive manner against them. All I can say—as the President, as the father of this country—is that we need temperance and forbearance—we must comply with due process,” Aquino said.
‘DAP is not PDAF’
It’s the 2nd time Aquino delivered a televised address to defend DAP. He addressed the controversy on October 30, 2013 ahead of the SC hearing on the budget scheme. He asked the people to focus on the pork barrel controversy instead.
Aquino lamented comparisons between DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which was also declared unconsitutional by the High Court. “Excuse me. DAP is different from PDAF. With PDAF, the corrupt funneled government funds into fake NGOs, money then allegedly divided among themselves. It’s clear that with DAP the people’s money was never stolen—the funds were used for the benefit of Filipinos. And not for later, not soon; but—now: Programs that could be implemented immediately were implemented immediately,” he said.
The misuse of PDAF was exposed last year and led to the imprisonment of 3 senators and alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
DAP allowed Malacañang to move around savings, unprogrammed funds, and allocation for “slow moving” projects identified in the budget law to Malacañang’s priority projects. The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional for usurping Congress’s power of the purse.
‘SC ruling delays government projects’
The SC ruling will delay government projects, he argued. He announced that the government will file a motion for reconsideration and called on the Justices to see DAP his way.
“We are now righting the wrongs in the system, so that it may work towards this goal: To uphold the interests of the people, our Bosses who handed us our mandate. Thus, to the Supreme Court, our message: Do not bar us from doing what we swore to do. Shouldn’t you be siding with us in pushing for reform? Let us, therefore, end this vicious cycle that has taken our people hostage,” Aquino said.
Exposed by Estrada
The DAP is the biggest issue to hurt the 4-year-old Aquino administration, which has been counting on the popularity of Aquino to rub off Manuel Roxas II, the prospective presidential candidate of the Liberal Party. (READ: Why there’s no giving up on Mar Roxas)
DAP was exposed in September 2013 following allegations of opposition Senator Jinggoy Estrada of a supposed P50-million “bribe” for senators who voted to convict removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. It was Estrada’s senator’s counter-attack as he was accused of benefiting from the multi-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles. (READ: Jinggoy: P50M for each convict-Corona vote and Senators: There was P50M, but not for Corona conviction)
The alleged “bribe” was sourced from the little-known budget scheme.
Usurping Congress power
Enforced in 2011, DAP was meant to ramp up government spending by allowing Malacañang to move around funding from “savings,” “unprogrammed funds” and supposedly “slow-moving” projects to its priority projects. (READ: Timeline: The rise and fall of DAP)
DAP’s critics questioned it before the Supreme Court. The central issue was whether or not Malacañang was usurping Congress’s power over the purse.
The Supreme Court agreed with DAP’s critics. The vote was unanimous even as justices recognized DAP’s “positive” results, citing a World Bank study on its benefits to the economy. (READ: SC: 3 DAP schemes unconstitutional) – Rappler.com