President should augment only deficient items, SC told
MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III has been transferring alleged government savings of the executive department to projects, activities, and programs (PAPs) that did not have any deficiency in terms of funding.
This was the claim of petitioners against the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) who want the Supreme Court (SC) to reconsider its ruling on the spending program.
In a motion for partial reconsideration filed Monday, July 21, before the SC, petitioners said the President should not be able to augment appropriation items that "did not have actual deficiencies."
The petitioners were led by former Manila City councilor and 2013 senatorial candidate Greco Belgica through his lawyers from the Roque and Butuyan Law Offices.
Belgica said there is "a need for a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court on the power of the President to augment the funds to cover a deficit in a program for which public funds had been earmarked under the annual appropriations law."
The General Appropriations Act (GAA), the annual law on the national budget, sets limits on the funding of budget items including PAPs. If and when the current funding for an item has yet to reach the said limit, it is considered deficient.
Belgica said the President would be overstepping his bounds if and when he is allowed to fund projects in excess of the Congress-enacted GAA.
"To allow him to use more money than he initially determined would be required for a certain project would be to disregard the process of budgeting required to be observed under law," their motion read.
DAP-funded projects with sufficient funds
"President Aquino on many occasions augmented or added funds from government savings for projects in amounts that exceeded many times the original funding for them under the GAA," Belgica added.
Petitioners cited 3 items in the national budget as having received additional funds through DAP, which exceeded their original allotment.
The petitioners cited the following: the DREAM project of the Department of Science and Technology which received an additional P1.6 billion; funding for personal services and maintenance and other operating expenses which were augmented 260%, equivalent to P300 million; and, the repair and rehabilitation of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory.
The SC declared on July 1 key acts under DAP unconstitutional, including the declaration of government savings – contrary to the definition of the GAA, the transfer of the executive branch's savings to projects of another branch of government, and the transfer of savings to items not outlined in the GAA.
Leonen's opinion on DAP
Justice Marvic Leonen touched on the same issue in his separate but concurring opinion on DAP.
"The legislature has the power to authorize a maximum amount to spend per item, and the executive has the power to spend for the item up to the amount limited in the appropriations act," Leonen wrote.
He explained that transferring funds to another project but still within the limits set by the GAA for that project is considered mere realignment.
"The limits defined in this case only pertain to the power of the President – and by implication, other constitutional offices – to augment items of appropriation. There is also the power of the President to realign allocations of funds to another item – without augmenting that item whenever revenues are insufficient in order to meet the priorities of government," he said.
He added that augmentation or transferring funds to items that are not deficient is essentially transferring the very appropriation.
"Any expenditure beyond the maximum amount provided for the item in the appropriations act is an augmentation of that item. It amounts to a transfer of appropriation," he further explained.
COA notices of disallowance
Belgica likewise wrote the Commission on Audit (COA) on Monday, asking COA to audit transactions under DAP and issue notices of disallowance (NDs) accordingly.
The NDs will effectively order the return of the unlawful disbursements to the national treasury. It refers to the civil liability of the erring officer, but it can still be appealed by the said officer.
The criminal liability of the officer would have to be determined by the Ombudsman, who will then greenlight the filing of charges before a court.
"It is of utmost importance that an audit be made on all DAP transactions. As directed by the Supreme Court, investigation and prosecution filed in its proper venue must be done. But without concrete evidence which only your office can unearth, none will ever prosper," the letter read.
Belgica said the failure of the COA to audit the disbursements under DAP would result in "grave injustice" against "millions of our countrymen" who "feel betrayed by this breach of conduct." – Rappler.com