MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III should not be made liable for the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and he cannot be criminally charged in court for what has been termed as the “presidential pork barrel.”
This was what Justice Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa said on Thursday, January 7, before the 7 members of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) who are scouting for a replacement for outgoing Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr.
One of 16 candidates vying for the position of Villarama, Caguioa, however, assured members of the JBC, led by SC Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, he was not out to protect the interests of the administration that appointed him.
“As a judge, I will wear altogether a different hat. It is important to be impervious to any kind of influence whether monetary, filial or any kind. The primary duty of the judge is to resolve the controversy on the basis of the facts and evidence and applying the law,” Caguioa said during his scheduled public interview.
A former classmate of Aquino in grade school and college at the Ateneo de Manila University, Caguioa responded to a question posed by retired SC justice Sandoval Gutierrez. He defended Aquino on DAP, saying that what the President did was “merely exercise his discretion under the Constitution to augment projects using savings and that is completely allowable.”
After helping in Aquino’s presidential campaign in 2010, Caguioa – who left the private sector to join government as chief presidential legal counsel – insisted Aquino is neither the author, implementor or proponent of DAP.
Elaborating on his point, Caguioa cited good faith and the operative fact doctrine as basis for Aquino’s defense. The operative fact doctrine provides that the effects of an unconstitutional law, before the law is nullified, may be left untouched – these could include roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The application of the doctrine does not exonerate proponents and implementors of the DAP, unless it is established they acted in good faith.
While saying the President should not be charged over DAP, Caguioa said that he “probably will” be, in today’s world.
On July 1, 2014, the High Court declared 3 specific schemes under DAP unconstitutional. The administration defended it, saying it was necessary to fast-track economic growth. In February 2015, the Supreme Court partially granted the government’s appeal on its earlier ruling and deemed only two executive acts unconstitutional.
But SC justices in their separate opinions on DAP said Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad should be held liable. Under the 2015 SC ruling, only DAP authors, and not project implementors, are possibly liable.
Caguioa emphasized he will be independent and would not maintain a debt of gratitude to anyone, not even to the President who appointed him.
He was appointed ad interim justice secretary in October 2015. Prior to that, he was appointed chief legal counsel in January 2013.
Caguioa obtained his degree in Economics (Honors Program) from the College of Arts and Sciences of Ateneo de Manila University in 1981 (Honorable Mention). He graduated with honors from the Ateneo College of Law in 1985, ranking fifth in his class.
He was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 1986 after placing 15th in the 1985 Bar examinations.
The JBC – the constitutional body mandated to screen, vet, and recommend to the President nominees to vacant judicial posts – has set public interviews for 16 applicants for the position that will be vacated by Villarama on January 16.
Besides Caguioa, the JBC on Thursday also interviewed Joe Santos Bisquera; Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang; Chinchona Cruz-Gonzales; Deputy Ombudsman Gerard Mosquera; Court of Appeals Associate Justices Apolinario Bruselas Jr and Rosmari Carandang; and Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Maria Cristina Cornejo.
The second and last day for interviews will be on Friday, January 8, from 9 am to 5 pm. Lined up are 8 more candidates:
Any opposition to the applications of the 16 candidates for SC justice may be formally submitted to the JBC on or before January 4, 2016. – Rappler.com