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Joker warns against ‘presidential autocracy’

 

MANILA, Philippines – “Goodbye, Constitution. Hurrah to Presidential autocracy.”

Former Senator Joker Arroyo issued a stinging rebuke of President Aquino III’s primetime TV address defending the administration’s spending program despite a Supreme Court ruling declaring its key components unconstitutional.

A longtime critic of Aquino and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Arroyo said the president’s threat to defy the Supreme Court ruling carries grave implications. 

“As the picture looks presently, the President’s policy is to discredit the judiciary and render it impotent, subjugate further Congress, and make the President supreme,” Arroyo said in a statement on Tuesday, July 15. Arroyo was former executive secretary of the President's mother Corazon Aquino.

The human rights lawyer during the Marcos regime added, “If the President carries [through with his] threat, that would dismantle the balance of power under the Constitution which is anchored on the co-equality of the 3 branches [of government].”

Arroyo was responding to Aquino’s speech to the nation on Monday, where the chief executive said the DAP was legal and benefited worthwhile projects of his government. The president told 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.”

Declared war

The former senator said that the president’s stance undermines the highest court of the land. “If the President expresses lack of faith in the Supreme Court, who will? It has no armed forces to protect itself or the police to enforce its judgments.”

“He had practically declared a state of war with the High Court in a conflict of high and emotional drama beamed nationwide,” Arroyo said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, who initially called for accountability over DAP, did not question the president’s speech.

“All I can say is that, that is the decision of the President so that is his prerogative,” Binay said in an interview with radio DZRH.

‘Massive encirclement attack on SC’

Yet Arroyo said that even before the President’s speech, the administration already “took pains to establish a massive encirclement attack on the High Court” through the following:

Senator Nancy Binay also questioned the timing of the release of the COA report on the Supreme Court’s savings. (READ: COA questions SC use of savings)

“On the same day as the President's speech, the COA report questioning the Supreme Court on how it spent its savings was released to media. I hope this is not in retaliation for the DAP decision because if that is the case, the move can be seen as petty and vindictive. You cannot help but ask: who is now taking things personally?” 

Arroyo said that the “overriding question” now is what Aquino will do if the Court rejects his government’s appeal to override the decision it arrived at unanimously in a 13-0 vote, with one abstention.

The former senator first criticized DAP when the controversy surrounding its legality erupted last year. He was one of 3 out of 23 senators who did not receive allocations from the DAP following the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Incidentally, the 3 senators who did not receive funds from DAP were those who voted to acquit Corona.

The DAP issue broke out after Senator Jinggoy Estrada insinuated in a privilege speech in September 2013 that senators who voted to side with the administration in convicting Corona got P50 million each. (READ: Jinggoy: P50M for each convict-Corona vote)

It turned out the money came from DAP, but Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the money was meant to address underspending and was not a bribe.

The Supreme Court ruled on July 1 that the key actions the administration made under the DAP like the “cross-border transfer” of savings from one branch of government to another were unconstitutional. (READ: SC: 3 DAP schemes unconstitutional)

‘Functioning democracy’

Despite statements of Arroyo, senators Sergio Osmeña III and JV Ejercito, and the political opposition, Aquino allies like Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said the president’s speech was sign of a “functioning democracy.”

“I don’t see any constitutional crisis. It will only occur if the executive [branch] defies the Supreme Court decision once it becomes final but we have not reached that point,” Angara said in a press briefing Tuesday.

A lawyer, Angara doubted that the Court will overturn its ruling. “History and the odds don’t favor that kind of reversal.”

The senator said that there was nothing wrong with the President giving his own interpretation of the law even after the Court handed down its decision.

“Until the decision is final, all branches of government, agencies of government interpret the law the way they see it. It’s called contemporaneous construction. We all do it,” he said.

Love-hate relationship

As for the President’s insistence that the Administrative Code of 1987 gave the DAP legal basis, Angara said that the Supreme Court already clarified this point.

“The Administrative Code, just as background, was passed during the time of President Cory Aquino. It was the reiteration of a presidential decree of former President Ferdinand Marcos, PD 1177, and it states that the President has the power to use savings. That is what law professors call ‘power of impoundment.’ So we know the President has wide latitude to use savings but here comes the SC decision which clarified the issue,” he said.

Angara downplayed the President’s defiant speech as part of his “love-hate relationship” with the Supreme Court.

“The President has always been that way. If you look at the decisions of the SC even prior to Corona’s removal, that’s how he speaks. He’s very passionate about his beliefs although the executive doesn’t always win in Court. I see it as a functioning democracy but we all must comply with the decision.” – Rapper.com