Saturday, December 16, 2017
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Analysis

Browbeating the Supreme Court

CANBERRA—President Aquino’s performance and trust ratings have plunged to their lowest levels since he took office in 2010 and the Supreme Court unanimously declared four acts and practices under the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.

Stung by the high court’s 13-0 decision and his back to the wall, the President addressed the public in a televised speech on Monday to defend the DAP and to launch an extraordinarily strong attack on the tribunal. He went beyond defending the scheme and vowed that his administration would appeal the decision.

He went as far as warning of a possible clash between the judiciary and the executive branch. “Your decision is difficult to understand,” he told the high court.

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Although he said he was not seeking a collision between the two coequal branches of government, the President went on to say that the high court’s decision would result in delayed benefits for the public. “All in all, almost two years have passed before the benefits of the funds would redound to the people,” he said.

With a hint of vindictiveness, Mr. Aquino said: “There was something that you did in the past, which you tried to do again, and there are those who are saying that [the decision on the DAP] is worse. They want savings declared only at the 31st of December of each year. If that were the case, when would the government be free to utilize the funds?”

He also criticized the part of the decision questioning the executive branch’s “good faith.” He claimed that the high court did not even consider the legal basis of the DAP.

Not since he vigorously campaigned for the removal of then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2011 and 2012 had Mr. Aquino spoken so strongly against the Supreme Court. On July 1, the high court ruled that the DAP, which was allegedly aimed at pump-priming the economy, violated the Constitution by withdrawing unobligated allotments from agencies and declaring these amounts as savings, allowing cross-border transfers of savings from the executive to other offices funding projects and programs in the General Appropriations Act.

Prior to the high court’s decision, the DAP was linked to the P10-billion pork barrel scam, under which a number of senators and congressmen have been charged with plunder and graft. Under the scam, the lawmakers were said to have received kickbacks from businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, to whom they gave access to their pork barrel allocations. Napoles allegedly coursed the funds to nongovernment organizations which she and her staff had set up.

The DAP is under fire for supposedly replacing the Napoles syndicate as a system of distributing pork barrel funds to public works projects. The Aquino administration has claimed it could perform this function more honestly and equitably under its “daang matuwid” concept of governance. Thus, the President was forced to defend his administration’s role in the redistribution of pork barrel largesse to intended community beneficiaries, under the auspices of the DAP.

Mr. Aquino’s approval and trust ratings suffered double-digit drops between March and June as a result of the controversy involving the DAP. According to the June 24-July 2 survey by Pulse Asia, his approval rating nationwide went down to 56 percent from 70 percent in March, and his trust rating dropped from 69 percent to 53 percent. These are the lowest levels since he came to power.

Pulse Asia noted that the Supreme Court’s July 1 decision on the DAP came toward the end of the survey. “I don’t think we caught the full extent of the DAP on the popularity of the President,” Pulse Asia director Ana Maria Tabunda said in an Inquirer report. She cited the scrapped Priority Development Assistance Fund and the arrests of Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla as among the main issues surrounding the huge decline in Mr. Aquino’s ratings. She said some people were now unconvinced that the President could do something to address graft and corruption.

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The other salient issues at the time of the survey include calls for the President’s impeachment and the resignation of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, the architect of the DAP. The surge in the prices of rice, sugar and garlic contributed to the disenchantment with the administration and the winter of discontent. “While most Filipinos remain appreciative of Aquino’s work (56 percent) and express trust in him (53 percent), they granted him much lower approval and trust ratings in June,” said Pulse Asia.

Another polling organization, Social Weather Stations, produced results similar to Pulse Asia’s.  According to the SWS survey, the net satisfaction rating for Mr. Aquino dropped to its lowest level last June. The poll conducted last June 27-30 showed that Mr. Aquino’s net satisfaction rating fell to a “moderate +25” in June from a “good +45” in March. It is the lowest since Mr. Aquino took office in 2010, and the first time that his rankings reached “moderate” levels.

These results should be a wake-up call on the erosion of the President’s popularity, which has been held by his partisans as unassailable. Malacañang officials appeared to be in self-delusion when they claimed that the President’s ratings would improve following his speech browbeating the Supreme Court.

It was wishful thinking.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, dap, Disbursement Acceleration Program, florencio abad, President Aquino, Renato corona, Supreme Court
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