Is the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) legally wrong?
There was no doubt about it from the start. That the Supreme Court unanimously voted to strike it down—with but one exception, Teresita de Castro who abstained—merely affirms the fact. Many of the justices are President Aquino’s appointees, a fact that did not help DAP’s cause. Its wrongheadedness is patent.
The justices explain so.
“Under the DAP and National Budget Circular 541,” says Antonio Carpio, “the President disregards the specific appropriations in the GAA and treats the GAA as the President’s self-created all-purpose fund, which the President can spend as he chooses…. In short, the President usurps the power of the purse of Congress.”
Estela Perlas-Bernabe adds to this: That notwithstanding government’s professed “noble intentions (for it), the one guiding principle… is that no policy or program of government can be adopted as an avenue to wrest control of the power of the purse from Congress.”
Arturo Brion singles out Butch Abad for creating the mess. “There are indicators showing that the DBM secretary might have established the DAP knowingly aware that it is tainted with unconstitutionality. As a lawyer and with at least 12 years of experience behind him as a congressman who was even the chair of the House appropriations committee, it is inconceivable that he did not know the illegality or unconstitutionality that tainted his brainchild.
However you slice it, the DAP constitutes technical malversation.
Is the DAP morally wrong?
The justification for the DAP is that it was the product of “noble intentions” and that it was done in good faith. Specifically, it was resorted to in order to stimulate the economy. More specifically, it was resorted to in order to redirect savings to projects that were pushing forward and away from those that were not. That was what stimulated the economy, that was where the P-Noy administration’s vaunted growth came from.
There are several things wrong with that justification.
One is that it is a justification that rests on another justification that is even more infirm. The obvious question that it raises is: What if Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had tinkered around with the budget, creating “savings” outside of normal budgetary procedures, allocating these to her favorite projects, and justifying it as an imperative to induce growth? The answer government has given to this is that P-Noy can be trusted to do as he says while Arroyo cannot. But that is “exceptionalism” pure and simple. P-Noy is exempted from the rules because he is trustworthy.
That is a most dangerous doctrine. A law, or practice, either applies to everyone or to none at all. The principle behind the DAP sets a precedent that can be adopted by the next president, with not-particularly-savory results. It’s the leak in the dam that breaks the dam and sends the floodwaters tumbling in.
Two, in fact we have only Abad’s word that the DAP has been used to spur economic growth. The Supreme Court has already ordered that the DAP disbursements be examined thoroughly to determine this. Meanwhile a law has been unequivocally broken without a moral end being just as unequivocally realized. The claim that the DAP has spurred growth is just that, a claim. As P-Noy himself claimed during the Global Summit for East Asia, what accounts for the growth is the universal trust generated by his anticorruption campaign. The DAP has not helped in his anticorruption campaign, it has hurt it.
Three, the principle that the end does not justify the means isn’t just lofty, it is practical. The road to hell is paved with good intentions—that use inferior asphalt. The principle is intricately linked with another principle whose truth we have learned the hard way. Which is: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Beyond theory, the abuses that tinkering with the budget naturally brings are plain to see. Not the least of them is the addition of P12.8 billion in pork barrel funds to the lawmakers. That too can be justified by saying the money went to productive projects and not to corruption, but that requires a leap of faith in these cynical times. More to the point, Malacañang has yet to explain the money it gave the senators who voted for Renato Corona’s conviction—Abad admitted releasing P1.11 billion in lump-sum appropriations to 20 senators, six months after the trial. Estrada, Revilla and Enrile have a simple explanation for it: It was a bribe.
Quite apart from that, the presidential elections will be held in two years’ time, and even now the Liberal Party (LP) is crowing about having a fortune in “savings” to spend for them. You grant that much of the money will be used for legitimate purposes, the political angle, which is a preference for tractable officials, cannot be overlooked.
The DAP was very bad idea from the start, not just legally but morally. Which brings us to: Does the DAP’s creators deserve sanctions?
The Supreme Court itself has been very careful to say that holding the DAP unconstitutional is one thing and holding its creators accountable quite another. We still have to wait until their culpability is determined.
Pending that, however, something ought to happen in the here and now. The justices are right: It taxes the imagination to see how Abad, who knows the ins and outs of the budgetary process, could have been unaware of the unconstitutionality of what he was proposing. It taxes credulity how Abad—and other members of the LP—who worked for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at one point, could not see how a loophole like that is an engraved invitation to abuse. That is culpability.
Prove good faith, the justices order. It’s something we can echo in all good faith. Show good grace, show good face, show good faith:
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