In good faith, my foot! | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

In good faith, my foot!

“The executive branch exercised good faith and due diligence, in accordance with existing laws and pertinent auditing rules and procedures.”

Thus spoke Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. in response to questions about the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) which, in case you just arrived from another planet, the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional.

That’s not Coloma’s personal opinion, of course; he speaks for the executive branch, so he should not take my sarcasm personally. I hope the higher ranking executives of that branch do, particularly the good men and women who did nothing. It is them that made the DAP triumph—for so long and so expensively that it required the Supreme Court to strike it down.

Even before Coloma invoked good faith, Associate Justice Arturo Brion has already cast doubt on it: “There are indicators showing that the DBM secretary might have established the DAP knowingly aware that it is tainted with unconstitutionality.”

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Still, what if Butch Abad was not aware that four aspects of the DAP were unconstitutional? Does it absolve him of wrongdoing? Does ignorance of the Constitution excuse him? From being fired from the Cabinet, if it does from being sued in an antigraft court?

Coloma said, “It is in the interpretation of the Constitution and applicable laws on the fine details of budget execution that the views of the executive and the Supreme Court diverged.”

What a way to explain away a P350-billion anomaly! What gave the executive branch the right to spend P350 billion of an impoverished people’s money on the basis of its own interpretation of the Constitution? When did the Supreme Court perish and who made the executive branch the guardian and interpreter of our fundamental law?

Aye, there’s the rub. For in the Aquino administration there seems to be an arrogance disguised as righteousness. How many times have this administration and its apologists explained away its anomalies with protestations of “good faith” and “good intentions” and “good governance”?

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And on Coloma’s tongue, that arrogance often slips into condescension. “[O]n the fine details of budget execution,” he says in explaining where the executive branch’s interpretation of the Constitution “diverged” from the Supreme Court’s. Subtext: It’s too complicated for the public to ask about. Subtler now though than when he explained Mr. Aquino’s televised defense of the DAP, to “those who may have missed the point.” And “to educate people so they will be well-informed.”

I have no doubt that the President is a righteous man. I have no doubt that he has never committed graft, nor tolerated corruption in his Cabinet. (His people’s links to Janet Napoles did happen before they joined his Cabinet.) I sincerely do not wish him to be impeached, nor the budget secretary indicted.

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But I must ask him to stop hiding his Cabinet members’ incompetence behind his good name. Yes, incompetence. How else can one explain the misdeed of honest officials, especially one as humongous as the DAP?

The DAP was cooked up in September 2011, and implemented one month later. Its purpose, declared the budget secretary, was “to fast-track public spending and push economic growth.” Why did public spending need fast-tracking, and economic growth pushing? Because government was underspending its Congress-approved budget by 16 percent, and the economy was taking a hit.

Being 16 percent short of programmed spending going into a fiscal year’s last quarter is huge. If it happens in a corporation, it’s not just profitability that will take a hit. Its chief financial officer will take a hit, for incompetence. In a Wall Street-controlled firm, the CEO will also take a hit. No amount of “good faith” will save them.

Still, Mr. Aquino’s budget secretary may have had a valid, even laudable, reason to underspend the 2011 budget. Remember, that budget was prepared by Gloria Arroyo’s own budget secretary, whom the National Bureau of Investigation is now investigating for graft and corruption. Abad might have found 16 percent of that budget dubious, to say the least, and he might have been right. He might have imagined crocodiles and sharks waiting with mouths open in the agencies where those funds had been allocated, and I wouldn’t call his imagination wild.

But why was he, and the other members of Mr. Aquino’s economic team, caught flatfooted when the economy did take a hit? The incompetence, dear Brutus, is not in the underspending, but in their unpreparedness for what an economist might call Fiscal Policy 101. No amount of “good faith” can excuse them for that.

And why did they send to the Senate P1.1 billion of what they had saved from those croc- and shark-infested agencies? Aren’t there crocs and sharks in the Senate? And larger, too?

Mr. Aquino is absolutely not in peril of being impeached. What’s in peril is the faith of 15 million voters who believed his promise—expressed in so many righteous words—that government can be good. And a good man should know that betrayal of the people’s faith is far worse than betrayal of public trust.

To not restore that faith will take us to a darker and more cynical place than that from which Mr. Aquino had delivered us in 2010. To restore that faith will take nothing less than Mr. Aquino sacrificing Abad, or Abad sacrificing himself.

I don’t know if Mr. Aquino has the heart to throw his friend under the bus, or Abad the mettle to fall on his sword. All I know is, he who walks the straight path does the right thing. Not the righteous thing; the right thing. The righteous thing implies freedom from blame; the right thing implies accepting the blame.

What will it take to admit that the DAP was wrong?

A man who walks the “tuwid na daan.”

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Romeo D. Bohol is a retired advertising copywriter.

TAGS: Disbursement Acceleration Program, nation, news

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