Benefit the people, not the pocket
With the announcement of President Aquino that he is going to fight the Supreme Court decision on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), I think we must revisit this topic.
Let me start with one clear distinction: The DAP was a juggling of funds from one project to another; it was not a juggling of funds from one project to a pocket, as what happened to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s attempt to put the DAP in the same boat as the PDAF is way off the mark. The PDAF was money stolen, the DAP was money realigned.
And why would you need to bribe senators to vote Renato Corona out, as he claims, when the facts were glowingly clear? Corona accepted a midnight appointment that no gentleman would, and his wealth turned out to be multiples of what he had disclosed—a disclosure required by law. So why bribe to make a decision that had to be made, anyway?
I know Budget Secretary Butch Abad well and I know it would be completely out of character for him to steal money. He is in no way in the same category as the infamous senators. I suggest that those urging him to quit study his history first.
Did he and the President do something unconstitutional? The Supreme Court justices say yes, and on strict interpretation they may well be right. And they did take care to distinguish between unconstitutional and criminal. They emphasized that the executive branch’s actions were, if done in “good faith,” not criminal. That was something that had to be decided in another court. That no reparations had to be made, only that the DAP couldn’t be used in the future confirmed that.
But as I’ve argued innumerable times before, the Supreme Court is a bastion of society, not the ultimatum of the law.
The President was quite right to say that what they had done was for the good of society, and, with two caveats, it was. And the World Bank agreed: It noted that the Aquino administration’s DAP was “partially successful and contributed 1.3 percentage points to GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2011.” The justices should have taken that more in consideration.
I will not argue on law because law is not my expertise. And in the end, it is not what should be at issue. What should be at issue is: Was this done with good intent? “Good faith,” as they say. Or was it a willful breach of the Constitution, to no gain?
Remember that the Constitution was written to serve the best needs of the people, and it is those best needs that must always be at the forefront of any decision by the Supreme Court. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t seem to me that this decision is in the best interests of the people.
What Secretary Abad did was what we’d all do in business. If a project wasn’t succeeding, we’d move the funds to where success could be achieved. It’s a rational, sensible thing to do. The problem is the Constitution requires Congress to sign off on how funds are used—a sensible precaution against abuse by a leader with dictatorial tendencies, which the President doesn’t have. The President should have sought, even if informally in a legislative-executive conference, Congress’ agreement to the shifting of funds. It would have been a wise precaution. But his reluctance to hold meetings prevailed, and such a meeting wasn’t conducted. That weakens his case.
The President should be given some discretion to realign funds within the budget, but P144 million (allotted for the Commission on Audit to improve its IT infrastructure and hire additional litigation experts) is a lot of realignment to do on your own. And that raises the two caveats I mentioned. Why were funds given to agencies independent of the executive branch, such as the COA? I understand that the President will legally argue that this is allowable as it’s in line with the Administrative Code of 1987. That we will have to see.
Much harder to justify is giving lump sums to some 20 senators—unless it was for agreed projects. It’s a list we’d all like to see now, to determine if it can also be justified under the Administrative Code.
Outside of these two concerns that need to be better answered, I think the President has a case he can make to the high court. A 13-0 decision is a hard one to buck, however. But if the arguments are persuasively made, with the good of the people being the real determinant of what the Constitution intends, as should be the case, maybe a reversal can be achieved.
As it now stands, I agree with the President that this could put blinkers on progress. Bureaucrats will be even more cautious than they are now in making decisions, in getting things done. I side with the justices; we have to have controls, but sensible, commonsensical controls if we are to progress. There has to be a sensible balance here.
I hope both sides can reach an amicable conclusion quickly. Can they, for instance, sit down in a quiet room, invite Congress leaders to join them, and try and thresh out a solution for the best interests of the people before subjecting it to Court concurrence? Let’s get this resolved quickly, dispassionately, and, please, apolitically. We need progress, not recriminations.
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