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There’s the Rub

Doesn’t make sense

To be fair, P-Noy never offered it as a serious proposition, he merely hinted at it. That is for people to wear yellow to signify their continuing trust in his leadership. But you never know, some people might think it a bright idea to people-power the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). It is not.

At the very least, you have history to go by. Cory tried to do it more than two decades ago over the issue of the US bases. The Senate with Jovito Salonga as its president looked headed to reject the treaty that would renew the American lease on Subic and Clark, and Cory who had been saved by the Americans from the worst coup attempt against her administration tried to stem it. Specifically, by calling on the people to mass at the Luneta to register their protest against it.

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Only a handful came. The Senate went on to reject the treaty—the senators who voted against it subsequently came to be known as the “Magnificent 12”—which ended long years of American military presence in the country.

Jaime Cardinal Sin tried the same thing. The other person most associated with Edsa, he called as well for people to mass at the Luneta to protest Health Secretary Juan Flavier’s— “Mr. Condom’s”—efforts to distribute contraceptives to quell runaway population growth.

Only a handful came too, and “Mr. Condom,” armed with marvelous wit and humor, went on his merry way doing what he was doing. With no small magic-realist irony, Flavier would take the form less than a couple of decades later of P-Noy himself who would lead the Reproductive Health cause to victory in Congress against the fundamentalists in the Catholic Church.

The lesson is simple. People power is not a genie to be summoned by rubbing a magic lamp. If there is a magic lamp at all whose occupant is a genie, its owner is not a particular individual but a Good Cause. What summons people power is a good, indeed, magical, cause. Like bringing forth the opposite of Marcos, like bringing forth the opposite of Gloria. Retaining the US bases is not a good cause, stopping contraceptives is not a good cause, championing the DAP is not a good cause. It won’t summon people power.

There is an important footnote to this, which is that Cory’s defense of the US bases and Sin’s defense of Church orthodoxy did not dent their credibility. Cory in particular bowed down to the Senate decision and went on to govern as best she could with the time left on her term, stepping down gracefully less than a year later with her stature intact.

That brings me to a more formidable reason why people-power-ing the DAP is not a good idea. It has to do with timing.

The time when Cory did it was before the Senate voted against the US bases and not after. If P-Noy does it, it will be after the Supreme Court has ruled against it. That makes a whole world of difference.

The arguments that have been appearing of late on the merits and demerits of the DAP—and they are legion in the social and mainstream media—miss the point. The merits and demerits of the DAP are no longer the issue, they have been pushed aside by a more primordial one, which is whether the President has the right to challenge the Supreme Court ruling. Had he raised his points before the Court made that ruling, it would have made perfect sense for us to debate the DAP’s merits or lack of them. But he did so after, thereby changing the equation entirely.

The equivalent of this was for Cory to have refused to bow down to the Senate vote on the US bases. It would have been for Cory to have said that she found the Senate vote unacceptable because it stood to harm the country.

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Whatever the justices’ differences in the finer points of their ruling, they were unanimous, and categorical, in this: “The Court… declares the following acts and practices… unconstitutional for being in violation… of the doctrine of the separation of powers: 1) the withdrawal of unobligated allotments… and the declaration (of these) as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year, 2) cross-border transfers of the savings of the Executive to offices outside of it, and 3) the funding of projects activities, and programs (outside) the General Appropriations Act.”

The fact that no one dissented on, or deviated from, this viewpoint suggests that the DAP manifestly and egregiously strayed from the law. How can you presume good faith on the part of those that created the DAP but not on those who struck it down?

Had government stood its ground and insisted on the need for a leeway out of emergency before the Court made its ruling, had government mounted a campaign the way it does now to try to reverse the justices’ sentiments before they made their ruling, the current debate would have been justified. Had government itself not tacitly agreed there was something wrong with the DAP by announcing that it would be discontinued, and had in fact been discontinued after 2012 when the DAP outlived its usefulness, before the Court made its ruling, the current debate would have been justified.

It did not, and it is not.

The debate at this late date is superfluous. The Court’s ruling is not unreasonable, appreciating as it does the DAP’s positive contributions while putting down its unconstitutional aspects on the ground that things that can be abused will be abused, in this country more than others. Why not accept that the DAP was an honest mistake with equal weight on both words—honest, but a (constitutional) mistake nonetheless?

Why not opt for solutions other than the DAP? Why not seek instruments other than the DAP? Why not look for ways to come to an agreement with the Supreme Court and Congress to get the leeway to use the budget more efficiently rather than just seizing it? Why insist on debating something that really should be past debate? Why insist on flogging a dead horse?

Doesn’t make sense.

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