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Commentary

The Constitution was made for the people

“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” seems an appropriate biblical verse to ponder on as the debate continues on the Aquino administration’s alleged “violation of the Constitution” in implementing the Disbursement Acceleration Program. Indeed, the Constitution is a fundamental framework that must guide governance to prevent abuse by those in power, through serving vested interests and not the common good, by plundering the national treasury instead of funding public services and infrastructures. But the Supreme Court ruled the DAP to be a usurpation by the executive branch of Congress’ power over the public purse. True, good intentions alone cannot justify unlawful means. But can there be no exception under extreme conditions, when provisions of laws or even of the Constitution can be set aside? There must be efficacious options when times are abnormal. Given the magnitude of corrupt practices in government and in society, aren’t the times extremely abnormal?

P-Noy’s administration started in a spurt. It had in fact been described as like a student council, implying inexperience and immaturity, unfairly casting aspersion on student councils. Two months into the administration, the Luneta hostage crisis occurred and lent some credence to the description.

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Meanwhile, pressure was building up on addressing the core agenda: the “daang matuwid,” the war against corruption. Battles had to be fought on various fronts. The first State of the Nation Address outlined the battle plan, beginning with a simple “no to wangwang” policy. The mindset of power was being changed from one of privilege to a call to service: “Kayo ang boss ko.” This was 2010. Public expenditures, particularly big-ticket items for infrastructure, had to be set aside pending appreciation of how leakages were taking place from the public treasury to private pockets. Abuses in GOCCs (government-owned and -controlled corporations) were being confronted. The administration became spending-shy. As a result, economic growth slackened significantly compared to the last years of the GMA administration.

More charges of inexperience and incompetence found bases. Those who were threatened by the anticorruption crusade were motivated to pursue these charges and weaken, in the hope of destabilizing, the administration. But the crusade continued in earnest. Pressuring Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to resign under threat of impeachment came to pass. Plunder charges against GMA were finally filed and her arrest made. Then the Corona impeachment trial went full steam. The public was distracted from looking at the economy slowing down.

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Obviously, the need to pump-prime the economy was appreciated. Government disbursements had to be accelerated. But this alone would not have been sufficient to reverse the slackening economic trend. If the inexperience and incompetence charges stuck, private investors would not have participated in driving the economy forward. The anticorruption drive, however, found traction, and business in general became bullish. The Philippines’ credit and investment ratings registered a series of upgrades that further reinforced the positive business climate. Accelerated government disbursements under the DAP coupled with growth in private investments backed the consumption-led economy to grow faster and achieve the 7+ percent growth for 2012 and 2013.

Who were complaining? The charges shifted to noninclusive economic growth. The poor masses remained poor and beyond the reach of the benefits of economic growth. Yet there was the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program that started at just about P20 billion and has grown to more than double that amount. To be sure, the CCT beneficiaries are not complaining. Has this program been spared from the corrupt practices traditionally associated with such “doles”? If it has been spared, then the “daang matuwid” agenda must have contributed. The Department of Education and the Department of Public Works and Highways seem to be on track on the same straight path, at least considering the absence of any scandal or scam exposed by the media in these departments.

The Napoles pork barrel scam came to light, with the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the DAP coming to the fore. The terms of reference in P-Noy’s war against corruption have now been turned upside down. The champion for the crusade could be disenfranchised. All will be villains and each interest will pursue their own with the agenda: If I sink, I will bring you down with me. Remember the attempt at associating the first DAP exposé with Corona’s impeachment and conviction? Eroding the “daang matuwid” character was the perceived best strategy to derail the pursuit of the Napoles pork barrel gang. Unfortunately for the gang, a Corona-martyr projection did not muster any appeal for popular consideration.

The Supreme Court ruling on the DAP as unconstitutional is the new battlefront. Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has warned of a potential constitutional crisis given P-Noy’s response to the high court’s ruling. It is sad that the war against corruption can be sidetracked by another war, in defense of the Constitution. Must there be a choice?

If lawmakers themselves identified the projects where the DAP directed the funds, is this not de facto appropriation of the people’s money by the people’s representatives?

For many years, the General Appropriations Act has been the source of loot by the corrupt in government and their coconspirators in the private sector. There were instances in the GMA administration when the GAA for one year was recycled the next year, adding vulnerability to the budget items.

These are extraordinary, indeed abnormal, times. Those who have plundered the national treasury will obviously not care whether the ship of the Republic of the Philippines will sink or float. If they do care, they would not have committed plunder, in the first place. Of course, no one has been convicted and everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The Bill of Rights enshrines this. And Lady Justice is blindfolded and must rule on legal and constitutional terms.

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Can there be any extraordinary consideration for an exception?

At the end of the day, the Constitution must serve the Filipino people. The Constitution was made for the people, not the people for the Constitution.

Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific.

He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Commentary, Constitution, Danilo S. Venida, Government, opinion
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