Ends and means
Security forces have recaptured a convicted terrorist with possible intelligence about an imminent suicide bombing attack. Can you torture the terrorist’s child to extract information to avert the attack?
A runaway train, nearing a diversion track, will crash into the railway station, killing scores of people. You can prevent the disaster by pushing a bystander onto the path of the train to alter its direction. Can you sacrifice one life to save many?
Ethics professors pose these situations to probe the principle that the end does not justify the means, which, in both examples, violate fundamental rights of blameless victims. Anti-administration moralists, invoking and trivializing the principle, proclaim that the noble ends of the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) do not justify its evil means.
What is inherently evil about interpreting “savings” to allow moving funds from stalled projects early enough to complete other projects beneficial to the public? Considering the nuanced Supreme Court decision declaring only certain acts and practices unconstitutional and the many dissenting/concurring opinions it provoked, the DAP definition does not appear so outrageously unreasonable or unlawful.
That legislators used additional DAP allocations like the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), before this had been ruled unconstitutional, is a separate issue. But legislators who assigned their DAP funds to ghost nongovernment organizations caused harm to their rightful beneficiaries, for which they and their partners should be held accountable.
The budget is a management tool. Corporate CEOs exercise considerable flexibility in deploying the budget—means authorized by the board to achieve organizational ends. Beyond lofty mission/vision proclamations, where the money goes more truly reflects the organization’s priorities. It has become a Hollywood cliché, but the injunction to “follow the money” remains sound advice.
Reforming the government budget process, a complex, technical, tedious undertaking vulnerable to corruption, was thus crucial as means to reach the administration’s “daang matuwid.” Who opposed or were even aware of the games that could be played with reenacted budgets? Critics demanding impeachment should ask which administration has worked harder to promote budget transparency, accountability and efficiency in achieving development goals.
Separation of powers, designed to maintain a system of checks and balances, also serves as means to curb corruption. As rightly stressed by the Supreme Court in the PDAF and DAP cases, this principle must be reinforced to control arbitrary and self-serving decision-making by government officials.
The three branches of government must also work together to achieve other ends, including political stability and inclusive economic growth. More than in other countries, however, citizens look to the President as ultimately responsible for government performance.
A thousand fathers lay claim to government achievements. Paternity for failure is blamed on the President. The Commission on Audit and the Commission on Elections are independent bodies constitutionally separate from the executive branch. But the public assumes that the President, if he only wants to, can prevent the COA delays in investigating plunder cases, or the Comelec fiascoes in managing elections.
By interpreting rules liberally to accelerate development, the administration risked legal censure. Is the country better off enforcing more stringent budget rules to reduce the risk of corruption? This approach, taken during the first two years of the administration, as the World Bank noted, came at the cost of growth. Critics then complained that the “daang matuwid” must also deliver tangible benefits to the people.
In his televised defense of the DAP, P-Noy shared a friendly tweet comparing his plight to someone who parks in a restricted zone to assist a sick person and gets a traffic violation ticket.
P-Noy quipped that the zone was not even clearly marked “no parking.”
The analogy recalls Matthew’s Gospel account of the Pharisees challenging Jesus on the lawfulness of healing on the Sabbath. Jesus responded by asking who among them would refuse, because it was the Sabbath, to rescue a sheep fallen into a pit. He did not instruct the people in the synagogue on Jewish laws. But his audience understood the spirit in which these should govern and continued to seek and to receive healing.
Flexibility in budget management allows a good president to deploy scarce financial resources where they are most urgently needed. People suffer real loss when funds lie idle instead of supporting the completion of more roads, the care of more patients, the education of more children. The country also suffers real loss when a bad president exploits budget flexibility for political and personal profit.
The choice appears stark: less development or less corruption, pick your poison. We should not allow ourselves to be impaled on the horns of this false dilemma.
Deliberations on the 2015 P2.606-trillion budget present a timely opportunity for Congress and the executive branch to clarify the concept of “savings.” None of the three branches can claim unblemished infallibility or integrity. Working together with greater consciousness of common ends, they may yet craft a definition of savings and their legitimate uses that will better benefit the public.
Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
Your daily dose of fearless views
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.