First published on Blogwatch
It was more of the same smug defense of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) replete with fallacious analogy and “good faith” rhetoric. The only difference was that this time, President Aquino ate up nearly 30 minutes of precious primetime news to prove his presidential arrogance before the viewing public.
Rather than save his sagging political capital, Aquino just isolated himself from many of his “bosses” who think that threatening a war with the judiciary in a televised speech is the least that the nation need at this crucial point.
Exactly two weeks after the SC declared the key provisions of DAP unconstitutional, the President did not offer any added value to discussions about the chief executive’s badass realignment of funds to projects of his choosing. He miserably failed to demonstrate the DAP-economic growth nexus, or to just even show a bird’s eye view of DAP-funded projects simplified in pie charts. Details about DAP remain in the dark.
The President is even unsure how to really defend his case – insisting the constitutionality of the program at one point and then citing expediency’s sake over the rule of law at the other. If this is a preview of how the Palace would flip-flop in its motion for reconsideration, we could then expect another 13-0 in the offing.
What Aquino only made clear is that 1) his head is still buried in the heap of his self-serving interpretations of the law 2) DAP funds are purely discretionary, and that he will defy budget allocations at will.
“Ang hangad po natin: Huwag patagalin ang pagpapatupad sa isang proyekto. Ang pinagkasunduan ng buong Gabinete tungkol sa kani-kanilang budget: Use it or lose it. At kung malinaw na hindi talaga ninyo magagamit ngayong taon ang pondong inilaan para sa inyo, maliwanag na savings na ‘yan.”
It appears that the President did not really read the SC’s ruling even as he encouraged the public to read it. The high court has made it clear: DAP funds are not savings. Hence Aquino’s citation of Section 39 of the 1987 Administration Code during his speech is clearly a waste of time, if not a dumb take on the issue.
Good results can’t remedy DAP’s legal defects
Moreover Aquino is keeping a false faith that DAP’s good results on the ground will be enough to convince the magistrates on the scheme’s supposed constitutionality. While realignments under DAP can indeed produce higher electrification rates of communities and construction of more classrooms, the question still remains: were the realignments in line with the processes set out in the law? Good intentions and good results cannot in any way cure the legal infirmities that dot the DAP design. They are, at best, only sweeteners to the brazen violation of the Constitution.
Reasoning out that not a single cent of funds pooled under DAP went to corruption would also not qualify as defense. Again, what is in question is the manner by which funds were realigned since DAP took effect in 2011. The high court is resoundingly clear on the unconstitutionality of the 1) withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies 2) cross-border transfers of savings of the executive department to other branches 3) funding of projects, activities, programs not covered by appropriations.
What is alarming is that Aquino is insisting on this budget distortion practice in line with his whims supposedly to bankroll projects that need funding. You see, under DAP, the President can pull out funds at will from an ongoing project and call it “savings.” He can instantly create items for immediate funding without going through the budget process, or distribute it to lawmakers depending on their political allegiance.
Could this be the reason why many of our lawmakers are not raising a howl on how the President has usurped the Congress’ power of the purse? It is strange that lawmakers feel not the slightest insult that they spend hours deliberating on the budget trying to insert their projects and yet the President can have the last laugh in the form of “disbursement acceleration.” Maybe because they benefitted from DAP too.
This brings us to bigger problem about DAP: When billions of people’s money – more than ten times allegedly stolen by Janet Lim-Napoles and partner lawmakers – are pooled under the discretion of the President, institutions could be held hostage to a single person’s political agenda. We saw it during the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona. We saw billions of our hard-earned money go to financing the President’s political vendetta. As per lawmakers’ confessions about the President’s bribe from DAP, the gears of political patronage did turn at that time.
To be fair, the President needs all the discretionary funds that it can have to bribe all institutions to avert his administration’s impending doom. But he should understand that political honeymoon cannot be bought nowadays. He can hire more spinmeisters and bribe senators, state auditors and even justices – but the voices of reason will still rise up in the streets to call for his resignation.