Saving the Executive
By Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones
I am writing this column an hour before the President delivers his State of the DAP speech.
For three weeks now, the public has been in an uproar over the unanimous (with one abstention) Supreme Court decision on the Disbursement Acceleration Program of the administration which was released the other Tuesday. All other national issues were swept aside as newspaper headlines, radio commentaries, television talk shows, and social media analyzed and debated the decision line by line. When the individual comments of some justices were made public, these were publicly subjected to examination in all forms of media, as well as in law schools and coffee shops and even in private conversation.
The intense interest was partly due to the five-month wait which gave rise to many speculations and guesses about the reason for the delay–the feverish campaign for yes and no votes, the retirement of one justice, the appointment of a new one, and the need to protect the President and the Department of Budget and Management Secretary.
Since then, the level of debate has escalated from how much is DAP fund; where did it go; who were the recipients and beneficiaries; should the money be refunded, to should the DBM secretary resign and should the President be impeached?
Why the state of the DAP speech?
From day one after the SC decision, the possibilities of impeachment were debated publicly. The reaction of the supporters of the Executive was laughter and mockery. Such an effort will never prosper, according to them. Impeachment is essentially a numbers game. With all the resources at the disposal of the President, congressmen and senators who want to be reelected will easily be persuaded to vote against it, they said.
By the way, it is reported that pork which will be lodged in the agencies has been raised from P70 million per congressman to P90 million. The congressmen will identify the projects for the “enhanced pork barrel.”
Still, talks about impeachment persisted. The topic continued to be debated. In the meantime, more information surfaced. At least two groups of congressmen and women expressed their intention to start impeachment proceedings.
Groups which were still consulting their membership stated that those who already declared their intentions should not be mocked and derided and that the process must be allowed to continue. To them, what is important is that at this time when the Constitution has been subjected to attack, there are those who acted and came to its defense.
On the other hand, those committed to saving the Executive (including the DBM secretary) shifted their tactics from silence and scorn to aggressive defense of the Executive. Personalities close to the administration started writing in columns and appearing on television talk shows. This weekend was particularly loaded with statements and write-ups.
What are the arguments presented in the campaign to save the Executive?
1. The Executive (the President and the DBM ) are honest, upright men. The president has stated time and again that “hindi siya magnanakaw …” The honesty of the President has never been questioned, although it cannot be said of all the recipients of DAP largesse, including Napoles. The issue here is culpable violation of the Constitution.
The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices act specifies that even if an official did not benefit financially from an illegal transaction, he is nonetheless liable.
The much-discussed doctrine of “operative fact” which is cited in the Supreme Court decision clearly states that it can apply to projects which no longer be undone but does not apply to the authors, proponents and implementors.
Good faith? While very convenient, this is difficult to prove. If allowed, we will be providing officials with convenient excuses for violating not only the fundamental law of the land, but also other laws.
2. The DAP benefited the economy. During the oral arguments, the Solicitor General and the DBM secretary cited a World Bank report on how the DAP increased the GDP. It turned out that the World Bank report was taken out of context. The report even noted that the contributions of the DAP were not enough to attain the GDP targets.
An examination of samples of DAP transactions cited in the Supreme Court decision showed that large allocations cannot be claimed to have immediate impact on the GDP, such as P1.5 billion for the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army, P1.8
billion for the Moro National Liberation Front, P8.6 billion for the ARMM, and P30 billion to increase the capitalization of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
And what about the unconstitutional cross-border “aid” to other branches of government, e.g. P 43 million to finish the E-library of Congress, P143.700 million for the Commission on Audit, and additional aid to the Comelec?
For sure, the President’s speech will be loaded with information about projects which directly affected the economy. How about those which are not mentioned at all like the allocations cited above? We should look for what is not in the President’s speech.
3. Accepting the resignation of the DBM secretary will destroy all the budget reform initiatives initiated by him. I have pointed out repeatedly that GAA-AS-RELEASED applies only to agency budgets and projects which contain details. These cannot apply to lump sum appropriations. Considering the fact that one half of the national expenditure program is in automatic appropriations and lump sum appropriations, these wonderful reforms can only affect one-half of expenditures.
The much praised reforms, incomplete as they are, are already in place. These were implemented with the full assistance of the World Bank. The DBM is replete with undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and bureau directors who can carry on the work of implementing the national budget.
4. Certain provisions of the Administrative Code can be cited in the defense of the Executive. One journalist whose article was widely circulated, noted hopefully that this Code which was produced during the late President Aquino’s time, can save the President.
The Administrative Code is a compilation of laws and presidential decrees governing administrative matters. It includes P.D. 1177 which is all about the budget and was included in the Administrative Code. It did not originate from the present president’s mother.
Besides, this item has been thoroughly discussed in the Supreme Court decision. In the case of Demetria v. Alba, the provision cited in the article has been struck down for violating the 1973 Constitution.
Finally, whatever processes will be initiated by the relevant institutions, these will result in more information about the sources and utilization of DAP funds. These will be beneficial to the public and will help them decide who to vote for in 2016.
The entire machinery of government has been mobilized to save the Executive. It is well known that a big PR firm has been engaged to create the appropriate spins. Who will save the Constitution for unending attacks? And most important, who will save the Filipino people who continue to pay taxes, and are continually cheated of the very services they deserve and have paid for?