July 18, 2014

Hubris in the Palace

What was President Benigno S. Aquino thinking?  Ten days after the Supreme Court (SC) decision essentially declaring the Disbursement Acceleration Fund (DAP) as unconstitutional or, in plain language illegal, Mr. Aquino finally utters some words. And these are words of defiance.   Mr. Aquino bullheadedly insists that the DAP is perfectly legal, unquestionably beneficial and indubitably correct politically, and even morally.

Ergo, there will be no sacrificial lambs even if one of the most likely candidates, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, is actually the intellectual author and chief implementor of the DAP.  Of course Mr. Abad’s Boss gave his imprimatur, knowingly and willingly, as documents submitted to the Court and Mr. Aquino’s own avowals prove without a doubt.

According to the Palace, the President’s lawyers are still studying his legal options.  Mr. Abad claims that the entire SC overlooked Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the 1987 Charter giving the President the authority to augment appropriations using savings.  Apparently the Budget secretary has not seriously studied the Court decision since he clearly missed out on one of its main parts, i.e. the way the Executive wrongfully categorized certain funds as “savings” when these could not have been so classified and treated, was declared illegal.

Considering the length of time and effort the High Court expended on the DAP before issuing a unanimous decision that the core components of the DAP violate the Constitution, did Mr. Aquino think that he would have a china man’s chance of overturning the Court decision?  Or is this just a way to buy time while Mr. Aquino’s not-so-bright boys scramble to do damage control and reduce the widening political fall-out.

But then again we anticipated that Mr. Aquino would buck the DAP decision what with the graceful exit, if not loopholes, the SC gave Malacaňang: the declaration that only acts and practices under DAP are unconstitutional and not the DAP itself; the gratuitous acceptance that the DAP was what it was intended to be, a budget mechanism to stimulate the economy; the uncritical acceptance that the DAP benefitted the public because of the infrastructure such as school houses, roads and bridges it funded; the blind eye to the Palace admission that the billions of additional funds channeled to the senators who had voted for Corona’s impeachment came from the DAP; and the lack of specificity as to who was responsible for running hoops around the exclusive power of congress to appropriate funds.

SC Justice Marvic Leonen’s separate opinion is a study in legal circumlocution and obfuscation that ends up helping Malacaňang evade responsibility and shirk accountability.  It is quoted by a columnist who is the President’s brother-in-law as the basis for arriving at the conclusion that the DAP, being “complex”, had only its parts declared unconstitutional and not its entirety, that the SC justices were not in unanimity over its decision and that “the presumption of good faith is a universal one.”

Too bad for Mr. Aquino and his DAP cohorts the justices were able to see through the Dap’s obvious violation of the Constitution, adjudged this to be the case and despite separate opinions, and concurred unanimously over the Bersamin-penned decision that “(t)he doctrine of operative fact … cannot apply to the authors, proponents and implementors of the DAP, unless there are concrete findings of good faith in their favour by the proper tribunals determining their criminal, civil, administrative and other liabilities."

Malacanang’s excuses are getting tied up in knots.  From Mr. Aquino’s imperious public declaration on national television that the DAP is legal, innovative, transparent, beneficent and clean and no one can or should question this, he now has to fall back on legal hair splitting to try to escape from the impeachable charge of culpable violation of the Constitution.

With the testimony of Mr. Luy and other whistleblowers in the Napoles pork barrel scam that some of the senators’ DAP funds went to Napoles’ fake NGOs, Presidential Spokesperson Lacierda now belatedly admits that maybe DAP was not spent a hundred percent without anomaly.  Still he thunders that no less than 91% he is sure of since only 9% of DAP were ladled out to the senators who coincidentally all voted to impeach Chief Justice Corona.   

Consequently, Mr. Lacierda challenges these senators to explain where their DAP monies went, to prove that these were not squandered or worse, stolen.  Unintentionally perhaps, this hypocritical stance has caused umbrage among the implicated senators.  Sen. Chiz Escudero, head of the Senate Committee on Finance, has countered with a demand that DBM make a full accounting of the DAP funds before the Senate.

It appears that despite the SC directive to the DBM to provide a complete listing of where the DAP funds were spent, Malacaňang has not done so.  The Executive has been hedging all along.  Even after DAP decision came out, it still refuses to come clean on this matter to the point that even the mass media are raising questions why the DAP list of expenditures is top secret. The lame excuse recently given by Presidential spokesperson Herminio Coloma that the matter is sub judice is laughable.

The fact is the Chief Executive is not authorized to withhold these funds from the “program, activity or project”  (PAP s) to which they were assigned by Congress and use them for PAPs not in the General Appropriations Act (GAA); or spend these for PAPs of other branches of government and other constitutionally independent bodies such as the COA; as well as spend funds earmarked for certain appropriations contingent on windfall or other unexpected revenues of government.  Moreover, there is the entirely different issue about where these monies were spent.

Only a thorough special audit can eventually determine whether the DAP funds were diverted for political patronage, i.e. given to political allies of the President and the ruling Liberal Party as some suspect, and whether these were taken from vital social services like health care only to be lost to non-priority projects, or worse lost to the corruption mill.  Unfortunately, because of the apparently partisan stance of the current Commission on Audit (COA) chair who has already prejudged the issue with her earlier defense of the DAP and refusal to conduct a special audit when asked by anti-pork groups, the demand for an for an independent audit grows louder by the day.

To top it all, here comes Mr. Aquino believing his own propaganda that he is God’s gift to the Filipino people, finally going on air only to say he will not accept the token resignation of Sec. Abad because he “can’t accept doing right by our people is wrong.” 

The message Mr. Aquino is sending is one of undisguised defiance and derision of the Court’s decision on the DAP.  Mr. Aquino is now asserting that he is not bound to follow the highest Court of the land in its ruling because he has a different interpretation of it, because he knows he has done no wrong (and by extension his Cabinet secretaries as his alter egos had also done nothing wrong), and because he is supposedly on the straight and narrow path for which his people love and support him unconditionally. 

In other words he is above reproach and above any accountability.  Methinks if this abusive Chief Executive cannot be shamed to resign nor be impeached, he deserves to be ousted no less. #

Published in Business World
14 July 2014


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