Aquino hits SC over DAP ruling

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Monday, July 14, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- President Benigno Aquino III did not hide on Monday his displeasure over the Supreme Court (SC) decision declaring key parts of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.

Aquino hit the justices for not taking into account the government's arguments that he can realign funds to speed up economic growth and delivery of social services.

Speaking from Malacañang, Aquino said Section 39 of the Administrative Code of 1987 allows him to use savings to cover for any deficit in the appropriations authorized by the national budget.

"Except as otherwise provided in the General Appropriations Act, any savings in the regular appropriations authorized in the General Appropriations Act for programs and projects of any department, office or agency, may, with the approval of the President, be used to cover a deficit in any other item of the regular appropriations…," he said of the Administrative Code.

"Paano kaya nila nasabing unconstitutional ang aming paraan ng paggastos gayong hindi man lang nila tinalakay ang aming pinagbatayan? Hanggang sa mga sandaling ito, umiiral pa rin ang Section 39 ng Administrative Code, at ang marami pang ibang bahagi nito," he said.

The SC, however, said on July 1 that taxpayer's money was used under the DAP without a law that sanctions its disbursements and for passing off as savings the funds coming from slow-moving projects. It also nullified the inter-branch transfer of appropriations, something that the President did when he augmented funds for an independent office like the Commission on Audit (COA).

Aquino was also disappointed at the SC for apparently endorsing the slapping of civil, administrative, and criminal liabilities against the authors, proponents, and implementors of the DAP if proven that they acted in bad faith.

"Ipinagpapalagay kaagad nilang walang good faith, at kailangan pa raw namin itong patunayan sa isa o sa mga paglilitis. Nasaan po kaya rito ang prinsipyong 'innocent until proven guilty?'" he asked.

Unanimous decisions in the High Court are hardly overturned but Aquino is not losing hope that it will still change its mind. The government will soon file a motion for reconsideration to the decision backed by 13 justices, save for Associate Justice Teresita de Castro who took no part in the case.

"Halos, sabi po ng mga abogadong nakonsulta natin, suntok sa buwan ang pag-asang babaliktarin ito. Ang sabi pa nila: kapag itinuloy mo yan, baka lalo ka lang mapahamak," he said.

"Ang mensahe ko po sa Korte Suprema: Ayaw nating umabot pa sa puntong magbabanggaan ang dalawang magkapantay na sangay ng gobyerno, kung saan kailangan pang mamagitan ng ikatlong sangay ng gobyerno. Mahirap pong maintindihan ang desisyon ninyo," he added.

The President said there were rumors that the magistrates have been taking him personally and for him to take them also personally.

"Ang sabi ko na lang po: Bilang Pangulo at ama ng bayan, kailangan kong maging mahinahon, at isulong ang tamang proseso," he said.

Aquino also asked the SC not to be a hindrance to progress and reform.

"Balikan niyo sana ang ginawa ninyong desisyon nang may pagsasaalang-alang sa mga inilatag kong paliwanag ngayong gabi. Umaasa po ang sambayanan sa makatwiran ninyong pagtugon. Umaasa akong kapag nakita ninyo ang mga isusumite naming argumento ukol sa batas at sa ekonomiya, magkakaisa tayo, at titibay ang kapasidad ng buong pamahalaan na isulong ang interes ng sambayanan," he said.

He assured the public in his 23-minute televised speech that DAP funds had been spent wisely, unlike the unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which was attended by allegations of misuse.

"Excuse me. Iba ang DAP sa PDAF. Sa PDAF, may ilang nagdala ng pondo ng gobyerno sa mga pekeng NGO, at diumano’y pinaghati-hatian ng ilang mapang-abuso. Sa DAP, malinaw na hindi ninakaw ang pondo ng gobyerno -- sinikap itong gastusin para maiparating ang benepisyo sa Pilipino. Hindi saka na, o bukas makalawa; now na. Ang kayang ipatupad agad, ipinatupad agad," he said.

Aquino said Cabinet members and other beneficiaries of the economic stimulus program will provide more details about the implemented projects in the coming days.

"Mabuti ang DAP. Tama ang intensyon. Tama ang pamamaraan. Tama ang resulta. Mga boss, ipinapangako ko sa inyo: Hindi ko hahayaang pahabain pa ang pagdurusa ninyo, kung ngayon pa lang, ay kaya na nating ibsan ito," he said.

Aquino appealed to the SC magistrates to help his administration in uplifting the lives of the Filipinos.

"Balikan niyo sana ang ginawa ninyong desisyon nang may pagsasaalang-alang sa mga inilatag kong paliwanag ngayong gabi. Umaasa po ang sambayanan sa makatwiran ninyong pagtugon. Umaasa akong kapag nakita ninyo ang mga isusumite naming argumento ukol sa batas at sa ekonomiya, magkakaisa tayo, at titibay ang kapasidad ng buong pamahalaan na isulong ang interes ng sambayanan," he said.

It was his second time to address the nation about the DAP. In October 30 last year, the President said DAP funds came from efforts not to make the budget spending process open to overpricing and kickbacks.

He reiterated this on Monday night, saying government spending was slow in the first two years of his presidency because they had to address the inefficiencies and corruption brought by the Arroyo administration.

State underspending contributed to the anemic performance of the economy in 2011, pushing Aquino to create DAP to hasten the implementation of infrastructure and other projects.

Ahead of the President's speech, the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and other militant groups staged a protest at the Plaza Miranda in Manila to denounce Aquino's "brash, no remorse defiance" to the SC ruling.

They held placards which read "Noynoy Aquino: Pork Barrel King," "Lahat ng sangkot, DAPat managot!" and "No more BS!"

"It sounded like words from a tyrant, one who sternly believes his own lies despite the suffering it wreaks on the poor," said LFS national spokesperson Charlotte Velasco.

LFS also rejected Malacañang's claim that the DAP solely contributed to the 1.3-percentage point spike in the gross domestic product (GDP), a measurement of a country's economy, in late 2011.

The group cited the study of independent research group IBON Foundation that the economic improvement at the time was not actually just of the DAP but rather of total government spending and public construction.

"Before President Benigno Aquino III started his speech, he had two chances to salvage his presidency – slim and none. But now slim has left the town," said Kabataan party-list Representative Terry Ridon, who listened to the speech along with peoples' organizations gathered in Plaza Miranda.

Bayan Muna Party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said Aquino's use of Section 39 of the 1987 Administration Code was "not right" as the section pertains to savings.

He noted that the high court in its ruling stated that the DAP was not savings "therefore Section 39 does not apply."

Meanwhile, a group of petitioners will ask the SC to point out that savings can only be used for augmentation of deficient appropriations.

While the Court said that deficiency in appropriation for any project, activity and program must first be determined before tapping savings, lawyer Harry Roque noted that it only declared as unconstitutional the funding of PAPs that were not mentioned in the national budget.

Roque found this part of the decision "disturbing," adding the SC has overlooked the constitutional requirement for valid augmentation and did not implement the provisions of the General Appropriations Act for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and the second paragraph of Section 44 of Presidential Decree 1177.

The Marcos-era decree requires that there must be an actual deficiency in an existing appropriation and not merely the existence of an appropriation cover for an augmentation to be valid.

He cited as one of his examples the P700 million in DAP assistance to the Province of Quezon under the Local Government Support Fund (LGSF).

The appropriation for 2011, 2012 and 2013 for LGSF was P200 million for each year yet Roque asked how can P700 million be characterized as augmentation when it is more than the budget of the program for the past three years.

"There is a need to clearly define what constitutes actual deficit so as to be able to make valid augmentations as this may be exploited by those responsible for the DAP as their escape mechanism to avoid criminal and administrative liability," said Roque, legal counsel for petitioner Greco Belgica.

Further, the University of the Philippines law professor said the decision can be a basis to provide for measly funding for many items in the national budget just for the purpose of providing "appropriations cover" where "savings" may be used. (With SDR/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)

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