SC mum on Aquino’s speech defending DAP

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- Supreme Court justices have chosen not to engage in a verbal tussle with President Benigno Aquino III over the tribunal's decision declaring parts of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.

In an e-mail, SC spokesperson Theodore Te said Tuesday the Court "has no comment" on Aquino's speech on Monday night, which earned mixed reactions from the public after the President challenged the justices to re-think their "worrisome" ruling.

Aquino stuck to his position that it is legal for him to declare and re-align government savings before the end of a fiscal year for projects that would spur the economy and inject funds into offices outside the Executive department such as the House of Representatives and the Commission Audit (COA).

He said DAP was a tool to serve the public in the quickest way possible as shown by the spike in economic growth from 3.7 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012.

Without mentioning details, Aquino said the SC also did something "far graver" than DAP. After the speech, a television network quoted a COA report questioning the SC's declaration of P3.19 billion in unspent funds in 2012 as savings even if it had several unpaid obligations for that year.

The SC also allegedly charged the payment of its 2012 obligations to the 2013 budget, which is a violation of government spending rules according to COA.

Te said the SC is "still studying" the COA report.

Aquino continued his criticism of the DAP decision on Tuesday, telling development experts and government officials that this may put the country's development in the "state of paralysis or worse, reversing the massive progress we have already made."

But Aquino clarified that he has no ill-will against the SC, that is why he ordered the filing of an appeal even if his chance to get a reversal is slim or for his critics, none.

"I still hold the hope that our colleagues in the Supreme Court never forget that, as they display the legal prowess and acumen that has served them well in their long careers, these abilities must also serve their 98 million countrymen," he said in a speech in Malacañang.

Detained senator Jinggoy Estrada urged Tuesday President Aquino to "stay calm" and respect the SC decision on DAP.

"They will have to respect it. I hope hindi mag-clash ang executive at judiciary to avoid further crisis. Dapat magtulungan ang tatlong sangay ng gobyerno)," said Estrada, who appeared the hearing of his bail petition at the Sandiganbayan fifth division.

Senator JV Ejercito, Estrada's half brother, said the President showed arrogance in his speech as he explained that the President must observe and respect the checks and balances between two equal branches of government.

Estrada, who exposed the controversial DAP in a privilege speech in September 2013, faces a plunder case, a non-bailable offense, and several counts of graft for allegedly amassing P183-million in commissions and kickbacks using his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation.

Senator Sergio Osmena III, for his part, said there is no way that the SC will reverse a 13-0 ruling even if Malacanang will make a motion for reconsideration.

Osmena said possibility of constitutional crisis is expected if President Aquino will continuously refuse to acknowledge the SC decision.

Valenzuela City Representative Sherwin Gatchalian echoed Osmena as he warned of a possible constitutional crisis should Malacanang continue to insist that the SC committed an error in its decision on DAP.

Gatchalian described the President's words as a "veiled threat" against the high tribunal that it should now look favorably on the motion of reconsideration that the Palace will file with the high court whose justices voted 13-0 in declaring DAP as unconstitutional.

"What if the Supreme Court denies Malacanang's motion for reconsideration, will the executive branch accept it or will the President continue to challenge the high tribunal and insist on the legality of DAP, which was based on the Administrative Code of 1987, particularly Section 39. Should this happen, I see here a possible constitutional crisis," said Gatchalian.

The lawmaker explained that while there is nothing wrong with using the savings of the executive branch as a stimulus to the economy, the power of the purse belongs solely to Congress and any realignment of budget to other projects not provided in the General Appropriations Act should still pass through the legislative branch in the form of supplemental budget.

"The Supreme Court decision merely reaffirmed that principle of separation of powers with the legislative branch having the sole power and authority when it comes to the national budget," Gatchalian said.

He noted that the SC ruling declared unconstitutional the "cross-border transfer of the savings of the executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the executive."

The lawmaker said that in the event of a possible clash between the executive and judiciary, it is the legislative branch that could serve as a mediator and in the process, Congress will have to assert its "power of the purse" and in doing so, it will necessarily side with the high tribunal's ruling.

"This scenario could lead to a possible constitutional crisis and I fear that when this happens, some sectors within and outside government might move on their own to resolve the political impasse," Gatchalian warned.

He said the Palace failed to justify its move to give DAP funds to the legislative branch, repeating his call for the former to be liable for how all the funds were spent.

"If you really want to stimulate the economy, ask the Regional Development Councils (RDCs) what they need to boost local economies that in turn contribute to the national level. Why give DAP funds to legislators? The RDC's goal is development, while the lawmakers' motivation is to get votes. I wish the President used his time yesterday to explain the matter to the public," Gatchalian said.

He added that the executive branch should be the one responsible for the entire use of the fund including those channeled to senators, and stop pointing fingers to those who were given the funds.

"Else, it will only show that the Palace authorized the lawmakers to use the public funds on anything they want," the lawmaker said.

However, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, a lawyer, sees nothing wrong with the actuation of the President on the controversial decision of the SC.

"Hindi contemptuous yun sapagkat si Pangulong Aquino ang head ng gobyerno ng Pilipinas at karapatan niya na ilabas ang kaniyang opinyon sa mga bagay-bagay." Angara said in an interview.

Angara said a constitutional crisis will ensue only after the SC has issued a final ruling and the Chief Executive ignores the decision and continue to implement DAP.

The senator noted that Aquino refrained already from continuing the implementation of DAP even before the Supreme Court handed its decision.

The senator also explained that there are bases why the President in good faith exercised DAP, citing history and past administrations as they implemented DAP using different names and definitions.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said the Chief Executive has legal basis for his action when he implemented DAP and reiterated that there is no defiance on the part of President Aquino.

Senator Paulo Benigno "Bam" Aquino, the President's cousin, defended the present administration by saying that the move of the President is merely to stop corrupt practices and to use the budget in an effective manner.

"The President will always do what is right despite the public perception," he said, as he stressed that the President's reaction on the SC decision was "understandable." (With Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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