Ex-Budget chief: Aquino defying SC on budget terms clarification

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III may find himself in another confrontation with the Supreme Court (SC) over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) after asking Congress to resolve issues on the executive department's power over the national budget.

In a text message, University of the Philippines (UP) economics professor Benjamin Diokno said Tuesday Aquino's pronouncement during the State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday was a clear challenge to the SC ruling against the constitutionality of his purported economic stimulus package.

"Mr. Aquino's request is unprecedented. It shows his continuing resistance to the SC's unanimous decision. This is bad for the economy and the need to strengthen political institutions," he said, noting past presidents did not see the need for redefining budget concepts, as these are "clear and fundamentally sound."

It is not impossible for Aquino's dominant allies in the House of Representatives and Senate to pass a joint resolution, which has an effect of a law once signed by the President, that contain budget concepts suited to his objectives.

If that happens, Diokno said he is confident that "some constitutionalists" will question the joint resolution before the SC.

"Where and when will this end? I find the existing budget rules clear and fundamentally sound. They've been enriched by the two recent SC decisions on PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and DAP. Let's move on. Let it be," the former budget secretary said.

Kabataan party-list Representative Terry Ridon, meanwhile, said Aquino's "mindless" call to Congress may spark another clash between branches of government if and when the High Court strikes down the resolution.

"The President is overtly asking Congress to legislate his version of the DAP story, in effect urging the legislature to join forces with the executive branch in defying the third branch of government (judiciary)," he said.

Aquino did not mention what terms should be clarified but the debate in Congress will likely center on the definition of "savings" and the power of the President to augment funds, two of the things that need "imperative reforms," according to SC Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo.

"How this is to be done belongs to Congress, which must balance the state interests in curbing abuse vis-a-vis flexibility in fiscal management," the magistrate said in his separate opinion on the DAP decision.

The SC ruled on July 1 that the government was wrong when it withdrew funds from projects that had not been implemented. It also hit the funding of projects of constitutional offices and items without congressional blessing.

Aquino has already asked Congress to pass a supplemental budget to fund discontinued DAP projects in light of the SC ruling, which he appealed even if the chance of getting a reversal is slim. (Sunnex)

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