July 4, 2014 · Posted in: Access to Information, Civil Society, Congress Watch, Free Expression - Asia, Freedom of Information, General, Governance, In the News, Money Politics, Noynoy Watch, Online Research
CAN MALACANANG invoke “good faith” in the implementation of the controversial Development Acceleration Program (DAP) when President Benigno S. Aquino III himself knew that such impounding mechanisms were prone to abuse, and had even proposed legislation against such a practice five years ago.
In March 2009, then Senator Benigno Aquino III filed Senate Bill No. 3121 also known as The Budget Impoundment Control Act to limit the president’s power to impound funds appropriated by Congress. Aquino then argued that this practice had removed from Congress the control over the public purse. Aquino was then part of the political opposition to then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
“Of recent times however, this presidential prerogative has been misused and abused, and has emasculated Congress’ authority to check the President’s discretionary power to spend public funds. In effect, the President seems to have a vast and unbridled control over the national budget,” Aquino wrote in the bill’s explanatory note.
Aquino ended the bill’s explanatory note by saying the bill would increase Congress’ oversight and clip then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s influence over specific appropriations in the General Appropriations Act.
Aquino argued then that “as the ‘power of the sword’ belongs to the President, ‘the power of the purse’ resides in Congress.”
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court—voting 13-1-0—declared the National Budget Circular 541 and other related issuances related to DAP unconstitutional.
The High Tribunal ruled that “the following acts and practices under the Disbursement Acceleration Program, National Budget Circular No. 541 and related executive issuances unconstitutional for being in violation of Section 25(5), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers, namely:
a) The withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies, and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Acts;
b) The cross-border transfers of the savings of the Executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the Executive; and
c) The funding of projects, activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the General Appropriations Act.”
The Supreme Court also declared as “void the use of unprogrammed funds despite the absence of a certification by the National Treasurer that the revenue collections exceeded the revenue targets for non-compliance with the conditions provided in the relevant General Appropriations Act.”
Palace spokesmen defended the DAP by saying the budget impoundment facility was being implemented “in good faith.” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President implemented the DAP in “good faith and due diligence, in accordance with existing laws and pertinent auditing rules and procedures.”
He further challenged those who questioned the executive branch’s “good faith” argument to prove be the Palace wrong.
“Good faith,” in contract law, is a general presumption that the parties to a contract will deal with each other honestly, fairly, and in good faith, so as not to destroy the right of the other party or parties to receive the benefits of the contract.
One of the petitioners against DAP, Professor Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones of Social Watch Philippines (SWP) said they want to pin down who is accountable for the implementation of the budget impoundment facility.
In an emailed statement, Briones said the primary actors cited by their petition against DAP were Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio Abad and President Aquino.
She argued that Abad is accountable because the circular in question was “crafted by his office and signed by him.”
“Do we hold the President accountable for the actions of his cabinet? However, what is obvious is that the President has publicly defended the DAP,” Briones said.
“It is the responsibility of the Executive to defend the constitution. Has the constitution been defended? No. DAP offends the Constitution,” she added.
Briones said that the when the Supreme Court ruled on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the “wheels of accountability started moving” and that the ruling on DAP “is a further step forward.”
“For the public and media, there is no turning back,” she said. Cong B. Corrales