PRESIDENT BENIGNO S. AQUINO III lashed out at the Supreme Court Monday night by questioning the High Tribunal’s ruling on his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), saying that if DAP is illegal, then the Court itself had been guilty of the same practices.
In a 23-minute nationwide television address to the Filipino people Monday evening, the President stood by the DAP, an economic stimulus program created by the President in October 2011 using realigned savings to fund what the Palace considers to be high-impact projects. The Supreme Court on July 1 ruled significant portions of the DAP program unconstitutional, including the allotment of funds for programs that are not listed in the General Appropriations Act.
The President said the Supreme Court had not considered the arguments presented by government lawyers to justify the existence of the DAP. In particular, the President cited the Administrative Code of 1987, which he said gives the President the authority to transfer savings to other projects.
The President also twitted the Court, saying that if DAP could be considered illegal, then the Tribunal could be considered guilty of the same offense.
“Mahirap pong maintindihan ang desisyon ninyo,” the President said. “Mayroon din kasi kayong ginawa dati, na sinubukan ninyong gawin ulit, at may nagsasabi pang mas matindi ito base sa desisyong inilabas ninyo kamakailan lang.”
(It is very hard to understand your decision. This is because you also did something similar before, which you tried to do again, and there are those who say that your actions are even worse if we are to base it on your recent decision.)
The President appears to be referring to the Judiciary Development Fund or JDF, a mechanism created during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos whereby legal fees collected by the courts are used to augment allowances of court officials and personnel and fund the acquisition and repair of court facilities. The fund is controlled and fully administered by the Supreme Court. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide faced an impeachment complaint with the House of Representatives in 2003 for alleged misuse of the JDF. More recently, legislators have been moving to scrutinize the JDF’s disbursements by the Supreme Court.
“Nagtiwala kami na tama ang ginawa ninyo, alinsunod sa konsepto o prinsipyo ng presumption of regularity, lalo pa’t kayo ang dapat na mas madunong sa batas,” the President chided the court. “Ngayong kami naman ang may ipinapatupad – na kayo na rin ang nagsabing nakabuti sa mamamayan – bakit mali na ngayon ang aming ginawa?”
“We trusted that what you were doing is correct, based on the concept or principle of presumption of regularity, especially since you are said to be more knowledgeable in the law. Now that we are the ones implementing this scheme, which you said had also benefited the public, why are you saying what we did was wrong?)
The President stressed that while the Executive will respect the ruling of the Supreme Court, his administration will file a motion for reconsideration to overturn the 13-0 decision of the Tribunal. The President said he was doing this even though he had been advised that there was a very slim chance of overturning a ruling that is practically unanimous, with only one Justice abstaining from the vote.
But in the same breath, the President openly scolded the Supreme Court, with a pointed message to the Justices that he does not want a collision between two branches of government.
“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,” the President said. (This is my message to the Supreme Court: We do not want it to reach a point that there will be a collision between two co-equal branches of government, where the third branch would need to step in.)
The President also said he had been hearing talk that this was becoming a personal fight between him and the High Court, and that he was being challenged to deal with the issue in this manner. To this, the President said he intends to approach the issue within the right processes.
“May mga naririnig din akong bulung-bulungan na baka pinapersonal lang daw ako sa isyung ito, na para bang hinahamon akong personalin din sila,” the President said. “Ang sabi ko na lang po, bilang Pangulo at ama ng bayan, kailangan kong maging mahinahon, at isulong ang tamang proseso.”
(I have heard talk that perhaps they have a personal grudge against me, and that perhaps they are challenging me to take it personally too. I just tell them that as President and father of the nation, I need to be calm and follow the correct processes.)
The President began his speech by citing the anomalies his administration discovered in 2010, and how these anomalies contributed in slowing down the implementation of projects at the start of his term. In particular, the President said that some departments fell behind schedule in their expenditures because they have had to put in place reform measures to fight the anomalous practices that they discovered.
In 2011, the President said he decided to create the DAP as a means to rechannel savings from departments that are having difficulty implementing their programmed projects to other agencies that would need these funds. The President said government lawyers justified this policy by citing the Administrative Code of 1987, which he quoted as follows:
“…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.”
“Nakita naman ninyo na ayon sa batas na ito, hayagang binibigyan ng kapangyarihan ang Pangulo na maglipat ng savings sa ibang proyekto,” the President said. “Walang nakasaad na limitado sa isang departamento o sangay ng gobyerno ang paglilipat ng savings. Sa simpleng salita po, hindi tayo lumabag sa batas nang ipatupad natin ang DAP.”
(You can see that in this law, the President is given authority to transfer savings to other projects. Nowhere does it say that a department is limited in transferring savings. In simpler terms, we did not violate the law when we implemented the DAP.)
The President said the Tribunal did not consider the arguments of government lawyers, even though the Administrative Code is still in force.
“Nagulat nga po kami nang makita naming hindi naisaalang-alang sa desisyon ng Korte Supreme ang ginamit naming batayan ng DAP,” he said. “Paano kaya nila nasabing unconstitutional ang aming paraan ng paggastos gayong hindi man lang nila tinalakay ang aming pinagbatayan? Hanggang sa sandaling ito, umiiral pa rin ang Section 39 ng Adminsitrative Code, at ang marami pang ibang bahagi nito.”
(We were surprised to see that the Supreme Court’s decision did not even consider our basis for the DAP. How can they say this is unconstitutional when they did not even discuss our basis for it? Until now, Section 39 of the Administrative Code is still in effect.)
The President also justified the implementation of the DAP, saying the program was needed to deliver basic and high-impact projects to the Filipinos, whom he repeatedly referred to in his speech as his Bosses.
“Muli kong ididiin: 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,” the President said.
(I repeat: DAP is good. The intentions are correct. The process is correct. The results are correct. My bosses, I promise you: I will not allow your suffering to continue, if we can prevent it.)
Read the full text of the President’s speech here. Cong B. Corrales