MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III has to take the “risk” of appealing the Supreme Court ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) considering its “very serious consequences” on the Executive, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said on Tuesday, July 15.
Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad made the statement in an interview with ANC’s Headstart, when asked about the chances of the administration’s planned Motion of Reconsideration, given the unanimous SC ruling that declared certain executive acts under the DAP as unconstitutional.
“As the public officer principally tasked by the Constitution to faithfully execute the law, then he has to appeal to the courts to understand [our actions] because we are the Executive. We know the day-to-day details of running the government. We interpret the laws and they may not be aware of the nook and crannies of public administration. That is why we are taking this risk to appeal to the Supreme Court,” Abad said.
He said that the President himself had conceded in his national address on the DAP on Monday that because of the unanimous SC vote on the DAP, “any lawyer worth his salt…would have second thoughts about appealing that decision but then the implications; the consequences are very serious.”
In an interview with DZMM, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima cited the “chilling effect” of the Court ruling on the Executive.
Taking the line of Aquino, who had defended the legality of the DAP based on several provisions of the Administrative Code, De Lima said that the Supreme Court did not declare as unconstitutional the legal basis claimed by the administration for implementing the DAP such as Chapter 5, Section 39 of the Administrative Code.
She said what is “unacceptable” to the Executive are the paragraphs prior to the dispositive portion of the SC ruling that it has to “prove good faith” in carrying out the controversial program.
“It is the other way around. Good faith is always presumed. So for us, it has some sort of chilling effect on us,” De Lima said in Filipino.
The Cabinet official said the reason why the Executive is filing the MR, amid predictions that it would be struck down by the Court anyway, is to “avoid” a clash with the Judiciary, which is a co-equal branch of government.
“The reason why we are filing an MR is because we want to avoid such a clash but we are just reminding the Supreme Court that yes, we have separation of powers, yes we have our respective powers and functions as independent branches of government it doesn’t mean that because you are independent, there is separation of powers, you would not take into consideration helping another branch,” she said.
De Lima stressed, “That is what is called ‘inter-branch courtesy’ – understand the view of another branch of government.”
SC has final say
Abad said in the television interview that Malacañang would respect the final say of the SC on the issue.
“We recognize that the end of the day, Supreme Court is supreme in interpreting the law,” he said.
Abad said the President’s perceived act of defiance of the SC ruling in his Monday night address was really an “impassioned” plea to the Court.
“The President is the Chief Executive of the country, and under Constitution, he is tasked to faithfully execute the laws and he sees this particular decision as having a fundamental adverse impact on the way he will perform that constitutional function so it’s really more impassioned. There’s great sense of urgency. In fact he pleaded to the SC. I think it should be taken along that sense,” he said.
Abad said the President’s address reflected his sentiments on the SC ruling which he said greatly “surprised” the Chief Executive, “especially in the manner in which they voted” 13-0.
“After declaring that DAP has done the country well, it grew the economy, then they concluded that the authors, sponsors and implementors of the DAP should be presumed to be in bad faith,” he said.
Responding to questions, Abad explained some of the 116 projects funded under the DAP, including the P30-billion infusion in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) which was questioned by former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno.
He said that under the law creating the BSP in 1993, the government is mandated to infuse a P50-billion ($1.146 billion)* equity in the institution, due to its important role in maintaining the country’s macroeconomic foundation. But since that time, it had only received a one-time infusion of P10 billion ($229.35 million).
Abad said that without the P30-billion ($668 million) infusion, investors would think that the government itself does not value the critical role played by the BSP in insulating the Philippine economy from the instability of markets.
He said the infusion of P25 million ($573,370) in the development of Corregidor as a tourism destination under the DAP was due to the President’s personal observation that the historic landmark, which is frequented by tourists, is deteriorating and should be improved.
Abad also believed that the more the President explained the issue to the people, “the more the people will be enlightened,” even in the face of dipping approval and trust ratings partly due to the controversy.
No regrets, still
When asked, Abad said he offered to resign even if he believed he did not commit any wrongdoing, and “for my own self-respect, for my own sense of decency being the chief implementor of the budget and of the DAP.”
“As an honorable act, keeping in mind that there was no wrongdoing that happened here, I must take responsibility for all fallout. I asked for understanding and an apology from all of my colleagues in the Cabinet for all the stress and inconvenience that has been brought upon not just in the DBM but in the other agencies that are implementing the DAP,” Abad said.
The President rejected his resignation in a public announcement before the start of Cabinet deliberations on the proposed 2014 national budget on July 11, the day after his offer to resign, saying that accepting Abad’s offer would be tantamount to admitting that DAP is wrong.
Asked if he personally believed he should remain in government, Abad said, “I offered my resignation and I deferred to the wisdom of the President. He has more information that gets to him, he has more points of view that he listens to so he is ultimately the boss.”
He maintained that he had no regrets over the implementation of DAP, and cited among others, the 3% reduction in poverty in the first semester of 2013 which he said showed that the administration’s poverty reduction programs – which received more funds under DAP – were “beginning to take effect.”
Asked to comment on the comparison between DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which had been abolished after being mired in a scam allegedly involving lawmakers and private individuals, Abad said, “They are oceans apart. They just sound alike.”
He said while the PDAF on its own is “not the culprit,” it was used as an opportunity to “steal from public coffers,” DAP is “about money spent well” with “measurable results.”
Abad also reiterated that previous administrations had implemented similar disbursement schemes, though under a different name, but it was only the current administration that was taken to court for it. – Rappler.com
*$1 = P43.6