MANILA, Philippines – “No less than the Supreme Court says it’s wrong or someone should be held accountable. [Why] is this that when the Supreme Court says it’s wrong, nobody is responsible? What kind of responsible government is being fostered by that?”
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s lung cancer did not stop her from taking to task Malacañang and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, saying they cannot use the so-called “good faith doctrine” as an excuse to justify the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Just minutes after announcing in a Senate press briefing that she has stage 4 lung cancer, Santiago discussed the administration’s spending program whose major components the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.
“[The budget department] thinks they can just take funds and give it away without any criteria to any congressman or senator who pleases them. That is not the way the rule of law works. This is, for me, doctrinal confusion. It confuses one doctrine for another doctrine, like for example, the good faith doctrine,” Santiago said on Wednesday, July 2.
The constitutional law expert explained that Abad and the Palace cannot defend an unconstitutional act by saying that they acted “in good faith” or had the best intentions.
“You find a sentence in some of the opinions that anyway, the Budget Secretary was in good faith. There is no such thing in the Penal Code or in criminal law. You don’t consider the good faith of the person except in certain instances,” she said.
Echoing opposition lawmakers and observers, Santiago had a “gentle recommendation” for the budget secretary: just resign.
“Because it will show the public that you are contrite. But you know if all of us in the Senate, Congress, Malacañang adopt the attitude that we are beyond questioning, that we are by some unearthly process converted by the mere fact of our positions into angelic creatures or demons who are beyond the reach of the law, then the answer will be different,” she said.
Should Abad or the Palace insist on refusing to take accountability for the DAP, Santiago said this will send the wrong message to the public.
“You have to at least point a finger to somebody. Definitely it’s the DBM. And if only to spare the President from further embarrassment, the Secretary has to resign.”
The opposition coalition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) renewed its call for Abad to step down. UNA Secretary-General and Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco said Abad cannot cite “good intentions” to violate the Constitution.
Abad has refused to comment on the Supreme Court decision, saying he will first read the entire ruling.
In a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda repeatedly said that the administration and Abad acted “in good faith” in using the funds from the DAP for projects that “benefitted the public.”
In a statement, Senate President Franklin Drilon said “every centavo” of the P100 million he had availed of under the DAP was spent for the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center which had been a “lifelong dream” of the people of the province.
“The funds I availed of were not misused, nor were they channeled to a bogus non-government organization. The funds were used for the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center in order to boost Iloilo’s chances of hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meetings in 2015,” Drilon said.
He added: “What is wrong with fulfilling the dreams of your people? What is important is that we can account for every centavo of the public funds and that there is transparency and accountability in the implementation.”
In her news briefing, Santiago deemed as “stupid” the argument of DAP recipients in Congress that they have no funds to return to the national coffers since these all went to government projects.
“That is the argument of stupidity….If you are a lawmaker, ignorance does not excuse you. Ignorance excuses no one,” she said.
She said any diligent lawmaker would have checked whether the fund release was from the priority development assistance fund (PDAF), and its guidelines for use.
“Now you are saying that you spent in on projects. Does this mean that as soon as you have stolen the money, you spend it immediately? That is the consequence of that reasoning. It will reward the industrious robber or thief,” she said.
Santiago also said now is the “time to fully emphasize the concept of delicadeza (sense of propriety) in our government.”
“Whether it was spent or not, they should return [the money]. That is the principle of criminal law,” she said.
Santiago said state prosecutors should get back the P1.1 billion disbursed under the DAP by filing technical malversation cases against Abad and all the recipients.
"It will take long but it must be taken. Otherwise the attitude is that certain people can commit crimes and if they’re highly placed, they don’t have to be punished for it,” she said.
Asked whether President Benigno Aquino III can be impeached over DAP, Santiago said while the program is unconstitutional as ruled by the Supreme Court, the political exercise is “bound to fail – apparently because the Chief Executive enjoys the support of a majority of lawmakers.
“Impeachment is both a legal and a political topic; you cannot separate one from the other. Are you asking me, can he be impeached? Definitely. But can he be impeached in reality, meaning you have to count votes….That will be another question. I think it is bound to fail,” she said. – Rappler.com