Here it comes: the inevitable Aquino administration backlash against the Supreme Court for its unanimous decisions declaring both the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional.
There may be good governance reasons to investigate and scrap the Judicial Development Fund, but the timing and the tone of legislators pushing the JDF probe point to other motives like financially getting back at the justices and morally undermining their stature in the public arena.
If Congress leaders think that the majority’s assault on the High Court will make the public and independent media take the administration’s side against the judiciary, it’s a delusion, pure and simple. Nor is the legislature’s action a surprise to the magistrates, having seen lawmakers impeach their former Chief Justice, along with the previous Ombudsman, in exchange for the very monies ruled illegal by them.
And the people aren’t fooled either. Why should the nation and the responsible press share the legislature’s protestations over the P115-million JDF, which is dwarfed by just one senator’s annual PDAF? Come on, Mr. Speaker, tell those brats in the House that their vindictive campaign against the Supreme Court will only backfire at the other two branches of government.
Rightly or wrongly, Filipinos see congressmen attacking the justices as hatchetmen of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who then comes across as the architect of the latest assault on the Supreme Court. Moreover, legislators’ threats and taunts against the Judiciary would only affirm in the people’s eyes what former Senator Joker Arroyo said: that Congress was “a willing rape victim” when Aquino usurped its power of the purse.
Rather than giving more evidence of kowtowing to the Palace, Congress should speak with its own voice and begin repairing its reputation tattered by the pork barrel scam.
For starters, legislators from Speaker Sonny Belmonte down should show some appreciation for the Supreme Court’s defense of the House’s constitutional power over the national budget. Otherwise, Congress would seem to be not only applauding its usurper, but also lambasting its defender.
And instead of instantly ruling out impeachment proceedings against President Aquino, the House should afford citizens the constitutional right to hold all officials, including impeachable ones, accountable for their actions. Most especially a leader who claims to oppose corruption and abuse, but whose administration is now judged to have violated the Constitution in its disposition of tens of billions of pesos in state funds.
Let’s hope House Justice Committee Chairman Niel Tupas, who spearheaded the impeachment of then-Chief Justice Renato Corona and now proposed to abolish the JDF, will indeed deliver on his statement this week that the Aquino impeachment petitions filed would be given full and due process. That should include a fair hearing in his committee and an open vote on the House floor.
And like his predecessor Gloria Arroyo in 2005 and 2006, President Aquino should be able to take such proceedings, especially since he just has two years to go, so Congress and the nation may just prefer to wait for 2016 instead of putting the nation and the government through the uncertainty and discord of impeachment. Plainly, if she could survive, all the more can he.
Of course, in every political landscape, there is inevitably a profusion of sycophants: favor-seeking yes men and women constantly racing to be first in giving adulation, applause and argument in favor of their esteemed patrons. And often doing their chiefs a disservice by their grotesquely excessive and obviously self-serving praise and parlay.
Take the legislator who had the bright idea of amending the Constitution to legalize DAP. Besides stirring President Aquino’s well-known and amply shown aversion to charter change, probably due to the fear of being amended out of office, the call for DAP cha-cha implied that the budget juggling program did indeed break the law.
To be sure, this writer and others who served in past administrations did appreciate the loudmouth legislators and local government leaders who served to attract and distract opposition barbs by their irritatingly profuse lip service to the incumbent Chief Executive, especially amid widespread and mounting public and press attack.
Among the most memorable Arroyo-era gems of undying support amid unrelenting assault was the invitation by then-and-now Senate President Drilon at the height of the Hello Garci controversy, for Arroyo to rule from his Iloilo bailiwick if she was unwanted in Manila. Weeks later, Drilon joined the “Hyatt 10” group of resigned department and agency heads in calling on Arroyo to quit. It wasn’t clear if Drilon would still have welcomed her in Iloilo, but he clearly wanted her out of Malacañang.
The Drilon episode epitomized the other problem with sycophancy: the chief being praised to high heavens and defended to the hilt could so easily be left high and dry when political winds shift. For those who expend their voices for personal gain rather than principled conviction, would quickly change their tune if their advancement or survival required it.
These days, survival and indeed freedom demand that many congressmen toe the Palace line. Because of past pork windfall, which trebled to P62 billion in Aquino-era PDAF and a sizable chunk of his P145-billion DAP, reams of papers in the Department of Budget and Management and other agencies attest to how these allied lawmakers have broken the law.
If they don’t want to end up like “Tanda”, “Sexy” and “Pogi”, as the Napoles pork barrel staff called arrested Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, Aquino’s pork-pampered allies should never displease him, and constantly ensure that the opposition doesn’t take power and assume control of the PDAF and DAP papers.
For some critics, the pork-greased alliance between Malacañang and Congress is nothing less than the country’s biggest corruption conspiracy, with the Palace doling out to legislators tens of billions of pesos in public funds, and Congress dutifully passing pet bills, ousting troublesome officials, and now even supporting the Executive’s usurpation of the Legislative’s power of the purse.
More than DAP’s unconstitutionality, it is this growing perception of an unholy, corrupt and oppressive alliance between Palace and Congress that is the administration must address. If it keeps spreading, it would undermine the public support and even the legitimacy of the government. And the more that senators and congressmen show subservience and sycophancy toward Malacañang, the more the corrupt conspiracy theory will stick.