DAP is not a project—it is an efficient way of spending the budget; it follows the law and adheres to the mandate granted to the Executive Branch.
— President Benigno Aquino 3rd speaking on the Disbursement Acceleration Program, July 14, 2014
That statement, translated by the Palace from the Filipino original, showcases the qualities in the article headline: the unlawful, untruthful and unaccountable leader President Benigno Aquino 3rd has shown himself to be.
Let’s take apart that sentence. “DAP is not a project.” Whoever said it was? The very name—Disbursement Acceleration Program—makes it clear that DAP is a program, not a project. Arguing that it isn’t, misleads people into thinking that its critics were saying something they never said. Devious.
But the bigger and patent untruth is in the second part: “ . . . it is an efficient way of spending the budget.” As the Supreme Court ruled, DAP subverted the budget. It took money from programs and projects in the General Appropriations Act of 2011, 2012, and 2013, then allocated the funds to expenditures not in the GAA.
How in heaven’s name can a program that took tens of billions of pesos from budgeted items and spent it on unbudgeted ones, be “an efficient way of spending the budget”? DAP stole budgeted funds and spent it on things not in the budget, including additional pork barrel for those who impeached or convicted then-Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The third part of the statement after the semicolon is unlawfulness and unaccountability on display. By presuming to judge the legality of one’s own action, the President eschews the paramount principle buttressing both the rule of law and the accountability of public officials: respect for and submission to outside authority.
If man does not submit to the justice system, but insists on his own interpretation of legislation, then he becomes a law unto himself, recasting the statutes of society to his own ends. And public officials who refuse to accept the check and balance of duly constituted authority, discard the mechanisms for accountability and against abuse.
Those who have followed President Aquino’s tenure can hardly be surprised by his disdain for the law and the independence of co-equal branches of government and constitutional agencies.
In his first few months, he meddled in court cases in disrespect of the judiciary. When the Supreme Court lifted a Department of Justice travel restriction on former president Gloria Arroyo and her husband, he got DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima to disobey the ruling. Aquino also campaigned openly for the ouster of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Chief Justice Renato Corona, using pork barrel to get them impeached.
In Monday’s speech, Aquino repeated his October insistence that DAP is legal, this time arrogantly presuming to know better than 13 justices of the Supreme Court who ruled against DAP with no opposing votes. Even worse, the President openly espoused violating laws if one believes it would be good for the nation.
The purported end of delivering benefits fast justifies the illegal means of taking funds from budgeted expenditures and using them for unbudgeted ones — that’s the main point of Aquino’s DAP argument, as well as his closing text message story. The highest official in the land tasked with enforcing the law openly advocates its violation if it suits his agenda and timetable for programs and projects.
One can now see why Aquino had no qualms about using pork barrel to push pet bills and impeach troublesome officials. Or forging agreements with Muslim rebels and for increased US military deployment despite many constitutional potholes.
One wonders who is worse: dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who willfully manipulated laws to get his way, or President Aquino, who simply disregarded them. One thing is certain: Aquino is unrepentant about DAP, and staunchly believes that it is right to skirt, bend and otherwise disobey statutes to achieve his objectives.
Besides his cavalier attitude toward the law, President Aquino also showed his penchant for mouthing untruths, misleading millions of Filipinos who trust him or his office.
Take his repeated and patently false claim that only P100 billion of the P1.54 trillion national budget for 2010 was left in state coffers when he took office on June 30. Aquino repeated that falsehood on Monday despite one undeniable fact showing that his administration had hundreds of billions of pesos left to spend at mid-2010: it paid all salaries and bonuses for 1 million civil servants for the rest of the year.
Another untruth in the speech was the remark about the Laguna Lake dredging project “where we were supposed to pay P18.7 billion just to play with mud.” In fact, the project–awarded to a leading Belgian engineering company after strict technical and legal processes–was canceled without any formal notice explaining why, and certainly no finding of irregularity.
There were new falsehoods to defend DAP and attack the High Court. Aquino claimed wrongly that “the budget must be spent within the year of allocation.” In fact, funds can be carried over to the next fiscal year. Here’s another: “If you cannot use the funds allotted for this year, clearly, those are savings.” Wrong. Several laws, including GAAs for the past three years, clearly spelled out that savings are funds left after projects and programs are completed, or salary allotments for unfilled positions, not just any money unspent in a given year.
Perhaps the biggest wrongful assertion is Aquino’s claim that the Supreme Court did not consider provisions of the Administrative Code of 1987 on utilizing savings. In fact, the DAP decision cited the Code in several instances, with several portions supporting its ruling. The decision also cited provisions in the Constitution and recent budget laws—all of which supersede the Administrative Code.
Aquino’s open defiance of the High Court, even interposing his layman’s legal knowledge for the justices’ unanimous ruling, casts doubt on his willingness to submit to constitutional mechanisms for checks and balances and accountability. That concern became even more real with Aquino’s warning about a clash between two co-equal branches, presumably the Executive and the Judicial.
In the DAP case, only one scenario could lead to such a clash: the President rejects the Supreme Court ruling. Even that scenario would be instantly resolved: the judgment would prevail, and the entire government, including the President, must follow it.
If Aquino won’t, he would be refusing to perform his sworn duty as president to implement and enforce the laws of the land. He should then be removed.