SC rules only authors of illegal program should be held liable
With the final ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) sealing the fate of the outlawed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), criminal charges can be filed against President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad since the High Court has ruled that only the authors of the program can be held accountable.
Thirteen SC magistrates did not waver in their findings that the spending program was illegal.
The tribunal, however, partly granted the government’s motion for reconsideration by modifying the decision it issued in July 2014.
In its recent ruling, it said the authors of the spending program, Aquino and Abad, can be taken to court. They can only be cleared if the court found that they acted in good faith.
“(T)he proper tribunals can make concrete findings of good faith in their favor only after a full hearing of all the parties in any given case, and such a hearing can begin to proceed only after according all the presumptions, particularly that of good faith, by initially requiring the complainants, plaintiffs or accusers to first establish their complaints or charges before the respondents authors, proponents and implementors of DAP,” the High Court’s spokesman, Theodore Te, said.
“The want of good faith is thus better determined by tribunals other than this court, which is not a trier of facts,” he added.
The SC ruled that the proponents and implementors of the project will no longer be held liable for their acts.
In its ruling, the SC cited three reasons that made DAP unconstitutional: the withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies, and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Act (GAA); the cross-border transfers of savings of the executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the executive; and the use of unprogrammed funds despite the absence of a certification by the National Treasurer that the revenue collections exceeded the revenue targets for non-compliance with the conditions provided in the relevant GAA.
The tribunal deleted from the list of illegal acts the funding of projects and activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the GAA.
“Accordingly, so long as there is an item in the GAA for which Congress had set aside a specified amount of public funds, savings may be transferred thereto for augmentation purposes,” Te explained.
In its clarification ruling, the SC en banc opined that “its decision did not declare the en masse invalidation of the 116 DAP-funded projects as the court itself recognized the encouraging effects of the DAP on the country’s economy.”
Malacañang welcomed the SC ruling since it upheld the presumption of good faith.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda noted that the High Court has upheld the doctrine of Operative Fact, which according to him, “declared all acts are valid until they are declared unconstitutional.”
“The presumption of good faith has been preserved and emphasized, which clarified the previous impression that that the authors are presumed to be in bad faith,” Lacierda said.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma also lauded the SC ruling.
Palma, the former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), campaigned against the DAP by launching in August last year the “People’s Initiative Against Pork Barrel,” a move that seeks to prohibit pork barrel in government practice.
“We know that there is something unconstitutional in the practice of pork barrel according to the Supreme Court as there is a better way to make use of the people’s money, our taxes, better way to access our needs rather than just giving the lump sum to the congressmen and to the leaders of the government,” he said.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JAIME R. PILAPIL