THE Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is a reincarnation of an old budget measure that was implemented during the time of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos but declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1987.
In G.R. No. 71977, the Court ruled that Section 44 of Presidential Decree No. 1177, then known as the Budget Reform Decree of 1977, was null and void because it “allows the president to override the safeguards, form and procedures prescribed by the Constitution in approving appropriations.”
“Section 44 of the same decree amounts to an undue delegation of legislative powers to the Executive,” the Court said.
The petition against the particular section of the budget measure was filed by members of the National Assembly led by Demetrio Demetria.
It named are respondents Manuel Alba, then budget minister, and Victor Macalingcag, then the National treasurer.
Former Budget secretary Benjamin Diokno said the High Court decision on PD 1177 “supports the proposition that the DAP is unconstitutional.”
“Note that the ruling was made by the newly revamped Supreme Court [after EDSA 1]on a case that was filed against then Budget Minister Alba. The ruling was done at a time when the people’s hope and confidence on its government was at its historic high,” Diokno told The Manila Times.
He lamented that the ruling was ignored by the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo.
Paragraph 1 of Section 44 of PD 1177 provided that “The President shall have the authority to transfer any fund, appropriated for the different departments, bureaus, offices and agencies of the Executive Department, which are included in the General Appropriations Act, to any program, project or activity of any department, bureau, or office included in the General Appropriations Act or approved after its enactment.“
The High Tribunal ruled that the particular paragraph “unduly over extends the privilege granted under said Section 16 [of the old Constitution]. It empowers the President to indiscriminately transfer funds from one department, bureau, office or agency of the Executive Department to any program, project or activity of any department, bureau or office included in the General Appropriations Act or approved after its enactment, without regard as to whether or not the funds to be transferred are actually savings in the item from which the same are to be taken, or whether or not the transfer is for the purpose of augmenting the item to which said transfer is to be made.”
“It does not only completely disregard the standards set in the fundamental law, thereby amounting to an undue delegation of legislative powers, but likewise goes beyond the tenor thereof. Indeed, such constitutional infirmities render the provision in question null and void,” the Court said.
The decision gave weight to the petitioners’ view that “ . . . Pres. Decree No. 1177 opens the floodgates for the enactment of unfunded appropriations, results in uncontrolled executive expenditures, diffuses accountability for budgetary performance and entrenches the pork barrel system as the ruling party may well expand [sic]public money not on the basis of development priorities but on political and personal expediency.”
“The nation has not recovered from the shock, and worst, the economic destitution brought about by the plundering of the Treasury by the deposed dictator and his cohorts. A provision which allows even the slightest possibility of a repetition of this sad experience cannot remain written in our statute books,” the Court en banc, then led by the late chief justice Claudio Teehankee Sr., said.
Like PD 1177, DAP “upsets the balance of power” and should therefore be deemed “repugnant and unconstitutional,” Diokno said.
“. . . the President cannot rearrange the budget and create a budget within the general appropriations law. Legislators, on the other hand, cannot and should not participate in the implementation of the budget,” he pointed out.
Diokno, an authority on budgetary issues, said the balance of power emanates from the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution—the President prepares, proposes, and implements the budget, Congress authorizes it, and the Supreme Court serves as final arbiter on the budget law in case of disagreement between the President and Congress.
“The basic doctrine is that once Congress has approved the budget, and the President has signed it into law, any act that would upset this intended balance of power is deemed repugnant and unconstitutional. The President cannot slice and dice the general appropriations law, reshape and change its budget priorities, and come up with an altered spending package—a new, unauthorized budget within the budget. Allowing it effectively changes the balance of power,” he said.
On Sunday, Diokno said Filipinos are “angry and frustrated” with the Aquino government for defending DAP despite the legal questions on its implementation.
“The first best hope is for the Supreme Court to rise to the occasion and declare the DAP unconstitutional and define clearly the areas of responsibility of the Executive and the Legislature. An ideal budget system is one which is transparent, where Congress has and exercises the power of the purse, where the power of the President to impound appropriations require congressional concurrence, where the Commission on Audit exercises some prosecutorial powers, and where ‘savings’ is strictly defined and observed,” he said.
Diokno said an ideal budget system “is unlikely to emerge given the present leadership” and because of this, the people’s initiative to pass a new budget reform law could be “the last best hope for this country.”
According to him, true reforms in the flawed budget system can only be done by a “truly reform-minded” president, which Aquino is not.
“Unless real reforms are done, the dysfunctional, corruption-prone budget system will continue to reign not only now but in the future. But President Aquino has drawn the line: he likes DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program] and is determined to defend it,” Diokno said.