The Manila Times hit the nail right on the head when the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday declared the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional, with 13 justices out of 14 voting against it.
In an exclusive report on June 16, The Times said an overwhelming majority of the SC justices would rule that the program—a brainchild of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM)—is illegal.
In their en banc session on Tuesday, the justices were unanimous in declaring DBM Circular 541 that created DAP illegal and unconstitutional.
Thirteen of them concurred with the ponencia of Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin on the unconstitutionality of the controversial program that Malacañang had said was meant to address poverty.
Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro inhibited herself from voting since a lawyer-petitioner is very close to her and a seat in the tribunal is still vacant.
In the dispositive portion of the decision, the High Court gave three reasons for declaring the program unconstitutional—the withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of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 Appropriation Act (GAA), the cross-border transfers of the savings of the executive department to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the executive and the funding of activities, projects and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the GAA.
The Supreme Court also voided the use of unprogrammed funds in the absence of a certification by the National Treasurer that revenue collections exceeded revenue targets.
The SC is yet to officially issue a ruling on the prospectivity of the application of DAP’s unconstitutionality.
A source of The Times, however, said the justices agreed unanimously that the acceleration program must be “operative in application” under the doctrine of operative facts, provided that good faith and equity must be proved by the “masterminds” of the program—President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
According to the source, Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Mariano del Castillo voted that DAP in its entirety is not unconstitutional.
But del Castillo sought the filing of appropriate charges against those who abused and misused DAP.
Senators welcomed the SC ruling, saying it upheld Congress’ power of the purse.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago praised the High Court and described the DAP case as “basically a no-brainer.” She said the program was not included in the 2011 or 2012 budgets and the use of alleged savings to augment new budget items was not authorized by Congress.
Santiago added that the Budget department should have sought the approval of Congress because it has sole authority on budget appropriations.
She reiterated her call for the Commission on Audit to look into the alleged bribery of lawmakers during the impeachment trial of then-Chief Justice Renato Corona using DAP funds.
It was Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada who revealed that some senators received additional funds from the acceleration program.
“Both the pork barrel and DAP scandals are equally repulsive and the SC declared both funds as unconstitutional,” Santiago noted.
Estrada, who is detained for plunder, also welcomed the SC decision and sought penalty for those behind implementation of the program.
“I thank the Supreme Court for respecting and upholding Congress’ exclusive power of the purse,” he noted. “Heads must roll and Budget officials must be held accountable.”
Sen. Francis Escudero expressed satisfaction with the ruling, saying it will have “far reaching consequences and effects on government budgeting and disbursement processes.”
Escudero committed to conduct a prompt and thorough review aimed at having the results included in the 2015 and succeeding budgets.
Sen. Ralph Recto also supported the SC’s decision, pointing out that “it will definitely strengthen Congress’ power of the purse.”
He, however, said that while there could have been oversight on how funds were released, the money was properly spent.
With a report from Lulu Principe