IT is a bribe,” says William Safire in his Political Dictionary. This used to be the time-honored way of determining whether something (money or kind) proffered to someone in public office, is a bribe. In that more honorable time, there was no smorgasbord of terms to choose from in naming the thing: incentive, reward, inducement, payola, and so on. It was simply and bluntly called a bribe.
By this common-sense definition, the funds released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to the senator-jurors in the Corona impeachment trial and as disclosed by Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada in his celebrated exposé were indubitably bribes. The briber was DBM Secretary Florencio Abad, who was acting on behalf of the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino 3rd. Abad took the money from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a funding scheme he invented for the rapid distribution of public money to favored parties.
There was no way that Senate President Franklin Drilon, gargantuan as he is, could have eaten or smoked in one day his P100 million loot from the DAP fund. Neither could Sen. Francis Escudero, who got P99 million, or Senator Estrada, who inexplicably received only P50 million. Or for that matter Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, who, at 88, subsists on little and does not smoke.
Similarly, Commission on Audit Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan, even with the full participation of all COA employees, couldn’t have eaten in one day the P143 million she received from the DAP fund. She presumably does not smoke; someone who uses the word “kahindik-hindik” couldn’t possibly smoke without contracting cancer.
Actually, the only public personage still smoking is President BS Aquino 3rd, who according to every indicator, is the interested party who stood to profit most from the shady disbursements of the DAP fund.
With the Supreme Court set to hear arguments on Tuesday (December 10) on the constitutionality or legality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, I believe it is imperative that concerned members of the citizenry should also express their opinion and sentiments on this momentous issue. The very existence of our constitutional democracy is on the line.
Right to offer insights
If the House of Representatives and the Senate can conduct at taxpayers’ expense elaborate committee hearings, ostensibly “in aid of legislation,” featuring resource speakers and enabling senators to grandstand on live TV, I submit that we concerned citizens have as much right to offer our opinion and insights in “aid of deliberation and decision-making by the Supreme Court.” Think of us as amicus curiae, or friends of the court.
If the “it can’t be eaten or smoked in a day” definition is not sufficiently obtuse for a legal battle, I cite these other sources for a definition of terms.
Berkeley law professor and judge John Noonan is acknowledged as the authority on the subject of bribery. He is the author of Bribes, the ultimate treatise on bribery. Noonan defined a bribe as “an incumbent improperly influencing the performance of a public function meant to be gratuitously exercised.”
One of Noonan’s striking examples was the logrolling (vote trading) encouraged or directed by President Abraham Lincoln to pass the revised 13th amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States. This was the subject of Steven Spielberg’s celebrated film, Lincoln.
In this light, President Aquino can claim to be in the elevated company of Lincoln in his behind-the-scenes orchestration of the Corona impeachment.
Elsewhere, Black’s Law Dictionary defines bribery as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty.
In the Encyclopædia Britannica, a bribe is “the gift bestowed to influence the recipient’s conduct. It may be any money, good, property, preferment, privilege, emolument, object of value, advantage, or merely a promise or undertaking to induce or influence the action, vote, or influence of a person in an official or public capacity.”
In economics, the bribe has been described as rent, which sounds more benign.
In the book, Honest Government, an Ethics Guide for public service, authors W. J. Michael Cody and Richardson Lynn admirably hammers down all the gray areas and complexities into one firm principle: “public officials should always exercise independent judgment on each issue or decision that comes before them rather than abdicate that judgment in exchange for the reciprocal promises of other officials. Legislators should not swap votes. Rather, they should promise themselves, their constituents, and their colleagues that they will vote on the basis of all available information, considering the best interests of their constituents and the public good.”
With all due respect to the High Court, I submit that Tuesday’s legal discussion should squarely confront the bribery issue in the Senate impeachment trial, because we the people and the nation would never have known about the DAP, if Senator Estrada did not let the cat out of the bag. We would never have known about Secretary Abad’s dexterity in squeezing funds from the budget to create the DAP, and of how the nation’s then chief magistrate was disarmed of his defenses and fair judgment at his own trial.
The SC hearing of arguments admirably allows all parties to a dispute to present their side in the best light. Some turn out to be articulate, while others are reduced to incoherence by the majesty of the occasion.
I’ve noticed that in the questioning that ensues when individual justices pose questions to petitioners, the discussion tends to narrow toward the peculiar interests of individual justices. The big picture gets lost in the process. It’s as if Alan Peter Cayetano had crashed the SC party.
When the Court ruled that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was unconstitutional and void, it struck a blow for good governance in our country in a way that we have not heard for generations. You could hear the nation sigh in relief from Batanes to Tawi-tawi.
In popular lore, to Congress and the legislature, belongs “the power of the purse.” To the Executive, belongs “the power of the sword.” What the judiciary holds for the nation, exemplified above all by the Supreme Court, is “the power of judgment,” which under our constitutional system comprehends all.
To that judgment then, we turn for a clear and unassailable ruling on this bizarre anomaly called DAP.