THE Senate finance committee on Sunday said it will strictly abide by the ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in studying the proposed 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA), with or without a joint resolution defining the contentious term “savings.”
President Benigno Aquino 3rd had asked Congress to come up with a joint resolution clarifying the terms related to government spending.
On Sunday, Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the committee on finance, said the Senate is willing to wait for any proposal that would define “savings” but even without the joint resolution, the chamber will deliberate on the national budget in accordance with the ruling of the SC on the DAP particularly on the use of savings.
In its ruling declaring the DAP unconstitutional, the High Court did not provide a precise definition of the term “savings” but laid down the following parameters: Congress wields the power of the purse and primarily decides how the money will be spent; the executive enforces the laws made by Congress and is to spend in accordance with the provisions of the GAA; Congress must recognize the need for flexibility in budget execution; and savings should be actual.
According to Escudero, he has no intention of filing a measure defining “savings” but his committee welcomes proposals.
“I will of course tackle it [proposed measure defining saving]but I will see to it that the measure will not circumvent the SC ruling,” he said in an interview on radio dzBB.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano last Friday warned his fellow lawmakers against trying to skirt the SC ruling by coming up with their own definition of savings.
Cayetano said while he supports the President’s request for a joint resolution defining savings, the measure must be well crafted so that it would not be perceived as circumventing the decision of the High Court.
He added that there is a big chance that the joint resolution would be returned to the Supreme Court if there a public perception that it is an attempt to go around the ruling.
“If we circumvent the law, not only is it promoting a plunderous President even in this administration, it will be promoting [Cabinet] secretaries to have less accountability,” Cayetano said.
Meanwhile, a document obtained by The Manila Times indicated that the Supreme Court had planned to hit back at the President for railing at the tribunal after its ruling on the DAP.
The document is a one-page Draft Statement entitled “Response of the Supreme Court to the President’s Speech of July 14, 2014 on the Filing of a Motion for Reconsideration from the Supreme Court’s decision in Araullo, et al. vs. Aquino III.”
The draft was prepared by the Supreme Court Public Information Office headed by Theodore Te and presented to the court en banc on July 15.
The draft was never released to the media.
Instead, the court opted not to engage the President in a word war, and its official reaction was “No Comment.”
In the draft, the justices said the court is not beholden to Aquino or any other President, but to the 1987 Constitution.
Aquino, apparently frustrated by the court’s ruling on the DAP, had raised the possibility of filing an impeachment complaint against the magistrates.
“The court’s greatest weapon is its independence both perceived and real. It is this independence that allows it to take very seriously the duty of exercising the judicial power as defined under the Constitution. The slightest hint that the members of the court may be influenced, intimidated or instigated into acting in a manner not in keeping what that Constitution provides and what their individual consciences dictate is unproductive, as time and again, the members of the court have displayed a becoming ungratefulness to the current and previous appointing powers and demonstrated a passionate fidelity to Constitution and conscience,” the draft read.
The justices said it is “unfortunate that so much attention has been given to [Aquino’s] statements that allude to a conflict between the court and the executive and the hint that the only recourse to head off this supposed conflict is for the court to reverse its 13-0-1 decision in Araullo or risk impeachment.”
They added that the court will address arguments raised by Malacañang in its motion for reconsideration.
“The court speaks only through its decisions and so it will be with the government’s motion for reconsideration in this case. It is aware of the public’s interest in the issues involved in this case and, to the extent that the court’s limitations will allow it, the arguments raised in the government’ motion for reconsideration will be addressed within the soonest possible time,” the justices said.
The Supreme Court voted 13-0 to declare Department of Budget and Management Circular 541, which gave life to the DAP, illegal and unconstitutional.