The Supreme Court is not in a position to clarify the definition of government savings because it is fickle-minded, the Palace said on Saturday.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte shot down the proposal of Sen. Alan Cayetano that President Benigno Aquino 3rd ask the Supreme Court to define savings instead of tasking Congress to pass a Joint Resolution that will allow government to declare savings even before the end of the year to fund key government programs.
“It would be better if we have a law that defines savings because we have seen that when it comes to decided cases of the Supreme Court, the justices also change their minds. There is always a change in composition of the Supreme Court,” Valte said in a radio station.
Valte cited the case of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel of lawmakers, which was declared legal twice before being declared unconstitutional in 2013.
“Jurisprudence (Supreme Court decisions) changes so it would be good to have legislative backup when it comes to a certain definition,” she added.
Valte however clarified that the Palace does not intend to contravene the Supreme Court decision declaring the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) illegal in asking Congress to define savings.
“I understand that there are several concerns raised about that but Congress has the power to define such and make laws. We want to prevent this issue in moving forward, and one of the best steps is to address any gaps or any gray areas in our law. In the Constitution, there is no definition for savings, so we need to legislate either clarifications or definitions into our existing law,” Valte pointed out.
Sen. Grace Poe agreed that savings should be defined by Congress, but stressed that lawmakers should consult experts such as former Budget and Management secretaries in defining savings.
“If savings is not defined, there will be confusion. Congress has jurisdiction in defining savings, and then the Supreme Court will determine, based on existing laws, if its Constitutional or not. But we can’t limit the duty of defining savings to Congress alone because we are not experts. And since we are not experts, we will be accused of attempting to contravene the Supreme Court decision on DAP,” Poe said in a separate radio interview.
Poe admitted that a Palace proposal concerning a measure cannot always be a bad thing, noting that the inputs of Malacanang in the Freedom of Information (FOI) measure passed in the Senate were good.
“Malacanang submitted a good version of the FOI. We only added penalties as to those who will violate the FOI. In fact, the Palace’s version of the FOI is almost akin to what Sen. JV (Ejercito) submitted, and he is from the opposition. It really lies on the Chairman of the Committee to balance the concerns of the parties,” Poe said.
In his State of the Nation Address, the President asked the House of Representatives and the Senate to come out with a joint resolution declaring the meaning of savings.
“We are calling on the cooperation of Congress for the passage of a Joint Resolution that will bring clarity to the definitions and ideas still being debated upon, and to the other issues that only you in the legislature can shed light on,” Aquino said.
But opposition lawmakers warned that acquiescing to the President’s request may lead to a constitutional crisis.
Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list said Aquino’s call is a clear defiance of the SC ruling on DAP.
“Aquino’s call on Congress to pass a clarificatory resolution that would enable a change in the definition of such budgetary terms like ‘savings’ is a clear challenge to the Supreme Court’s decision on DAP. The President is overtly asking Congress to legislate his version of the DAP story, in effect urging the Legislature to join forces with the Executive Branch in defying the third branch of government,” Ridon said.
“The president’s pronouncement may spark a constitutional crisis, and is a clear sign of his dictatorial tendencies,” the lawmaker added.
In its ruling on DAP, the High Court said “unreleased appropriations and withdrawn unobligated allotments under the DAP were not savings, and the use of such appropriations contravened Section 25(5), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution.”
Ridon said if Congress gives in to the President’s request, the joint resolution would only be struck down by the SC, resulting in a spiraling contest of powers between the three branches of government.
A joint resolution passed by both chambers of Congress has the force of law once signed by the president.
“By directing Congress to formally legislate the Executive Department’s interpretation of the term ‘savings,’ Aquino is blatantly defying the SC decision. Not only has Aquino committed contempt of court, the president is also inviting a clash between branches of government,” Ridon said.