In a speech (President Aquino’s weird DAP speech) that consisted of 3070 words and took an hour to deliver, this is the only statement/sentence that is truthful and unassailable.
It is perhaps the one point on which all Filipinos can agree— Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and his detractors included.
It’s a measure of the speech’s impact that it has become almost as much discussed as the Supreme Court decision on the DAP that it criticized.
Readers who want to check for themselves, will find the statement embedded in this paragraph in the speech:
“My conscience cannot bear this. I cannot accept that our countrymen will be exposed to danger because I let the process of bringing them assistance be unduly extended. Let us remember: The National Treasury belongs to our citizens.”
Crossing the red lines
As worded, the statement is pedestrian. Far better and more presidential for Aquino to say “The national Treasury belongs to our people (or the nation).”
But it is typically PNoy, because Aquino of all our presidents is artless, drab, and bereft of style.
The fact that the sentence can be found in the address at all will probably surprise many, as it did me. Because everything else in the speech consisted of false claims, whinings for sympathy, threats, and non-sequiturs.
The statement is the nearest thing to an admission by the President, and presumably by his Sancho Panza Butch Abad, that the billions they had juggled and played with in the DAP came from the National Treasury, and that those monies belonged to the people and the nation, and must be expended with the greatest care and in accordance with law.
Until this, we have been at a loss to find one single indication that Aquino and Abad were in the least concerned that their invention and implementation of the DAP would be crossing red lines clearly defined in the Constitution and the General Appropriations Act for every fiscal year. It never occurred to them to ask the President’s legal counsel and the Executive Secretary, through whom such papers must pass.
They have never publicly declared or admitted that monies placed in the DAP chute have come from the national treasury. In all this time, according to former National treasurer Leonor Briones, established procedures in the handling of treasury funds were deliberately set aside. The incumbent National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon was reduced to an onlooker, never affixing her signature to the gigantic checks that were issued to DAP beneficiaries and projects.
Constitutional order in handling of public money
Aquino’s statement on the treasury could be a smoking gun that shows he was aware about the grave implications of the DAP. This will be detrimental to the defense of good faith which he and other top administration officials will likely invoke if and when they are haled to court on charges with respect to the DAP.
Aquino knew the grave importance of all funds in the national treasury. He had a rudimentary understanding of the budget process, and the meaning of accountability of public officials including himself.
In ruling on the DAP and the PDAF, the Supreme Court could not be more emphatic in underscoring the normal constitutional order in handling public money.
As Fr. Joaquin Bernas has written, “The first destination of money coming in for the public, either as taxes or other forms of income, is the public treasury. And such money stays in the treasury until Congress determines how it is to be used.
“As the Constitution says, “No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.” The appropriation can be either through the general appropriations law or through special appropriations. This provision prevents members of Congress, and the President, from indiscriminately spending unappropriated money.
With the DAP, it is clear according to the SC decision that the administration went way beyond what the Constitution prescribes, and what the GAA for 2011, 2012 and 2013 authorized.
Again and again, the majority opinion penned by Justice Lucas Bersamin enumerates in detail how laws and procedures were violated, and how the government’s arguments in defense of the DAP failed to persuade the court.
A budget within a budget
Perhaps the most damning observation of all was justice Arturo Brion’s comment in his concurring and separate opinion, that the administration through the DAP created a “budget within a budget.”
“By facilitating the use of funds not classified as savings to finance items other than for which they have been appropriated, the DAP in effect allowed the President to circumvent the constitutional budgetary process and to veto items of the GAA without subjecting them to the 2/3 overriding veto that Congress is empowered to exercise.
“Additionally, this practice allows the creation of a budget within a budget: the use of funds not otherwise classifiable as savings disregards the items for which these funds had been appropriated, and allows their use for items for which they had not been appropriated.”
Public officials should go and fall if they must
The statement that probably sent shivers down the spines of President Aquino and Butch Abad were these tough and uncompromising words of Justice Brion, which underline the public accountability that our Constitution has enshrined:
“Institutions are irreplaceable but public officials are not and should go and fall if they must.
“This is the type of action that will enhance transparency and public accountability. That those who erred must suffer is a consequence that evildoers should have foreseen even before they undertook their illegal and unconstitutional act.”
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In closing, I want to reiterate a point I briefly sketched in my previous column.
In the three branches of government are reposed a trinity of powers:
1. Legislature (Congress) : The power of the purse.
2. President (commander-in-chief): The power of the sword.
3. Supreme Court (Judiciary): The power of judgment
As in sports, the judge’s or referee’s decision is final.
So we know who will have the last word.