I cannot run out of words to describe how low our Congress, has stooped to be so subservient to, or so fearful of President Aquino.
With his Disbursement Acceleration Program, which threw to the dustbin Congress’ appropriations law, Aquino has politically slapped its members on their faces.
With his “I-am-not-a thief” speech in which he claimed he had the power to use budget funds at his whim, Aquino spat on their faces.
Is there a protest from Congress, from its leaders Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, against the President’s usurpation of their authority to determine how government funds can be used?
Not even a whimper. Not even a “please no more.”
There is clearly a public outrage over Aquino’s fiscal dictatorship. Eight different petitions were filed at the Supreme Court asking it to rule it unconstitutional, by groups representing the entire political spectrum, among them: Left organizations, several party-list representatives, NGOs, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Philippine Constitutional Association, religious groups, and government employees belonging to eight huge labor unions.
Congress didn’t protest at SC
Congress is not among these groups, not even its members except for a few party-list representatives, when it should have been the first to ask the High Court to rule whether Aquino’s DAP violates the
Constitution or not, since it is its power that the president hijacked.
Congress has been so quick to call investigations of this and that, obviously relishing such broad power to act as an inquisition “in aid of legislation.” In such investigations, senators and congressmen have demonstrated how arrogant they are, as if they above the law in trampling upon citizens’ rights.
The Senate’s Blue Ribbon Committee had had six sessions investigating alleged scams involving the pork barrel funds, which according to the estimates—unverified, however—by a newspaper that broke the story amounted to P10 billion.
But the DAP involved sixteen times more, P158 billion. Is it because the P10 billion, since the budget department released only data it wanted to, implicated only opposition senators, while the P158 billion was hijacked by their benefactor, the President?
Why can’t Congress call for an investigation how it was politically raped by Aquino through the DAP?
Why doesn’t it call Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, or if they fear the former congressman of the smallest district in the country, just his undersecretaries to explain what the DAP is about?
Congress decided through the budget law it passed that the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao should get taxpayers’ money, i.e., a budget of P13 billion in 2012.
Aquino’s DAP nearly doubled that, throwing P8 billion more to a regional government notorious as a dark hole of state funds. Aquino’s DAP gave more than P2 billion more to Social Welfare Dinky Soliman’s dole-out programs which are a form of vote-buying for the 2016 elections.
Aren’t these allocations crying out for full-blown congressional investigations?
DAP strikes at the root of our system
Aquino’s DAP strikes at the very root of our republican system. Starting with the First Congress created in 1946—and even in its prototypes during the American occupation, the Philippine Legislature (1916-1935) and the National Assembly (1935-1941)—our version of a national legislature, the supreme embodiment of democracy anywhere in the world— always held the so-called power of the purse.
That is, Congress—and not one man, the President—determines how each and every peso of taxpayers’ money is spent. It is the most common feature of all democracies all over the world, both in their parliamentary and presidential forms, that the body elected by the people which has the sole power to enact laws, also has the sole authority to determine how government money is to be used.
This power represents a deep principle of republican democracy. We agree to form a nation-state which protects our life, limb, and property and which works to make the conditions of that nation-state conducive to our prosperity. But we pay a price for that state to exist: we give up part of our hard-earned money so that state can function—taxes.
To ensure though that our money is spent wisely, the constitution authorizes not a single person, such as the president, but Congress of 270 members to prepare the budget law.
Our Constitution even made sure that that no entity monopolizes the process by allowing only the House of Representatives to propose the budget total for a year. The Senate may make changes in the allocations, but it cannot increase the total. Many months and much government money are spent for officials of government agencies are hauled to Congress to justify the budgets they are asking from the legislature.
And then the Senate and the House have to tediously work out their many differences on how government money should be spent by agreeing to one single appropriations bill.
The process doesn’t end there.
As a check on Congress’ power over the purse, Constitution specified that the budget has to be approved by the President. He can even veto it and require Congress to revise it to accommodate his wishes, or else no new budget law is enacted. In that situation, the budget of the previous year is adopted for the current years’ program of expenditures.
Constitution had tight system over budget
The constitution certainly required such a tight system of checks and balances to ensure that the use of taxpayers’ money complies with the priorities set by our representatives.
Aquino threw all that out of the window through his DAP.
Congress has to do some real soul-searching, or the 16th Congress will go down in history as worse even than the fake National Assembly from 1943 to 1944 that was a puppet of Japanese imperialism, headed by President Jose Laurel and Speaker Benigno S. Aquino, or Marcos’ stamp-pad Batasang Pambansa.
Congress should realize that the issue has gone beyond their little selves, and what they do now would, to paraphrase that cliché, echo to the future.
With many of its members accused of outright thievery of pork-barrel funds, an unprecedented accusation, Congress has to salvage its integrity and prestige for the sake of our republican system.
There was similar momentous moment faced by the US Congress, with its decision resulting in the strengthening of American democracy, and contributing to its becoming the sole superpower in the succeeding decades.
That was in August 1974 when Nixon’s Republican Party told him that it would not block an impeachment move the Democrats threatened to undertake against him for covering up the theft of Democratic Party’s records by White House operatives at Watergate Hotel.
That was a remarkable demonstration of US lawmakers’ patriotism by putting the welfare of their nation above those of their parties.
Congress can only salvage its integrity, and strengthen our democratic system of strong institutions, if they impeach Aquino now for his gross violation of the Constitution through his DAP. As what the Republicans did in Nixon’s case, leaders of Congress can also tell him to resign to spare the country of a politically unstable and dangerous period.
With Congress, the second branch of our Republic, so subservient to Aquino, and even the Fourth Estate appearing to be similarly so, our nation has become vulnerable to military intervention, on the valid justification that the Constitution and even the Press have failed.
I hope Congress lives up to the call of the times. Our democracy and our economy have already been so damaged by extra-constitutional upheavals.
www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph