Legal experts: PNoy may have done more serious offense than Corona
Law experts on Wednesday said the Aquino administration acted illegally in diverting government savings to projects identified by lawmakers under its Disbursement Acceleration Program, with the dean of the Graduate School of Law at San Beda College, Ranhilio Aquino, refuting the Palace’s attempts to legally justify its actions.
Like Aquino, constitutional expert Joaquin Bernas also questioned the legality of the Palace action.
Dean emeritus of the Ateneo School of Law, Bernas said the Constitution provides that Congress may authorize the President to transfer savings from the departments to augment approved projects only in the same department.
“So savings in the President’s budget can be transferred to items in his budget, not to other departments... or other branches of government,” Bernas said.
San Beda’s Aquino also dismissed the administration’s legal justification.
“I find it hard to believe that Palace spokespersons Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte cited the provisions they did in supposed support of DAP and other presidential (mis)uses of public funds,” Aquino said in a statement.
“It surprises me, in fact, that an attempt was even made to use these totally inapplicable provisions to defend an indefensible position.”
Earlier, the two presidential spokespersons had cited Article VI, Section 25 and sub-paragraph 5 of the Constitution and portions of the Administrative Code as the legal basis for the conversion of the government savings.
But Aquino said the cited constitutional provision would “clearly not justify DAP... except to those who refuse to see.”
The paragraph in question reads: “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of the respective appropriations.”
Aquino said the power to augment funding was not unique to the President, but shared by the heads of other branches of the government.
“In this regard and on this ground, the President then cannot claim to exercise a power that the heads of co-equal branches do not enjoy,” Aquino said.
Aquino also pointed out that except for a general statement that the DAP was taken from savings, the Palace did not say what was saved or how the funds were saved.
“Third, augmentation should be directed at the offices within the branch of government of the head who causes augmentation. So what business did the President have releasing DAP to members of the Legislature?” Aquino said.
“Leonor Briones, former national treasurer, has been right all along in insisting that there is something constitutionally amiss about members of Congress identifying projects and having them funded out of allocations to them, as individual members of the legislature. This is not the power of the purse. This is the illegal power to dip one’s hands into the purse,” Aquino said.
He said the next sub-paragraph in the same section made clear that discretionary funds would be disbursed only for public purposes to be supported by appropriate vouchers and subject to the guidelines as may be prescribed by law.
“Discretion is exercised within the bounds of an enabling law,” Aquino said. “What enabling law was passed to authorize this disbursement? For Malacanang to allocate funds to members of Congress, or to whistleblowers, there has to be a law allowing that. Where is that law?”
Aquino also dismissed the Palace citation of provisions in the Administrative Code that said savings can be used to cover deficits in the programs and projects of the department.
“This is not what happened with DAP. If Malacanang is to be believed, then savings from other departments (supposedly) were disbursed to legislators or legislators’ projects. This is not what is contemplated by the law,” Aquino said.
Aquino stopped short of calling for President Aquino’s impeachment, but said it was “at the very least...very imprudent” of the Palace to release the DAP funds soon after the conviction of the President’s political enemy, impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona, to lawmakers who supported his ouster.
“I am not saying that the President should be impeached, or that he should even be charged, but if the chief justice was ousted from the highest office in the Judiciary for a misstatement of SALN [statement of assets, liabilities and net worth], I ask: [Is the] misuse of public funds in this manner... not a much more serious offense?”
Bernas acknowledged that it would be difficult to impeach Aquino considering his political allies occupied more seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, meanwhile, said Malacańang cannot augment funding for new projects but can only add funds to existing programs.
“The Constitution is very clear that no law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriation. They allow augmentation of existing budget items in the budget. The President, Senate President and Speaker can augment any item in the budget. It has to be there already, out of savings from other appropriations,” he said in a television interview on ANC.
The former Budget secretary said that instead of coming up with a new program to stimulate the economy, the Executive department should have just asked Congress to pass a supplemental budget. – With Jennifer Ambanta