THE Supreme Court on Tuesday declared several actions taken under President Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional, saying they violated the doctrine of separation of powers.
Voting 13-0, the justices ruled that the respondents, led by President Beningo Aquino III, violated Article IV, Section 25 (5) of the Constitution and voided the use of unprogrammed funds by the Executive branch, Court spokesman Theodore Te said.
Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the Constitution authorizes the President and heads of other branches of government and constitutional commissions to augment any item in General Appropriations Act for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.
The Court cited three specific acts of the President and his co-respondents as being unconstitutional:
“The withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies, and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the GAA; the cross-border transfers of the savings of the Executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the Executive; and the funding of projects, activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the GAA.”
Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin wrote the decision, while Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro inhibited herself from the case.
Although Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco was not present during the voting, he left his vote with Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.
“Subject to the views expressed by some justices in their separate opinions, the Court en banc voting unanimously... partially granted the petitions for certiorari and prohibition challenging the Disbursement Acceleration Program,” Te said.
In particular, the Court declared acts under the DAP, National Budget Circular No. 541 and related executive issuances as unconstitutional.
The Court’s decision came after nine petitions challenging the DAP were filed last year by losing senatorial candidate Greco Belgica, former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco, lawyers Jose Malvar Villegas Jr. and ManuelitoLuna; the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa); Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Bayan Muna, Kabataan and Gabriela party-list groups; Confederation for Unity, Recognition and
Advancement of Government Employees; and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.
The case was heard in three-part oral arguments last January and February.
Malacanang through Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza defended the legality of the DAP, describing it as a mechanism of public expenditure designed to speed up public spending for priority programs, activities and projects with the use of savings and unprogrammed funds.
Jardeleza said there is no law required for the creation of DAP since the President has the constitutional authority to create policies in the execution of laws.
But the petitioners alleged that the discretionary fund of the President violates the exclusive power of Congress to appropriate funds—just like the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
They said the use of the DAP violated Section 29 (1), Article VI of the Constitution, which requires that “no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”
They also argued that the Constitution prohibits transfer of funds between branches of government without necessary law.
They cited Section 24, Article XXV and Section 25, Article VI of the Constitution in questioning the legality of DAP.
The first provision gives Congress exclusive “power of the purse” while the second requires a law in transferring appropriations from one government branch to another.
Petitioners also argued that the Constitution restricts augmentation of budgets of offices of 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 by their respective savings.
Aside from the President, also named respondents in the petitions were Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and the Senate and House of Representatives.
Malacañang declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision declaring several acts under the Disbursement Acceleration Program as unconstitutional.
“We will defer comment until we’ve read the full text of the decision,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Valte said the Palace will leave it up to the Office of the Solicitor General to determine whether to file a motion for reconsideration.
Earlier, the Palace said it will abide by whatever decision the Supreme Court may reach on the issue of the legality of the DAP, through which the administration disbursed P137.3 billion.
Of the total DAP funds that were used for 116 projects, 9 percent or about P12.357 billion went to lawmakers.
Philconsa officials led by its president Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and chairman Manuel M. Lazaro hailed the decision of the Supreme Court.
Romualdez said it was now the duty of the Justice Department and the National Bureau of Investigation, with the help of the Integrated Bar of the Philippine, to gather and secure all documents related to the disbursement of DAP funds, and investigate the people who caused their approval in preparation for the filing of criminal charges.
The government should exert all efforts to recover the funds as this will be a windfall recovery of funds that may be used forthe benefit of the people, Philconsa said.
Senator Francis Escudero said the Supreme Court ruling would have far-reaching consequences and effects on government budgeting and disbursement processes.
Detained Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who first exposed the existence of the DAP last year, said heads must roll and budget officials must be held accountable for the illegal disbursement of funds.
“On its face, DAP is unconstitutional. It really has no basis and it’s ...nowhere to be found in the General Appropriations Act. I thank the Supreme Court for respecting and upholding the Congress’ exclusive power of the purse,” he said.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago renewed her call to the Commission on Audit to investigate the alleged bribery of lawmakers using DAP funds to ensure the conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial.
She said all those involved in bribing senators and congressmen using DAP funds, and those who got the bribe at the height of Corona’s impeachment trial should be investigated.
She mentioned in particular Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who was behind the DAP.
“Both the pork barrel and DAP scandals are equally repulsive, and the Supreme Court declared both funds as unconstitutional. I wholeheartedly welcome the impartial adjudication of these abominable abuses of public funds by the Supreme Court since I cannot obtain relief from the Senate itself, which appeared to have been complicit in bribery,” she said.
With the Court decision, the left-wing bloc in the House demanded that President Aquino III and Abad be held accountable for inventing the DAP and abusing the program.
At the same time, one of the group’s members, Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon threatened to file an impeachment case against President Aquino.
“We have always been certain on the unconstitutionality of the DAP. We will be readying all necessary charges against officials involved in its implementation. But more important is that this constitutes the impeachable offense of culpable violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust,” Ridon said, just moments after the release of the decision.
Apart from being one of the petitioners iagainst the DAP, Ridon also filed House Resolution 359 last October which urges the House committee on appropriation and the committee on good government and public accountability to investigate the DAP.
Ridon said he was unfazed by the dominance of Aquino’s allies in the House and the Senate.
“It is a daunting task, but we are prepared to fight,” Ridon said.
Ridon added that Abad can also be charged with malversation of public funds “at the bare minimum.”
“Abad clearly committed malversation in crafting and implementing the multi-billion-peso DAP. We will file the appropriate charges against him at the soonest,” the party-list lawmaker said.
“The Filipino people need to make this arrogant administration accountable for implementing an illegal scheme that only served to further the administration’s political motives and perpetuate political patronage in government. To succeed, the Filipino people must stand united in the fight,” Ridon said.
The DAP came under fire last year after several senators revealed that funds were used as “incentives” for legislators who supported the impeachment of Corona in 2012.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said the Court decision was “just a partial victory of the people against the pork barrel system.”
“As we have orally argued before the High Court, DAP is a form of budgetary dictatorship of the Aquino administration that run afoul with the letter and spirit of the Constitution,” Zarate told the Manila Standard.
Zarate added: “DAP exposes the hypocrisy of the Aquino administration’s hallow, selective and even deceptive anti-corruption campaign.”
An administration ally, Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, said the Court’s decision should be respected.
“While it may limit the discretion of the executive, it may nonetheless affect adversely the absorptive capacity of executive agencies,”Batocabe said.
Paranaque Rep. Gus Tambunting, member of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), also welcomed the SC decision against DAP.
“I am in favor of the Supreme Court’s opinion that the DAP was not a practice in accordance with the law. Nothing in the legislated budget by Congress authorized it,” Tambunting said. “The very fact the administration stopped its implementation showed even they realized there was something wrong with it,” he added.
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