POSTSCRIPT / July 22, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Aquino-SC quarrel is all about money

BLACKMAIL?: The impending collision between the Executive and the Judiciary, particularly between Malacañang and the Supreme Court over constitutional issues, will not be an accident.

The coming crash is deliberate, premeditated and suicidal. And it is all about money – taxpayers’ money.

In orchestrated blackmail fashion, Executive agencies are suspending high-profile projects and services while telling those affected that it is the fault of the SC for trashing as unconstitutional cross-border expenditures under the Disbursement Acceleration Program of Malacañang.

This is a clear contemptuous attempt to undermine the authority of the Supreme Court to interpret the law and erode respect for a coequal branch of government. People pressure is being applied on the SC to change its unanimous adverse decision against DAP.

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BUCK-PASSING: The Executive is again trying to pass the blame for its lackluster performance. But even without the SC ruling on DAP, many time-bound projects and services are already either doomed to fail or to underperform.

President Noynoy Aquino is not only on his usual Blame Game track. He is also slyly trying to change the subject through a massive disinformation campaign.

In the petitions filed with the Supreme Court, the key issue is the constitutionality of DAP. The debate is not over the extraneous question of whether or not some government officials stole DAP funds or that the projects/services that were funded benefited the people.

Whether some officials profited materially from DAP funds or not has no direct bearing on the constitutionality issue. To raise the question of fund misuse and determine the guilt or innocence of anybody will require the filing of another case before the proper court.

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PALACE FAULT: By all indications, Malacañang has mobilized the bureaucracy, its congressional troops and some people’s organizations to declare that DAP projects in their areas have benefitted them and they want them continued.

If their claim is true that some projects are in danger of being suspended and essential services stopped because they lacked money and had to use cross-border funds, the fault does not lie with the Supreme Court but with Malacañang.

The national budget is prepared by the Palace. It is its responsibility to make sure that adequate funds are allocated for offices, projects and services listed in the appropriations measure submitted to the Congress.

It is the problem and responsibility of Malacañang if it submitted wrong estimates and then had to resort to unconstitutional diversion (such as in the case of DAP) when more funds are needed.

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JDF NOT SAME AS DAP: Pressing his attack on the Supreme Court (while denying it), the President and his lieutenants have started questioning the Judicial Development Fund administered by the Chief Justice, calling it the court’s version of pork barrel.

The fund, running into billions each year, is raised from court fees and used exclusively by the judiciary without having to secure the approval of the Congress or be subject to the prioritizing of Malacañang.

One key difference, however, is that while DAP is not authorized by law, JDF was created by Presidential Decree 1949 in July 1984. The fund was intended precisely to enhance the independence of the judiciary by giving it access to money to augment its meager budget allocation.

The decree allocates at least 80 percent of JDF for court personnel’s cost of living allowances, and not more than 20 percent for office equipment and facilities.

The PD says the Chief Justice “shall administer and allocate the Fund and shall have the sole exclusive power and duty to approve authorized disbursements and expenditures”.

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MOODY MALACAÑANG: If President Aquino begrudges the Supreme Court this special fund, he can direct his allies controlling the Congress to amend PD 1949 to require that all court revenues go instead to the national treasury for inclusion in the funds annually allocated in the national budget.

Such an arrangement would erode the independence of the Supreme Court, but if a petty president wants it that way it could happen. But why should judicial independence depend on the mood prevailing by the Pasig?

Is it safe and sane to have the Chief Justice lobbying with Malacañang and defending the judiciary’s budget before the Congress? It does not always happen that the Chief Justice or majority of SC members are on good terms with the Palace.

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P-NOY’S PILE: But if President Aquino wants to play the game that way, we better do it all the way. To be fair, he should be pressured to also give up his independent sources of billions outside the budget that is scrutinized and passed by the Congress.

To even the playing field and reduce misuse of public funds, taxpayers should insist on the passing of a law requiring that dividends and other contributions of government-controlled corporations go to the national treasury instead of to the war chest of the President.

Among these government firms are the cash cows Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office that stuff billions yearly into the president’s social fund.

President Aquino should also give up these sources of presidential pork and be content with playing with the billions in his intelligence fund.

Actually the President already has a mountain of money at his disposal subject to minimal auditing. It is a wonder he still had to invent what he and his Budget Secretary Florencio Abad called Disbursement Acceleration Program. Never heard of moderation?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 22, 2014)

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