Calls to hold Aquino, gov’t officials accountable for unconstitutional acts mounting

“If DAP was really spent in ‘good faith,’ then why is the president taking too long to explain this unconstitutional mechanism? Are his Palace aides concocting a new script for him to escape liability?” – Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Why is President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III delaying the disclosure of the list of DAP-funded projects? This is the question aired today by Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon. It has now been a week since the Supreme Court (SC) struck down as unconstitutional the salient points of Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). For a week now, Aquino’s allies in Congress and his spokesmen – many suspected of having received DAP funds – have come to his defense. They are claiming that this violation of the Constitution was done “in good faith” and, as the UP faculty noted, they are belittling the SC ruling as if it is just a precaution against future DAP-like “stimulus packages.”

“If DAP was really spent in ‘good faith,’ then why is the president taking too long to explain this unconstitutional mechanism? Are his Palace aides concocting a new script for him to escape liability?” Ridon asked, recalling allegations that the “surrender” of Janet Lim-Napoles last year had been “scripted.” With other youth groups including YOUTH ACT NOW!, Ridon filed July 8, before the Office of the Ombudsman, a plunder complaint against Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad. He also vowed to file an impeachment complaint against Aquino next week.

In a statement, Ridon recalled how last year, when the public first learned about DAP as a gargantuan presidential pork barrel, “Aquino was so audacious in his defense of the DAP that he even disrupted regular TV programming just to explain.” Aquino at the time even challenged his so-called pork detractors to impeach him. But now, after the Supreme Court ruled that the main aspects of DAP were unconstitutional, Ridon noted that Aquino seems nowhere to be found.

Growing demand for accountability

This Tuesday July 8, Aquino was besieged by peoples’ organizations seeking his accountability. Typhoon Yolanda survivors rallied at Mendiola Bridge demanding an audit of the long-delayed P105-billion ($2.42 B) master plan (which they criticized as inappropriate) for the rehabilitation of Yolanda-hit areas. Joining the protest march to Mendiola commemorating the 8th month since Typhoon Yolanda, the League of Filipino Students (LFS) said the P172 billion ($3.97 B) misappropriated funds under DAP amid the allocation of a meager P32 billion ($738 M) post-typhoon aid underscores the liability of the Aquino regime and justifies the people’s call for his ouster.

UP Diliman University Council demands culpability, accountability of 'Pork Barrel King. (Press Conference Photo by M. Salamat / Bulatlat.com)
UP Diliman University Council demands culpability, accountability of ‘Pork Barrel King. (Press Conference Photo by M. Salamat / Bulatlat.com)

At the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the 1,300-strong University Council composed of assistant professors, associate professors and professors approved unanimously in its meeting July 7 their statement calling upon the Aquino government for accountability and transparency.

Recalling the statement of the UP President, together with the Presidents of Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College dated Sept. 11, 2013, the UP-Diliman University Council said on pork barrel issue: “Accountability, transparency and other principles of good governance require not only the prudent use of discretionary funds but also the assurance that public funds are used for the genuine needs of the people.”

For much of Aquino’s term, the budget for social services from health to housing to education has annually been forced to endure cutbacks, despite protestations of affected sectors. Yet, the SC ruling last week confirmed that Aquino, two years into his term (in 2011) promulgated the DAP. He introduced it at first as a “stimulus package” which, according to the UP faculty Against Congressional and Presidential Pork (UP FacPork), has done two wrongs. They said these funds are used not only to procure presidential influence on national budget spending but also to accelerate “possibly questionable realignments of funds.”

In another statement released this weekend after the SC ruled on DAP, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III is indeed “the pork barrel king,’ given that he controlled at least P1.16 trillion ($26.75 B) in Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds in 2011 and 2012 as evidenced in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of the said years. For 2013 funds have yet to be obligated.

“As it is, the combined amounts in 2011, overall savings, unprogrammed funds, continuing appropriations and unused appropriations amounted to P558-billion plus, while for 2012, it was P598 billion ($12.87 B) plus. Among all presidents, this really makes Pres. Aquino the undisputed Pork Barrel King,” said Rep. Colmenares.

Nixing Aquino coverups

Lawyer Harry Roque, member of the University Council, countered the seeming efforts by the Aquino administration and its allies to devalue the SC ruling that struck down the DAP.

As one of the petitioners and counsels also of some petitioners who assailed DAP’s constitutionality, Roque said they actually achieved “complete victory” since the Supreme Court declared as illegal all of the DAP’s acts they had questioned.

Roque said the SC decision is important because without it, the president could just have gone on violating the law enacted by Congress on how to spend the national budget (General Appropriations Act or GAA). Speaking at UP’s July 8 press conference in Filipino, Roque said that without the SC ruling declaring DAP acts unconstitutional, President Aquino would have gone on seizing budgeted funds out of projects he dislikes, junking the GAA in the process.

Lawyer Harry Roque on Aquino spokesman Edwin  Lacierda's claim that Aquino has no liability over DAP: "He probably slept through his law studies under Constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas."
Lawyer Harry Roque on Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda’s claim that Aquino has no liability over DAP: “He probably slept through his law studies under Constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas.”

Roque also clarified that under the “operative fact doctrine,” which was used by the SC in its ruling, the only party who would not be accountable is the end beneficiary, if they indeed spent the money on intended projects like, say, building classrooms. But President Aquino, the DBM, the Senators and the National Treasury who created and released the unconstitutional DAP funds, are accountable, said Roque.

“Good faith in law means you do not know of any defect in what you did,” Roque also said. But the Aquino administration could no longer use “good faith” as an excuse because according to Roque, the recent SC ruling is not the precedent, it is just an affirmation of the 1986 ruling on the case of Demetria vs Alba.

The 1986 ruling stated that the government cannot realign the budget if the funds did not come from savings, and that it can only be used within the same department, and for a line item for which the budget was lacking. Roque said you cannot just realign and spend the budget on something different.

Bayan Muna Rep. Colmenares has also disputed the “good faith” excuse by pointing to Aquino’s prior knowledge that budget realignment or impounding is actually wrong, as shown in Aquino’s bill SB 3121 as senator illegalizing Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s impoundment of the budget without congressional approval.

That is the importance of the SC ruling, said Roque – if not for this, the entire GAA could have become pork under the President’s control.

Members of UP FacPork urged the public not to fall prey to seeming efforts by Aquino allies to water down the impact of the people’s victory in having DAP declared as unconstitutional.

The petitions against the DAP have apparently succeeded. What remains “partial” to this day is the fact that reforms ridding the public funds of pork barrel are not yet complete. For example, the questions on the president’s use of Malampaya funds have not yet been resolved. In 2002, environmentalist Gerry Ortega who “they have killed,” filed a case questioning this before the regional trial court. Roque said he was the counsel of Ortega when he filed the first case questioning the use of Malampaya funds. He said it was just a few days after their first oral arguments when the first P900 million ($20.8 M) Malampaya funds were released, and these were swiftly feasted upon by the likes of Janet Lim-Napoles and Ruby Tuason, said Roque. These funds quickly disappeared, as did the next batches, without explanations until now as to where it all went.

What remains “partial” is, after declaring PDAF and DAP unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has yet to ban the spending of Malampaya funds like pork, said lawyer Harry Roque.

UP FacPork concluded in its statement that by now, “coverups have been exposed. The people must act.” They urged the public to join and support all actions within the legislature and initiatives by the people to hold President Benigno Aquino III, the “pork barrel king,” culpable and accountable for DAP and other presidential pork. ()

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