MANILA - House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora on Monday called for more outspoken voices against President Benigno Aquino and his administration amid a plunge in Aquino's popularity ratings.
“We need critics, we need skeptics who can challenge government to recognize its own fallibility and espouse humility, critical citizenship is most important in critical times,” he said.
Zamora, in his "contra-SONA" (State of the Nation Address) or rebuttal to the President's SONA, also urged Aquino to stop pitching for the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
He urged the President to respect the Supreme Court's ruling on the DAP.
Zamora said Aquino should have instead said, "I may disagree with Supreme Court decision but I acknowledge the responsibility of justices who interpret . Having filed a motion for reconsideration, I will respect the final verdict."
"Regarding DAP, government should heed advice of another writer, former Budget Secretary Diokno, who said if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Don’t try to extricate yourself by digging a deeper hole,” he added.
Aquino has maintained that DAP was done in good faith.
The President also asked Congress to legislate a new definition of savings to legitimize DAP mechanisms in the national budget.
"Under DAP and associated budget circulars, the President may have disregarded specific provisions in GAA (General Appropriations Act). In effect, it treats GAA as President’s self-created all-purpose funds which the President and executive agencies can spend as they choose," Zamora said.
He added that the government should not take it against anyone that Aquino's impeachment is now being sought.
“The Constitution gives citizens only one legal option to sue the President; through an impeachment complaint... citizens can hold the President accountable and make him respond to charges," he said. "Let the truth come out every step of the way."
"About P150 billion represent total amount of public funds appropriated by Congress through a budget, but these were impounded and reallocated through the DAP. Good faith may not apply to these actions. Ignorance of the law cannot be claimed. They have an executive secretary, a chief legal counsel, a solicitor general, a justice secretary, and whole bunch of lawyers,” Zamora said.
He added Aquino and his administration only have themselves to blame. "They have only themselves to blame if citizens and their representatives want to exercise constitutional right to file an impeachment complaint. Not doing anything would send the message to plunderers and violators of Constitution that we don’t care."
Zamora said Aquino failed to mention other important items in his speech, like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States and a freedom of information law.
In his SONA, Aquino spent most of his 91-minute speech talking about the gains of the economy under his watch.
Zamora, however, belittled these achievements. He said growth has not been inclusive.
Citing national statistics, Zamora noted that poverty remains at a high level of 19.7%, a small improvement from 21% recorded by the National Statistical Coordination Board in 2006. "In 8 years we reduced poverty by a little more than 1%."
Zamora also said unemployment is 7.5%, with underemployment at 19.5% -- consistent with Social Weather Stations' survey data of 20.5% unemployment, or about 12 million people.
He underscored the need to generate more employment in industries and manufacturing, as well encourage more foreign direct investments (FDIs), as the Philippines has one of the lowest FDIs in the region.
Zamora said the government should fast-track efforts to rehabilitate areas destroyed by Yolanda, simplify government procurement, and waive cumbersome requirements.
He also wants government to mobilize, hire, and train medical and nursing graduates as public health workers.
Zamora also wants to encourage environmentally friendly mining . His own family has a mining company.
He also scored government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program that will grow to P75 billion in 2015—the year before the national elections.
“That provides temporary relief for families. That doesn’t provide what they need -- real jobs,” he said.
Zamora said the country also suffers from the high costs of power and an imminent power crisis looms.