MANILA, Philippines - Malacanang has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to again defer the presentation of its defense on the legality of President Aquino's controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
In a motion filed yesterday, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) asked the high court to reset the continuation of the oral arguments on nine petitions assailing the constitutionality of the DAP.
The second oral argument is set on Jan. 28, which was rescheduled from Dec. 10 last year upon the request of the Senate and House of Representatives to allow them to get their own lawyers, separate from the OSG.
The OSG, which represents Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad in the case, told the high court it would not be ready with its defense of the assailed funds and sought to reset the debate to March 25.
The government has tapped the services of retired SC Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza as collaborating counsel in the case. The OSG said Mendoza “needs additional time to review the documents to be submitted by the DBM to prepare for the oral arguments.”
The OSG said their motion is not intended to delay the proceedings and is meant solely to allow the respondents to provide the SC with a “coherent, verified and diligently prepared set of evidence packets” to help understand the factual bases of the DAP.
The OSG also sought more time to comply with the high court’s order for the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to submit on or before Jan. 21 a list of the sources of funds brought under the DAP, the uses of such funds pursuant to DAP per project or activity and its legal bases.
Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza asked the SC in the same motion to give them until March 18 to comply with the order, saying the DBM did not have enough time to prepare the documents as it was busy preparing for the 2014 national budget and efforts to provide immediate relief and rehabilitation to areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
The order on the DBM was sought by one of the petitioners, former Iloilo congressman and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority head Augusto Syjuco Jr., who wanted a disclosure on the sources and beneficiaries of the assailed funds.
The OSG had defended the legality of the DAP in its comment, saying it is “neither a fund nor an appropriation, but a program or an administrative system of prioritizing spending.”
“As is obvious from its name, it is a program for accelerating disbursements,” it added.
The OSG said what is only unstated in the title of the program is that the sources of the funds are from legitimately generated savings of the government and unprogrammed funds under the budget.
The OSG said the DAP was a “necessary implication” of the President’s authority pursuant to Article VII, Section 17 of the Constitution.
It said the DBM is likewise empowered to issue rules and regulations “to carry into full effect the laws relating to matters within its jurisdiction” for the “achievement of more economy and efficiency in the management of government operations.”
“The President, through the DBM, implemented the DAP in order to accelerate public spending, push economic growth, and promote prudent fiscal management. This is a plain executive policy-making, nothing more,” it said.
The OSG added the Constitution authorizes the President to “augment any item in the general appropriations law for (his) office from the savings in other items of (his) appropriations.”
“Following this rule, a legal authorization can be issued to allow the President to go beyond the original appropriation by augmenting deficient items with savings from other items,” the OSG said.
The first oral argument was held last Nov. 19 with counsels of Syjuco and eight other petitioners – lawyers Jose Malvar Villegas Jr. and Manuelito Luna; Philippine Constitution Association; Integrated Bar of the Philippines; Bayan Muna, Kabataan and Gabriela party-list groups; Christian sects led by losing senatorial candidate Greco Belgica; Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees, and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.
The petitioners alleged that the DAP violates the exclusive power of Congress to appropriate funds just like in the Priority Development Assistance Fund.
They said the use of the DAP violated Article VI, Section 29 (1) 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 said the Constitution also prohibits transfer of funds between branches of government without necessary law.
They said Article XXV, Section 24 and Article VI, Section 25 of the Constitution, which give Congress exclusive power of the purse and requires a law in transferring appropriations from one government branch to another.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) accused the administration yesterday of conditioning the public’s mind on the legality of the DAP.
UNA secretary-general Toby Tiangco said the Liberal Party (LP) seems very confident the SC will junk the nine petitions questioning the DAP’s constitutionality.
“There’s something fishy with the remarks made by Rep. Miro Quimbo and Rep. Rey Umali that they are ‘certain’ that the Supreme Court will declare the DAP constitutional,” he said. “Their optimism seems to confirm rumors that the administration has finally succeeded in their plan to pressure some justices to rule in favor of DAP.” Tiangco said LP allies were able to take advantage of the long holiday break to work on their agenda.
“The confidence in Quimbo’s and Umali’s statement is likely grounded on something solid,” he said.
“I can only suspect that they have something up their sleeves that’s why they are now conditioning the public’s mind that the DAP will be declared constitutional by the SC because the law allows the President to freely transfer savings to projects which are not sufficiently funded.”
Tiangco said Umali has already raised the impeachment banner against several justices on issues of judicial despotism and questioned the SC’s jurisdiction on the citizenship case of Marinduque Rep. Regina Ongsiako-Reyes.
“Last month, LP allies in Congress started passing around an ‘impeachment’ document in the guise of a resolution,” he said. “They have already gathered a significant number of signatures which they can easily convert as an impeachment complaint against the SC justices.” Tiangco said Umali’s energy and persistence to mobilize LP allies in Congress last year is clearly linked to the administration’s agenda of splitting the 15-member SC on the DAP’s legality.
The holidays gave the administration a chance to buy time and increase pressure on the SC to rule favorably on the DAP on Jan. 28. –With Jose Rodel Clapano