MANILA - Allies of President Aquino believe the Chief Executive is offering an olive branch to the Supreme Court when he called for legislation to address the reasons why his disbursement acceleration program (DAP) was struck down by the high tribunal.
In his penultimate State of the Nation Address Monday, Aquino urged Congress to pass a supplemental budget that would fund programs that were previously supported by the DAP.
"Ipinapanukala namin ang pagpasa ng supplemental budget para sa 2014, upang hindi naman maantala ang ating mga programa at proyekto. Kasabay po nito, nananawagan din tayo sa pakikiisa ng Kongreso, upang maipasa ang isang Joint Resolution na maglilinaw sa mga depinisyon at kaisipang tila pinagtatalunan pa-at iba pang mga usaping kayo lang sa lehislatura, bilang mga nagsulat ng batas, ang makakapaglinaw," Aquino said.
The Supreme Court earlier struck down as unconstitutional several acts under DAP including the withdrawal of funds midyear from unimplemented projects and realigning them to other items. The Court found that the President's power to augment from savings doesn't cover this.
The administration has appealed the ruling and maintained the funds were spent in good faith and were neither plundered nor squandered.
House Speaker Sonny Belmonte said the Palace has yet to bare details of their plans.
"Olive branch, l think. No details yet. But we are certainly willing to pass the supplemental budget as well as a more definite definition of savings. We will also approve a strong oversight committee," he said.
The Speaker said lawmakers will have to come up with a definition of which government savings can be used by the President.
"Certainly not something you have left over on December 31," he said.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the fact that the President said there might be a need for Congress to approve a supplemental budget and a joint resolution defining savings "is a clear indication that he will abide by the decision of the SC should their motion for reconsideration be denied."
"We will expedite consideration of both upon filing of the same in the House," he said.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Isidro Ungab said Congress will immediately respond and act on the Executive Branch's proposed supplemental budget for the projects left hanging by DAP's non-implementation.
"Alam naman natin na ang kahalagahan ng mga programang nabitin kaya't asahan ng Ehekutibo na aksyon agad ang ating tugon," Ungab said.
However, former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno does not agree with the proposal of the President. He said that instead of asking for a supplemental budget, Malacanang should just incorporate the additional funding requirement in the 2015 budget.
He said that while Aquino was "less combative, some say emotional, compared to his previous SONAs", the President "continues to justify the unlawful DAP, though subtly this time."
"His plan to submit a supplemental budget to take care of DAP related projects is puzzling. A supplemental budget requires identifying a specific funding source like new taxes. It's better to incorporate the additional funding requirement in the 2015 national budget. There's still time. The president has 30 days after his SONA to submit a budget for the ensuing fiscal year. This appears to be the most logical approach," he said.
Diokno does not think Aquino offered an olive branch to the Supreme Court.
"Mr. Aquino's request for redefinition of savings by Congress is unprecedented. It shows his continuing resistance to the SC unanimous decision. This is bad for the economy and the need to strengthen political institutions. He needs to move on. He needs to spend more time and effort finding solutions to the monumental challenges that face the country today," he said.
"Time is running out for him. Past presidents did not see the need for redefining budget concepts. What if his allies in Congress redefine budget concepts to suit his objectives? That will not be the end of it. I'm sure some constitutionalists will question such acts before the SC. Where and when will this end? I find the existing budget rules clear and fundamentally sound. They've been enriched by the two recent SC decisions on the [priority development assistance funds] and DAP. Let's move on. Let it be."
Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said some of the possible projects that will be covered by the supplemental budget can be easily determined.
Quimbo admitted the definition of savings must be further clarified. He said the juggling of funds has been a practice even of previous administrations.
He also agreed that it is time to move on.
Quimbo said the SC decisions on the DAP and PDAF, both outlawed as unconstitutional, proves that the SC is strong while the legislature is the weakest branch of government.
For his part, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon warned of a possible constitutional crisis arising from President Benigno Aquino III's request for Congress to pass a joint resolution to clarify the definition of certain budgetary terms.
"Aquino's call on Congress to pass a clarificatory resolution that would enable a change in the definition of such budgetary terms like 'savings' is a clear challenge to the Supreme Court's decision on DAP. The President is overtly asking Congress to legislate his version of the DAP story, in effect urging the Legislature to join forces with the Executive Branch in defying the third branch of government," Ridon said.
"The President's pronouncement may spark a constitutional crisis, and is a clear sign of his dictatorial tendencies," the lawmaker added.
A constitutional crisis is a situation wherein separate branches of government disagree about the extent of each branch's power, usually arising from a dispute on the interpretation of certain provisions of the Constitution.
A joint resolution passed by both chambers of Congress has the force of law once signed by the President.
"hen the SC strikes down that resolution, what will happen next? Aquino's mindless pronouncements may just have sparked a clash between government branches," Ridon said.
He said by directing Congress to formally legislate the Executive Department's interpretation of the term "savings", Aquino is blatantly defying the SC decision.
He said not only has Aquino committed contempt of court, the President is also inviting a clash between branches of government.