By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The upcoming fifth and penultimate State of the Nation Address of Pres. Benigno Aquino III is shaping up to be the most turbulent in his administration. Just recently, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to the administration when it declared the Aquino government’s version of the pork barrel, the Disbursement Acceleration Program, as unconstitutional.
It is a big blow to the administration not only because it stopped the implementation of and disbursements from the said fund, and now Congress is contemplating the enactment of a supplementary budget to supposedly continue the projects being funded by it. The graver implication of the ruling is that it placed President Aquino, his alter ego Budget Sec. Florencio “Butch” Abad, and his allies in the same position as the three opposition senators that it has ordered prosecuted and jailed: they were allegedly caught doing an illegal act.
This also sent the image of anti-corruption and good governance crusader that Pres. Benigno Aquino III has been building, since his presidential campaign, crashing. This is why this past week President Aquino has been scarce in public. Malacañang has been coming up with all sorts of lame excuses for not responding to the Supreme Court decision: Budget Sec. Abad is too busy to comment; the Aquino administration acted in good faith and could not be held liable; Malacañang is still studying its legal options; Budget Sec. Abad and other officials of the government did not personally benefit from the DAP.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Supreme Court “turned the world upside down” when it ruled that the operative fact doctrine does not apply “to the authors, proponents and implementors of the DAP unless there are concrete findings of good faith in their favor by the proper tribunals.” Lacierda was right. The Supreme Court ruling on the DAP did “turn the world upside down,” but not by the way he meant it. The ruling turned the world of the Aquino administration upside down.
The Aquino administration is in a fix right now. Of course it can appeal the ruling, but it runs the risk of being slapped twice if the Supreme Court does not overturn its own decision. It could not delay taking action on the decision much longer. So what would it do?
The Aquino government could not simply go back to business as usual even if it claims that it has already discontinued both the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the DAP. Who will take the fall? Even if the Aquino administration persists in professing that it acted in good faith, the fact of the matter is that it did an unconstitutional act.
The most logical person to take the fall for the Aquino administration is Budget Sec. Abad. He is, after all, the architect and co-creator, with President Aquino, of the DAP. But Sec. Abad is the alter ego, the most trusted person of President Aquino. He holds the purse of the Aquino administration. If the most trusted Cabinet official, the holder of the purse of the Aquino administration – which built itself on an image of good governance – falls, so will the credibility of President Aquino and the whole government.
Second, how could it continue focusing its attacks on the opposition when it is now also being held accountable for creating and implementing the DAP? Malacañang could no longer be selective in running after people and continue shielding its officials and allies.
It could always say that the three senators that it is prosecuting allegedly benefited personally from the PDAF but its officials did not do so from the DAP. But the SC ruling only dealt with the DAP as a whole. The high court’s ruling declaring it as unconstitutional opened the gates for a deeper investigation on how it was allocated, disbursed, and spent.
There is still no closure to Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s accusation that pork barrel funds, which turned out to be the DAP, was used to reward lawmakers who voted for the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona. Added to this, the multisectoral alliance Bayan is already seeing irregularities in how the DAP was allocated and disbursed.
Third, the PDAF and DAP rulings could be used as precedent to run after the other pork barrel or discretionary funds of the president, which, progressive groups said, are much bigger.
Fourth, how could the Aquino administration continue mustering support for its acts, policies and proposed legislation when it lost its carrot, the DAP, and is in danger of losing all the other discretionary funds of President Aquino, if progressive groups and the Filipino people persist in calling for the abolition of all forms of pork barrel funds. Added to this, the 2016 election is fast approaching and history has shown that pork barrel and other discretionary funds have been used by the administration to gain advantage over the opposition.