SONA: The (sorry) State of NoyNoy’s Administration

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

The President delivers his State of the Nation address (SONA) today besieged from all sides. Benigno S. Aquino III (BSA) is facing the worst political crisis in his career — and it appears, from the way he is scrambling to do damage control, he didn’t even see it coming.

The BSA regime has quickly transformed from a so-called Teflon presidency to one with drastically reduced popularity ratings. With the unfavorable Supreme Court decision on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), BSA is forced to defend not just the DAP but the integrity of his vaunted Daang Matuwid governance. BSA is also confronted by three impeachment complaints for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust (two grounded on the DAP and one on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA) casting further doubt on the legitimacy of his rule.

Successive efforts by Malacañang to justify the DAP only clearly shows that people are not buying each attempt, starting from Aquino’s July 14 speech to the recent Senate finance committee hearing.

Speech after speech, BSA baldly asserts that he and his subalterns did no wrong; rather, they did right by the Constitution and by the people. Unfortunately, his political capital is no longer enough to support the line “Trust me, I am clean.” To his claim that the DAP was spent to alleviate the plight of the poor and the needy, the latter cry with disbelief and scorn: where is it?

BSA summoned his entire Cabinet to defend the DAP as well. Without the DAP, critical flood control projects in Metro Manila would be left uncompleted. (Why didn’t you sufficiently budget for them?)

Sans the DAP, state universities like the University of the Philippines and public hospitals like the Philippine General Hospital would not get additional funds. (Why did you consistently cut their budgets to the bone in the first place?)

The DAP gave soldiers housing and improved their ability to fight the “enemies of the state.” (The defense budget has always been a priority in every General Appropriations Act, so where have the gargantuan funds been going, or is the practice of “pabaon” and “conversion” still alive and kicking?)

Failing to rally the public to support him, BSA turned to his fellow Liberal party mates, notably Senate President Franklin Drilon, and the rest of his administration allies — themselves tainted by the anomalies and scams connected to the use of their pork barrel — to perform in a nationally televised scripted defense of the DAP that strains credulity.

The Court is so far standing its ground despite BSA’s attacks on it and the judiciary as a whole. There is the threat of impeachment for certain erring members should the Court not change its DAP decision; the threat of legislating the abolition of the Judicial Development Fund, a pork-like kitty intended for court employees’ welfare but also waylaid in the past; the threat of probes into the justices’ tax payments; the accusation that the SC engaged in the same practices they adjudged unconstitutional, such as cross-border fund transfers. All these are intended to badger and bully the SC justices to change their vote or amend the Court decision to give the BSA regime more wiggle room, even as it attempts to deny them the moral high ground for their earlier unanimous decision.

In his fifth SONA, BSA has to say something that can extricate himself from his growing political isolation over the DAP fiasco. But we can anticipate nothing new based on what his administration has so far shown.

BSA will stand by his basic line: “The DAP is good. Our intentions, our processes, and the results were correct.” To this he will add, the DAP is legal because it is an established practice by every Chief Executive post Marcos, a mere exercise of executive flexibility for efficiency and to benefit the public. No other previous administration had been taken to task over the practice. So, why me? (The justification sounds eerily like the Jinggoy Estrada defense: Every senator did it, so why pick on me?)

The answer is simple: BSA, you got caught by a highly vigilant public fed up with the corrupt-ridden pork barrel system.

BSA’s other line is to insist that the SC did not declare the DAP as unconstitutional, only specific acts and activities. The regime’s apologists then peddle the argument that the DAP decision is legally complex and a Motion for Reconsideration is pending, so people should not jump to conclusions, much less file “premature” impeachment cases. Meanwhile, in accord with the general principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” the BSA administration cannot be held accountable politically, civilly or criminally.

Our answer: the DAP is unconstitutional and illegal acts have been committed involving hundreds of billions of taxpayer’s money. Only an independent audit can determine where the monies were taken from and where they ended up. Therefore its authors and implementors must be held accountable. Or as a protest placard put it, “Lahat ng sangkot, DAPat managot.”

BSA’s defiant stance on the Court ruling brings to the fore a disequilibrium in the so-called checks and balance in government powers. That disequilibrium has in fact long been in the making.

It seems ironic that the pork barrel scandal — the plague of graft and corruption and patronage politics — has brought about this looming constitutional crisis. But in fact, it is simply a case of the institutional mechanism of checks and balance now on the verge of being overwhelmed by the very anomalies it is supposed to prevent or mitigate.

This explains why each post-Marcos regime was not spared from graft and corruption issues of truly scandalous proportions (Cory’s Kamag-anak Inc, Ramos’ Independent Power Producers (IPP) lopsided deals and Centennial Expo scam, Erap’s jueteng racket and Jose Velarde caper, GMA’s NBN-ZTE swindle, payolas, etc.) in whichcongressional and presidential pork barrel, patronage and bribery were key ingredients.

On one hand, this has brought about disillusionment among many of those who had participated actively in forcing the removal of erring rulers (Edsa I and II) with hopes for change in governance gradually fading, if not totally extinguished.

On the other hand, it also drives home the lesson to the less faint-hearted that the sitting President is only a symptom — although a crucial one — and not the totality of the problem. Thus, merely deposing and changing an erring President will not solve the problem entirely. The problem lies in the system, and the solution can only be system change.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published at The Business World
July 27, 2014

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