Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 2      February 13-19, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Presidential Idolatry and the Constitution

“I charge the President with culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust on three counts for which she is answerable under Section 2, Article XI.”

By Sen. Aquilino Pimentel
Posted by Bulatlat

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. President, for your kind invitation – which Zyke Garcia conveyed to me - to speak before the members of the Philconsa today on the occasion of Constitution Day.

Today is also the 115th birth anniversary of the eminent constitutionalist, Claro M. Recto, who presided at the Constitutional Convention in 1934. It was the Recto-led Convention that produced the 1935 Constitution, the first Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and also the first Constitution of the Republic.

We now have a new basic law of the land, the 1987 Constitution, the 3rd since the 1935 fundamental law. In between 1935 to 1987, we had the 1973 basic law.

Importance of Constitutions

Constitutions are important in democratic countries like ours because they limit the powers of the government and ensure protection of the rights and liberties of the people.

Essentially, the provisions of our Constitutions - with the possible exception of the 1973 Basic Law - are similar. They limited the powers of government by distributing them to the three major branches of
government  and assured the people of their basic and fundamental civil, political and human rights.

Our problem, then, as regards the present Constitution is not that the powers of government are not limited because governmental powers are duly fettered. Neither does our problem arise from its failure to guarantee the basic rights and the fundamental liberties of our people because these are duly guaranteed.

Idolatrous gov't

Our problem is that the leader of the government, the President, idolizes the formalistic rituals, not the substantive mandates, of the Constitution. She engages in double speak in that she seems by her words to uphold the Constitution even as by her deeds she violates it. She apparently forgets that just as the 10 Commandments prohibit idolatrous obeisance to false gods, the Constitution also proscribes idolatrous homage to official false pretenses that promote self over the national interest.

This was what the eminent constitutionalist, Claro M. Recto, had warned against in his
September 25, 1958 speech, “The Paradoxes of Our Democracy.” He said that "The government seems to have discovered the secret of what we may call a 'democratic dictatorship'." Recto explained that under a democratic dictatorship "We are allowed to enjoy the appearances of democracy while its substance is stealthily being sucked away" xxx and "we (become) the happiest serfs because we don't realize that we are serfs and we believe ourselves to be free."

Continuing threats

Prophetically, the very things that Recto had decried decades ago as pitfalls on the road towards the attainment of our democratic ideals are as threatening today as they were then.

To go straight to the point, I charge the President with culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust on three counts for which she is answerable under Section 2, Article XI.

CHARGE NO. 1 - During the last presidential campaign, the President illegally used the trust funds raised through the Road Users Tax and of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration for her own purposes.


She had some P1.4 billion raised by the Road Users' tax transferred to fund her patently partisan political project: Kalsada Natin, Alagaan Natin.

She also authorized the transfer of some P4 billion from OWWA funds to the PhilHealth supposedly to enable the poor to have access to public health services.


While the objectives might have been good, it was still wrong for the President to have done so. The reason is that the Road Users Funds and the OWWA funds are trust funds.

The funds, therefore, cannot be used for any purpose other than that specified in the law that created them.

The Constitution mandates that: "All mon(ies) collected on any tax levied for a special purpose shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only [Article VI, Section 29 (1) 1st sentence]."

By misusing the trust funds of the Road Users Law and the OWWA, at the very least, she betrayed the public trust for which she should be made answerable.

CHARGE NO. 2 - The President illegally authorized the payment of some $68 million dollars or P3.762 billion for the purchase of six search and rescue vessels for the use of the Coast Guard without Congressional authority.


The President gave "Full Powers" on July 30, 2001 to DOTC Sec. Pantaleon Alvarez to meet, confer and negotiate in behalf of the Republic a loan agreement in an amount not exceeding $71,136,000 for the purpose of buying the six vessels.

Subsequently, she ordered the release of SAROs  on various occasions to cover the costs ($68.4 million or some P3.762 billion) of the acquisition of the six vessels.


It was wrong for the President to have done so. The Constitution is clear. "No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation by law" [Article VI, Section 29(1)].

By illegally authorizing the payment of the vessels in question without any Congressional appropriation, the President culpably violated the Constitution for which she is answerable.

CHARGE NO. 3: The President willfully and blatantly abused her power of appointment.


Because of time constraints, I will cite only the following as egregious examples of the abuse of her power of appointment.

(a) DND undersecretaries

The President abused her power of appointment by appointing six undersecretaries to the Department of National Defense. The Administrative Code of 1987 provides for the appointment of only one undersecretary. The President, however, has appointed not one but six undersecretaries and six assistant secretaries, offices that the law has not provided for.

(b) Bureau of Immigration & Deportation

The President abused her power of appointment by appointing five commissioners - one commissioner and four assistant commissioners - to the Bureau even as the law (Rep. Act No. 613, as amended) provides that there should only be three.

(c) Quedancor & Land Bank

The President abused her power of appointment by appointing Cito Lorenzo to chair Quedancor even as the law provides that it is the Secretary of Agriculture who sits as the ex-officio chair of that corporation.

The President abused her power of appointment when she appointed the same Cito Lorenzo to chair Land Bank even as the law states that it is the Secretary of Finance who acts as the ex-officio chair of the Bank.


While the power of the President to fill up offices created by law is acknowledged, the presidential power to appoint is circumscribed by applicable laws. In other words, the power to appoint is not absolute. It is limited not only by the Constitutional requirements as to qualifications but also by law as to the number of offices that may be filled up.

She also abused the presidential power of appointment by appointing Lorenzo to positions that were not vacant and were, in fact, reserved by the laws creating Quedancor and Land Bank to officials in ex-officio capacity as already mentioned.


The legal - perhaps, the better adjective is illegal -implications of her abuse of the power of appointment are the following:

1. The persons, thus appointed, illegally exercise powers either by presiding at or by participating in the meetings of their respective offices or Boards;

2. They illegally make decisions that may affect the rights and obligations of the people dealing with them; and

3. They illegally collect salaries, perks and per diems that are attached to those offices.

Usurping and bypassing Congress

The illegal exercise of the power of appointment by the president renders nugatory the power of the purse that the Constitution has placed in the hands of Congress.

Parenthetically, as the only senator from Mindanao
, I hate mentioning the appointments of Cito Lorenzo, who is also from Mindanao, to the two government-controlled financial bodies to call attention to the penchant of the President to abuse her powers of appointment.

I raise the issue only because I believe that unless we are prepared to set aside narrow partisan or parochial concerns in defense of the Constitution and the Rule of Law, I am afraid that the "stealthy" undermining by the Executive of the basic foundations of our Constitution that Recto had warned against more than 50 years ago could become more prevalent today than it was in his generation.

Willful transgressions

I cannot imagine that the President is unaware of the serious implications of her culpable transgressions of the Constitution and the Rule of Law. Although she is not a lawyer, she has a good legal team in Malacanang and has access to brilliant minds of the Bar. Her misuse and abuse of the powers of the presidential office, then, cannot but be deemed to have been done maliciously, that is willfully and deliberately, for which she is answerable under the Constitution and the applicable laws.

For the sake of our nation, the presidential legal advisers would do well to remind the President that the Constitution and the laws of this Republic are there for her to advance the public weal. The Constitution and the laws are there to remind her that the presidency is hers but only for a moment and is, thus, a stewardship that she must exercise only for the good of the nation.

Aggressive militancy

Again, let us hear what Recto had to say on the matter.  In a speech he delivered on
February 8, 1953, some 52 years ago, he said: "xxx a Constitution is only as good as the men (and women) who enforce, and the men (and women) who obey and respect it. xxx (For) we are the Constitution in the sense that it can live only in us, through us, for us and because of us."

Under Recto's thesis, the faithful implementation of the Constitution depends on: 1. the goodwill of its executors; and 2. the goodwill of the people who are expected to respect and obey it.

Without the President's honest-to-goodness commitment to uphold the Constitution, she won't be able to implement it for the good of the people.

And without the people's aggressive militancy to defend the Constitution and the Rule of Law, their basic rights and their fundamental liberties would become dead letters that mean nothing to anyone.

Reducing us to slavery

Thus, as Recto said, we would all be reduced to the status of slaves so blissfully ignorant of our having been taken in by duplicitous leaders who say one thing and do another.

May I, therefore, suggest that the Philconsa take up the cudgels in behalf of the people. After all, the Philconsa, I think, was organized precisely to protect the Constitution and uphold the Rule of Law. I suggest that there is no better opportunity for Philconsa to pursue its primary mandate than when blatant challenges confront the Constitution and the Rule of Law as they do today.

I suggest that Philconsa should do what Leonides told the invaders of his land at Thermophylae some 2500 years ago: "Here's where we draw the line and beyond it, you shall not pass!" In fine, Philconsa, perhaps, ought, perhaps, to consider filing the necessary impeachment papers against the President as was implied earlier.

Spirit of Liberty

To cap this talk, it may be good to recall what the great American jurist, Justice Learned Hand, had to say about the Constitution and the spirit of liberty.

"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it."

The converse is true that if liberty lives in the hearts of men and women, one does not need a constitution or any law or court to save it.

Let us, then, keep the spirit of liberty alive in our hearts regardless of our partisan political persuasions. After all, partisanship is merely of transitory value. But liberty endures as an eternal good.

Maraming salamat po.

(Speech of Sen. Nene Pimentel at the Philconsa commemoration of Constitution Day, Feb. 8, 2005, at the Manila Polo Club, Forbes Park, Makati City.) 



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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