Former chief justice Reynato Puno came to the defense of the Supreme Court (SC) after President Aquino criticized it on national television over its ruling declaring portions of his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) illegal.
Puno stressed that when the high court struck down the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel of lawmakers in a decision last year, a similar ruling on DAP should not be a surprise.
“After the PDAF decision, it was easy to anticipate the SC would not have a different ruling on the DAP,” he explained in a rare interview last Tuesday night.
The former top magistrate believes that the constitutional violation under DAP is more grave than in PDAF.
“I would say that the issues raised by the petitioners in the DAP cases are more serious issues of constitutionality,” he said.
Puno said the Constitution clearly provides that “no public money shall be spent except on the basis of appropriation passed by Congress.”
At least under the pork barrel system, projects of lawmakers are covered by the General Appropriations Act (GAA) unlike in DAP, he pointed out.
Puno also rebutted the President’s persistent claim of good faith in justifying the economic stimulus program.
He said the issue of good faith, as specifically laid down in the SC ruling last July 1, is a “difficult subject matter.”
He said officials behind the DAP cannot be automatically cleared of any liability just because the program yielded some positive effects on the country’s economy.
He also expressed belief that the SC rulings on DAP and PDAF have provided “starting points” for budgetary reforms – especially with the possibility of such funds being revived in other forms.
“It’s always a possibility. There are no borders to our imagination,” he said.
“The people should be on the lookout, should be vigilant that the budget that will come from Congress will follow the decisions of the high court,” he stressed.
The former SC chief earlier proposed a People’s Initiative to abolish all forms of pork barrel in government.
After a public rebuke of the SC ruling, Aquino said the government would file a motion for reconsideration.
“We do not want two equal branches of government to go head to head, needing a third branch to step in to intervene,” the President said in his speech.
Aquino’s statement came almost simultaneously with the release of a Commission on Audit report questioning the high court’s P3.19-billion savings in 2012.
The COA said the SC had declared savings of P3.19 billion in 2012 even when it had several unpaid obligations during the year. The report said the SC used its budget for 2013 to pay for the expenses.
Ousted chief justice Renato Corona had called on Aquino-appointed Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno to answer the attacks made by the President on the judiciary.
SC spokesman Theodore Te said the high court had “no comment” on the President’s tirade.
An insider said the SC’s keeping its silence may be in deference to the filing of an appeal by the Palace. A source said appealing the decision would make it pending again, hence any discussion on the issue may be considered sub judice.
In a 92-page decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the high court held that acts and practices under the DAP violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers and the provision prohibiting inter-branch transfer of appropriations.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Arturo Brion, in separate opinions, cited possible liabilities of the President and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
In his 27-page concurring opinion, Carpio said it was no less than the President who violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers of the three equal branches of government in approving the DAP releases that amounted to over P149 billion from October 2011 to September 2013.
The magistrate cited the admission of Abad before the high court that the DAP, National Budget Circular No. 541 and related executive issuances were approved by the President.
Brion, for his part, detailed the possible culpabilities of Abad. He cited in his 62-page opinion “indicators showing that the DBM Secretary might have established the DAP knowingly aware that it is tainted with unconstitutionality.”
He said Abad cannot invoke good faith in justifying the DAP considering his being a lawyer as well as his experiences both in the executive and the legislative branches.
Written by: Edu Punay