Ex-budget chief fears crisis over DAP row

Posted at 07/15/2014 4:56 PM | Updated as of 07/15/2014 5:13 PM

MANILA – Former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno said a confrontation between the executive and the judiciary branches over the controversial disbursement acceleration program (DAP) would be regrettable.

Diokno, a critic of the controversial discretionary funds which were earlier declared partially unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, said a crisis involving the two branches of government at this point of the Aquino presidency would be nothing but counterproductive.

''The president's term is running out fast… Instead of picking up a fight, he should focus on governance,'' Diokno told radio dzMM.

In a televised address on Monday, President Aquino again defended the DAP and even questioned the high court's decision. He urged the SC to reverse its ruling.

''My message to the Supreme Court: We do not want two equal branches of government to go head to head, needing a third branch to step in to intervene. We find it difficult to understand your decision,'' Aquino said.

Under the now defunct DAP, funds from slow-moving governments were declared as ''savings'' even before the end of the fiscal year and then funneled into other projects, some of which were not indicated the General Appropriations Act. Critics said this move is a usurpation of the Congress' power over budgetary and financial matters.

Pundits believe Aquino's message to the high court was a veiled threat. Diokno agrees, saying he fears the controversial funds might trigger Aquino and his allies in Congress to go after the SC justices either through impeachment or cutting the budget for the judiciary.

In Congress, there are also efforts by Aquino allies to scrutinize the SC's Judiciary Development Fund.

''This is a challenge for the SC. The justices must unite. If there will be a clash between the President and the SC – while the President has the army, the SC has the people behind her,'' Diokno said.

''But we don't want to reach that scenario. I think the President has lost his cool, and he has to recover from this."

Diokno added that a reversal of the SC ruling – a scenario some say is highly unlikely to happen –will only give the impression that the high court yielded to pressure from Malacañang.

ADMINISTRATIVE CODE

Diokno also dismissed the administration's usage of a provision of the Administrative Code of 1987 in defending the DAP.

In his speech, Aquino cited a chapter in the code which gives the Executive the authority to use savings in appropriations to cover deficits.

Aquino said the SC seemed to have overlooked the code in deciding on the DAP's legality.

Section 39 of Book IV, Chapter 5 of the Administrative Code provides that, ''any savings in the regular appropriations authorized in the General Appropriations Act for programs and projects of any department, office or agency, may, with the approval of the President, be used to cover a deficit in any other item of the regular appropriations."

Diokno, however, said the code is superseded by the Constitution.

Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of San Beda Graduate School of Law, said the SC magistrates may have dismissed the argument about the Administrative Code simply because it is not a relevant one.

''They issued separate opinions. That means they studied the case very carefully,'' Fr. Aquino said.

Fr. Aquino said the President's speech was very unbecoming of a statesman. He said the president may have encouraged people to ignore the Constitution and the exclusive powers of the three branches of government.

''If he wants to avoid crisis really puts the welfare of the country above everything else, then he must respect the exclusive powers of the branches of government,'' the dean said.