On DAP threats and blackmail

By Dean de la Paz , as posted on Blog Watch, Philippine Online Chronicles

It started with vindictiveness. Now there are threats and blackmail. Is this any way to run a government?

Not a few had viewed the irresponsible and reckless remarks of Benigno Aquino III against the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision on the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as not simply disrespectful and contemptuous of the High Court but also as a veiled threat. As the final authority and the one and only arbiter of what constitutes constitutionality under our system of separate and equal branches of government, it is incredulous that a public official like Aquino who has specifically vowed to protect, abide and defend the constitution should threaten a conflicted third party’s intervention when the Executive and the Judicial disagree on constitutional interpretation.

The question of constitutionality is not a street corner fight. Matters are not settled that way. Aquino needs to grow up. Government is not yet the gutter that officials continue to turn it into.

Citizens must abide by the constitution. While those elected to the presidency are no longer ordinary citizens the president has the specific charge to not only abide but to defend and protect it. Among the individual definitions of “abide”, “defend and protect” there are profound differences. Citizens are compelled to adhere to the constitution’s word. Presidents are charged to defend also its spirit. Either our officials have once again sunk to juvenile delinquency and chronic brattishness or they’ve forgotten the lessons taught in their youth in civics, social studies, government and plain and basic good manners.

On matters of constitutionality there can be no arguments as to the authority of the SC to determine constitutionality. Neither the Executive nor the Legislative branches can negate the SC on such matters either singularly or together should they even consider gang-banging the SC as Aquino seems to allude, or worse, even brazenly invite.

Given the apparent low caliber intellectual capacity within the Executive Branch, its mediocrity combined with the dearth of principle, character and credibility widespread within the Legislature, between master and kennel, the chemistry does not exactly overpower the credibility of the SC on even a good day.

Typhoon Glenda was not as devastating as Yolanda but it had brought on similar fears of twice-over victimization, first from nature, and then again, from government ineptitude. In recent days, in the aftermath of last week’s devastating storm whose casualty count continues to rise, we are yet treated to another callous act.

If the contempt for our constitution by the Executive Branch belies the utter lack of decency of our highest officials, the latent threat to the public and its institutions takes latent official gutterspeak one over.

The first employs that howling kennel at Batasan Hills. Pork barrel-fed congressmen have assured Aquino that they will block any impeachment initiatives. That is understandable in the light of recent revelations that 90% of the DAP Special Allotment Release Orders (SARO) issued by Malacanang was malversed through congressional claws.

It is this same body that was unleashed like attack dogs upon the SC’s Judicial Development Fund (JDF) – an internal fund directly controlled by the SC’s Chief Justice and drawn, not from our taxes as are PDAF and DAP, but from court and docket fees. As such, those funds are not bound by the strictly savings, cross-border and General Appropriations Act (GAA) limitations.

The second act of puerile vindictiveness involves projects critical to the public welfare.

The broadsheets had initially reported that since over Php 5 billion earmarked from the DAP was to be spent for flood control projects, officials announced that, owing to the SC declaration of unconstitutionality, the project might either be placed on hold or outrightly cancelled.

The timing of the declaration could not have been more ominous following the onslaught of a devastating typhoon with another brewing well on its heels. Imagine the terror felt by victims gathering what little they have of their belongings as they pick through the rubble only to hear in the distance announcements from the government that critical services might be denied them. For those able to discern deeper, imagine the incredulity of an emerging reality where the government we trust stakes critical multi-billion life-saving infrastructure on the conditional and contingent, whimsical and unchecked realignment of funds deemed illegal and unconstitutional.

So that there may be no misunderstanding, allow us to quote relevant portions verbatim where Aquino’s officials said in the aftermath of a Typhoon Glenda, that “with the Supreme Court ruling, I have no choice (but to temporarily shelve the projects) until a supplemental budget is passed to implement them, particularly those that have yet to be started.”

Had not Malacanang initially degraded itself by threatening the SC over its decision to declare the DAP unconstitutional and then unleashed its allies to pry open the JDF, then the public would not have readily thought that statements such these which threaten critical projects are themselves veiled threats to the public that generally supports the SC. The propensity to imagine the worst has been previously predicated when, previously, the reckless and guttersnipe behavior of even the highest government officials sank to its lowest levels in the gutter.

Against such reckless behavior, the public’s fears are only reasonable where critical anti-calamity infrastructure might be threatened.

For instance, before 2013 ended Php 5 billion in DAP funds went to 15 projects under a Flood Management Master Plan for Metro Manila and its environs. This is in addition to Php 3.94 billion received in 2012 for eight previous projects and another Php 1.06 billion in the third quarter of 2013. All these were cross-border re-channelled into DAP regardless of whether they were originally intended for other uses, or were actual remnant funds from completed projects. Note that the substantive amounts were only recently reallocated much too late in the year to have any substantial impact on 2013’s GDP growth as claimed by Malacanang and its pork barrel-fed legislators.

Belying reports of vindictiveness, blackmail and threats upon the public, officials are now back-pedaling and employing damage control measures by saying that the flood control measures will continue. Reports to the contrary, flood control spending will push through. The only difference is that these will now have to be sourced the legally via the GAA.

Even as the government had belatedly corrected impressions that it had effectively blackmailed the public by inflicting such tact, there remains the question of propriety in their original intention to misappropriate un-budgeted funds for major multi-billion projects that, while reasonably necessary, had not gone through the congressional sieve which allocates limited funds among limitless options. If this is the way we earmark critical funding, relying on contingent and illegal processes, then it is no longer surprising that billions more might be lost to corruption as the system government has adopted is subject to wanton whim.