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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Startling admissions by Sol-Gen Jardeleza and DBM Secretary Abad on DAP---that the President authorized its use in 116 projects that were ‘unconstitutional’---should be enough to doom it in the SC. Ombudsman Carpio Morales slaps Corona with perjury and forfeiture charges, but the ex-CJ vows to fight his ‘persecution and harassment all the way.’


Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza and DBM Secretary Florencio Abad
It was obvious to anti-DAP petitioners that yesterday, Feast of towering Catholic theologian St. Thomas Aquino, the Dominican Saint’s wisdom was at work in helping to knock down the arguments of Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad before the Supreme Court.

The two executive officials surprised not only the SC justices but also the Filipino people yesterday, Jan. 28, during oral arguments at the Court when they announced that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) had been scrapped since the middle of last year “because there was no longer any use for it.”

Therefore, argued the government’s chief lawyer and chief purse-keeper, the issue of DAP’s constitutionality, challenged by nine organizations, has become moot, so that the High Court “has no occasion to exercise its powers to allocate constitutional boundaries.”  

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Jardeleza and Abad instead challenged the anti-DAP petitioners to question just which of the 116 projects to which the President authorized use of the “impounded savings” of about P149 million from late 2011 to the middle of last year are "unconstitutional." Jardeleza submitted to the Court documents on these 116 projects as duly signed by P-Noy, as well as records showing that DAP was formally instituted in July 2012 by National Budget Circular No. 541, issued by Abad.

But the most startling development at yesterday's hearing was, as a newspaper quoted it, when Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio “asked Jardeleza if savings used to augment items out of the budget was unconstitutional and the latter agreed with him.” Jardeleza AGREED that DAP was unconstitutional.

Right then and there, the Sol-Gen's admission should have finished the oral arguments. P-Noy should now be squirming---and pondering what to do with his chief lawyer.

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The question is, why did the two executive officials choose to moot the DAP issue?  My educated guess is that it was obviously meant to pre-empt any move by the High Court to rule against its constitutionality, and thus rescue the President from prospects of being impeached on this issue. 

Legal luminaries and political analysts argue that savings from the executive department cannot be allocated to projects outside of that department without the benefit of congressional appropriation. As former diplomat and Washington-based analyst Ado Paglinawan points out, the power of appropriation is an act assigned specifically by the Constitution to the Lower House of Congress; so that when the President can lump these sums and re-allocate them as he pleases, such as for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, “this is a brazen usurpation of powers that the Lower House does not even share with the Senate.”

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With yesterday’s stunning admission by the executive department that the DAP has been scrapped,  a citizen posted the query in FB:  does cancelling the commission of a crime cancel as well its criminal liability? Obviously not. As former National Treasurer of the Erap administration Leonor Magtolis Briones, one of the anti-DAP petitioners, put it, “Government’s attempt to make our DAP petitions moot is in effect an attempt to make illegal acts impossible to punish.”

For one thing, the movement launched two weeks ago by former Sen. Kit Tatad to gather one million signatures for the impeachment of President Aquino has just gained added impetus from the clear admission, supported by documents, of Sol-Gen Jardeleza and Sec. Abad that P-Noy himself had designated those 116 projects to be funded by DAP. The two officials admitted  that it was “an executive decision” to use those savings to stimulate the economy---instead of channeling them to the National Treasury for re-appropriation by Congress the following year.

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To presidential critics lusting after the impeachment of P-Noy, this admission of his authorization to spend the savings outside of the budget constitutes the “smoking gun.” Impeachment, however, may be tough to prosper in the House, considering his control of that chamber.

But then again, given the temper and mood of the public and all the blasted problems bedeviling this administration---and the fact that, as per the two executive officials’ admission, there's no longer any DAP to "influence" representatives---it’s tempting to recall the line in a song by Frank Sinatra, “Who knows where the road will lead us?" Indeed, only a fool can say. 

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The DAP had been a secret weapon tightly-guarded by the Palace for some time, but it was blown out in the open in the privilege speech of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada last September, wherein he spoke of extra bonus amounts varying from P50 million to P100 million handed out to the senators who voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona at the end of May 2012. 

A letter from then Senate Finance Committee Chair Franklin Drilon was revealed by Estrada, seeking from senators where they wanted their allocations bestowed prior to the conviction of CJ Corona.

At the SC hearing yesterday Justice Lucas Bersamin pointedly asked Secretary Abad to clarify reports that senators benefited from the DAP during Corona’s trial. Abad denied the allegations, arguing that, as media reported, “the senators merely recommended to use savings to augment certain items deficient in the items of budget of certain departments.”

Abad’s assertion raises another question: why did it have to be the senators to make the recommendations about filling deficiencies of certain departments? Why not the executive department itself, which is then allowable? It’s easy to see how suspicions of kickbacks to the senators would be kicked up by such statement.

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The interesting thing is that so studded with holes is the DAP issue that even justices appointed by the President, such as CJ Lourdes Sereno and Justice Marvic Leonen joined the more independently perceived justices such as Arturo Brion and Lucas Bersamin in lambasting various aspects of this issue.

After that damaging oral argument session by Jardeleza and Abad, it’s difficult to think that SC would vote to uphold the DAP. As former Chief Justice Reynato Puno opined to an informal group weeks back, if the Court votes to uphold DAP after ruling 14-0 against the PDAF, “masisira ang SC.”

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The entire impeachment and trial of Corona in Congress has reeked of bribery in the many millions of pesos and skulduggery reminiscent of gangster movies---one of the darkest episodes in the history of the Philippine legislature.  But that didn’t end in Congress, for today Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales slapped charges of perjury and forfeiture against former CJ Corona.

The embattled CJ has issued a statement that the administration obviously is not content with removing him from office. Professing that "whatever we have is the product of 45 years of hard and honest work," and that "I have never been involved in any anomalous or illegal transaction in my life," Corona vowed to fight his persecution and harassment all the way, "knowing that truth is on my side."

With all the charges of bribery, dirt and trickery raked up within the House since Corona's impeachment was pushed by a vengeful administration angry about a 14-0 vote vs. Hacienda Luisita in the SC under his watch---and which marred his trial in the Senate with equally generous helpings of PDAF and DAP---public sympathy is definitely with the former Chief Justice.




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