“Not unlawful to disagree”
BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has defended President Benigno Aquino taking a swipe at the Supreme Court for declaring as ‘unconstitutional’ the President’s use of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
But Duterte clarified that his defense of Aquino is outside of the legal ambit of the High Court decision on DAP and only pertains to the President’s freedom of expression and right to dissent.
Duterte said these rights, available to everybody including the President, is enshrined in the Constitution.
“You can criticize the Supreme Court, “said Duterte in his television program Gikan sa Masa Para sa Masa on ABS/CBN in Davao City. “The President has the right to be on the opposite side.”
I will defend the President’s right to dissent, he said picking up from the Voltaire quote on freedom of expression that runs “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
Asked by co-host lawyer-journalist Geraldine Tiu if Aquino’s verbal assault on the Supreme Court and its decision can be ground for impeachment, Duterte said “No.”
The President cannot be impeached just because he disagreed with the Supreme Court, he said.
Several impeachment complaints have already been filed at the House of Representatives against Aquino for his alleged misuse of DAP funds.
Aquino, chair of the Liberal Party, is a political ally of Duterte.
The Davao City mayor and his local party Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod supported Aquino’s presidential run in the 2010 elections and the Liberal party’s senatorial line-up in the mid-term elections of 2013.
President Aquino found a defender in Duterte as the President was swamped by a tsunami of criticism after he criticized the Supreme Court for its decision declaring parts of DAP as unconstitutional.
After the Supreme Court released its 13-0 ruling on the unconstitutionality of DAP use by Malacanang, Aquino warned the High Court for its decision.
“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,” he said.
The Solicitor General has filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the Supreme Court over its ruling on DAP.
Aquino said his use of DAP finds legal grounds in a provision of Administrative Code of 1987, which gives the Executive the authority to use savings in appropriations to cover deficits.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said Aquino used government savings to fund DAP without authority from Congress.
Three members of the progressive bloc — Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarrate, and Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap — endorsed the impeachment complaint against President Benigno Aquino III filed by anti-pork barrel groups at the House of Representatives in connection with the use of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), parts of which were declared by the Supreme Court (SC) as unconstitutional.
The complaint has to be calendared in the Order of Business of the Lower House and referred to the Committee on Justice.
Impeaching a sitting president needs one-third votes of the total House members before it can be sent to the Senate who will act as the Impeachment Court.
In the 75-page complaint, the group accused the President “of culpably violating the Constitution by usurping Congress’ power of the purse and undermining the principles of separation of powers and systems of check and balance.”
The House leadership has assured the inclusion of the complaint in the Order of Business for plenary referral to the House Committee on Justice when Congress resumes session on July 28.
Another impeachment complaint, endorsed by Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, was also filed by the Youth Now Movement.
Voting 13-0, Supreme Court justices struck down as unconstitutional salient provisions in the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), setting off a possible impeachment case against President Benigno Aquino III for allegedly violating the Constitution.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said the following acts under the DAP (National Budget Circular 541) are illegal for violating Section 25(5) of the Constitution regarding the use of appropriations and separation of powers:
– withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies, and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and for not complying with the definition of savings under the national budget law;
– cross-border transfers of the savings of the Executive department to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the Executive;
– funding of projects, activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the national budget;
– use of unprogrammed funds (standby allocation coming from windfall revenue collections) despite the absence of a certification by the National Treasurer that revenue collections exceeded the revenue targets for non-compliance with the conditions provided in the national budget.