On one hand, Aquino apologists like to distract public opinion away from the “legalese” surrounding the debate around the manner with which the President used the DAP in order to highlight the nebulous notion of ‘good faith’. But then there is another camp (albeit the more intellectually-diligent amongst them) that invoke aspects of the law and rulings of Philippine Supreme Court (SC) justices to prop up Malacanang’s case. A favourite aspect of this line of ‘debate’ is that whilst the DAP had been ruled “unconstitutional”, the question of possible criminal liability traceable to Malacanang in the way it used the DAP was not in the scope of said ruling.
Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo’s opinion that “the DAP significantly contributed to economic growth and achieved its purpose during the limited time it was put in place” is the go-to citation in this instance. Justice del Castillo notes that the SC ruling makes no judgement on the criminality of the use of the President’s execution of the DAP specifically around the “discontinuance of slow-moving projects” and the transfer of “savings” from this discontinuance to “fast-moving projects in order to spur economic growth.” He also asserts that the President “validly exercised his power to permanently stop expenditure under Section 38 in relation to NBC 541, absent sufficient proof to the contrary.”
Perhaps, to the letter of the law the President had, indeed, exercised legal authority to cancel key government projects and harvest these savings. Many observers agree, however, that this halting of projects, many of which were started under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was done under questionable motives and was undertaken more out of spite than aything else. Furthermore, it has been shown that President BS Aquino had applied a flawed understanding of the government’s fiscal position in 2010 as basis for the order to cancel those projects — a decision that resulted in the crash in economic growth rates reported in 2011 after more than 7 percent annual growth reported in the previous year.
By and in that, President BS Aquino’s good faith is already debatable. But did this astounding act of incomptence and ignorance result in a crime?
Indeed, there is reason to believe that the Aquino government may, in actual fact, be criminally liable for an aspect of that mass cancellation of government projects that impacted the Philippines’ ability to quickly and effectively respond to disasters wrought by natural calamities. Back in May, 2011 President BS Aquino’s message following his veto of the 2011 budget then reportedly included the following statement pointed out by Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino:
“I caution the inclusion of pre-disaster activities such as preparation of relocation sites/facilities, and training of personnel engaged in direct disaster in the use of the Calamity Fund. While said purpose is laudable, the same must be weighed against the imperious need of maintaining sufficient provision under the Calamity Fund for actual calamities and prevent its full utilization for pre-disaster activities…”
The rationale behind President BS Aquino’s reluctance, it seems, was that “pre-disaster activities are embedded in the services of various agencies like the DPWH, DSWD, and DND.” Unfortunately, the quality and speed with which the government had responded to the massive destruction wrought by Typhoon Yolanda last year had proven that this delegated and woefully fragmented approach to managing “pre-disaster activities” is a failure.
That the government had failed to implement an effective disaster preparedness framework — something that is mission-critical in a disaster-prone country like the Philippines — is possibly criminal in nature. According to Section 22 of Republic Act 10121, also known as the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010” currently in effect, a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRM Fund) which encompasses the Calamity Fund in the national budget…
…shall be used for disaster risk reduction or mitigation, prevention and preparedness activities such as, but not limited to, training of personnel, procurement of equipment, and capital expenditures. It can also be utilized for relief, recovery, reconstruction and other work or services in connection with natural or human-induced calamities which may occur during the budget year or those that occurred in the past two (2) years from the budget year.
Note the items emphasized in bold print above. Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz pointed out in his December, 2011 blog post It’s a Fine Line Between Foolish and Criminal that President BS Aquino’s veto of the 2011 budget on grounds that disaster preparedness should not be funded from the Calamity Fund could make him criminally liable for fatal delays in the government’s response to the crisis in the Visayas following Yolanda’s visit. Section 20 of RA 10121 stipulates the following penalties for persons found to be in violation of this law:
Any individual, corporation, partnership, association, or other juridical entity that commits any of the prohibited acts provided for in Section 19 of this Act shall be prosecuted and upon conviction shall suffer a fine of not less than Fifty thousand pesos (Php 50,000.00) or any amount not to exceed Five hundred thousand pesos (Php 500,000.00) or imprisonment of not less than six (6) years and one (1) day or more than twelve (12) years, or both, at the discretion of the court, including perpetual disqualification from public office if the offender is a public officer, and confiscation or forfeiture in favor of the government of the objects and the instrumentalities used in committing any of herein prohibIted acts.
On-the-ground observations coming from CNN reporter Anderson Cooper in flattened Tacloban City in the first few days following the departure of Yolanda confirmed the sad state of the Philippine government’s level of disaster preparedness when he found “no real evidence of organized recovery or relief” there.
From Cooper’s vantage point, there were hundreds of people sleeping at the airport because there was nowhere for them to go and if one would just walk three blocks away from the airport, there were also people sleeping in makeshift huts or out exposed to rains even lying next to the bodies of their loved ones because these had yet to be picked up. He said there was also very little water and food supply because there was no feeding station, which according to him, was what one would expect after five days. The journalist added that he only heard of talks about the airport being opened again by the US marines but it hadn’t happened yet. He warned that the situation is getting desperate and that sooner or later something is bound to give.
Why had Aquino been so desperate to harvest “savings” from the Philippines’ national budget, even to the extent putting the lives of millions of Filipinos at risk??.
And that is the REAL billion-dollar question.
Suffice to say the debate over the motives behind the creation of the DAP should no longer be around whether it was about “good faith” or not. It is increasingly coming to light that outcomes of the government’s mismanagement of the Philippines’ coffers is approaching the criminal. Indeed, to President BS Aquino’s inyent to pursue his appeal to have the SC ruling on the unconstitutionality of the DAP overturned, we should respond: Bring it on! Further detail around the motives behind the shadowy world of DAP “accounting” are likely to surface once this next can of worms is opened.[Photo courtesy CollegeMagazine.com.]
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