Editorial: Savings and saving face

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014


DESPITE the double-digit fall in his approval ratings, President Benigno Aquino III remains a lucky man, as these ratings go.

His net approval rating did fall from 45 to 25, from March to June 2014, according to the Social Weather Stations. But all the presidents before him dating back to 1986 had lower net approval ratings at the same point of their terms, except for one: Corazon Aquino.

Now, the President faces a controversy that may define how effective he can still be in his last two years in office. In a strongly worded speech last Monday night, he asked the Supreme Court (SC) “to more fully and more conscientiously examine the law” and rethink its decision that found parts of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) illegal.

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The SC, in its ruling earlier this month, said it agreed that Congress did not need to legislate the DAP.

But it also pointed out that it was unconstitutional for the Executive Department to withdraw and transfer unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations, call these “savings”, and release these to certain agencies as they saw fit. Much of the decision and the opinions from the justices focused on how the Executive’s definition of “savings” went beyond what the law allowed.

And no President, no matter how popular, can rightfully claim that his interpretation of the law is the correct one. That authority belongs to the Court.

Of course, the DAP issue is much bigger than dragging up approval ratings. It is, ultimately, about regaining the public’s trust in how quickly the Aquino administration can release public funds for urgent needs, yet at the same time remain accountable to the voters who supported its anti-corruption platform.

Take the list of DAP-funded projects that Malacañang made available online right after the President’s speech last Monday.

It is a useful gesture, but one that would be more meaningful if more details had been provided.

Where, for example, did the P1.8 billion for “various local projects” of government-owned corporations go, after the Office of the President approved it in December 2011?

How did the agriculture department spend its extra P919 million, approved in October 2011, for the Mindanao Rural Development Project? And what did the public works agency do with its P5.5 billion for “various local projects” in 2011?

By providing details like these, the Aquino administration may yet persuade some of the public that those “savings” answered public needs, instead of padding private pockets. Whether or not it will save face remains uncertain.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 16, 2014.

Opinion

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