Former Chief Justice Renato Puno defended the Supreme Court on its decision to declare parts of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.
This was after President Aquino, in a televised national address, criticized Supreme Court magistrates for the ruling.
Puno stressed that when the high court struck down the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel of lawmakers in a decision last year, a similar ruling on DAP should not be a surprise.
“After the PDAF decision, it was easy to anticipate the SC would not have a different ruling on the DAP,” he explained in a television interview Tuesday night.
The former top magistrate believes that the constitutional violation under DAP is more grave than in PDAF.
“I would say that the issues raised by the petitioners in the DAP cases are more serious issues of constitutionality,” he said.
Puno said the Constitution clearly provides that “no public money shall be spent except on the basis of appropriation passed by Congress.”
He pointed out that at least under the pork barrel system, projects of lawmakers are covered by the General Appropriations Act (GAA) unlike in DAP.
Puno also rebutted the President’s persistent claim of good faith in justifying the economic stimulus program.
He said the issue of good faith, as specifically laid down in the SC ruling last July 1, is a “difficult subject matter.”
He said officials behind the DAP cannot be automatically cleared of any liability just because the program yielded some positive effects on the country’s economy.
He also expressed belief that the SC rulings on DAP and PDAF have provided “starting points” for budgetary reforms – especially with the possibility of such funds being revived in other forms.
“It’s always a possibility. There are no borders to our imagination,” he said.
“The people should be on the lookout, should be vigilant that the budget that will come from Congress will follow the decisions of the high court,” he stressed.
During Aquino’s Monday address, he said the government will appeal the ruling through a motion reconsideration.
Meanwhile, Fr. Ranhilio C. Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, blasted Malacañang’s claims that the President is empowered by Section 49 of the 1987 Administrative Code to use savings on priority activities of the government.
“Any freshman student of law will know that when you interpret a statutory provision, you always do so in harmony with the Constitution,” he said.
“And therefore, any construal of this particular provision of the Administrative Code must be consistent with Article VI, Section 25 of the Constitution and other relevant provisions of the fundamental law. You don’t ever make a statute qualify the Constitution,” Aquino said on his Facebook account.
“Whatever the grant of power the Administrative Code may seem to afford the President, such a statutory provision must always be read in consonance with the Constitution, and never against it. That is a fundamental rule of legal hermeneutics. So the code says that the President can use savings to fund priority projects, that should be read with the proviso: Provided constitutional requirements are fulfilled, owing to the simple and ineluctable fact that the Constitution is the fundamental law.”
He explained that while Section 49 referred to savings what the Supreme Court’s decision on the DAP “precisely declares [was] that what [the President] classified as ‘savings’ were not really savings as understood in constitutional law.”
“No matter how enlightened—or benighted—one’s reading of the law is, under our scheme of appropriation of powers, legal consistency is a judicial function! Isn’t that rather simple?” he said.