While it is likely that President Benigno Aquino III committed a culpable violation of the Constitution, he is unlikely to be impeached because he controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said Thursday.
Like other law experts, Santiago said it was possible that the President broke the law when he realigned public funds to support projects under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) created by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, whom she said should resign.
She said the administration committed a major blunder when it failed to consult a constitutional expert on the legality of the DAP.
“Apparently there was a lack... of legal analysis,” she said. A presidential spokesman said the President has ordered Abad to make a full accounting of where the DAP funds were spent.
In the House, congressional leaders laughed off an impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano against Mr. Aquino for culpable violations of the Constitution as a result of the fund releases under the DAP.
“Seriously?” said House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who expressed doubt that the case would even reach first base. The President’s allies in the House also said there was no legal basis for impeaching Mr. Aquino.
Also on Thursday, a losing senatorial candidate questioned the legality of the DAP disbursements before the Supreme Court.
Earlier this week, Santiago and former senator Joker Arroyo said the creation of DAP was “illegal and unconstitutional.”
In a phone patch interview with Senate reporters Thursday, Santiago said it was illegal and unconstitutional for the Budget Department to allocate P50 million from the DAP for projects identified by each of the 20 senators who voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona in May last year.
Only Santiago and Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joker Arroyo who voted to acquit Corona, the President’s political nemesis, did not receive the extra allocations.
On Wednesday, the dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law, Ranhillo Aquino, and the dean emeritus of the Ateneo Law Schoo, Joaquin Bernas also questioned the legality of the DAP.
San Beda’s Aquino, in particular, refuted the Palace’s legal justification for the program.
Santiago said the money used for the DAP did not come from government savings, but from unfinished and slow-moving projects of some agencies.
“Savings in a constitutional contexts means that money was set aside for certain projects. The project was carried out and finished and yet there was money left. That’s savings. But if you look at the history of the DAP, there was no completion of any project,” she said.
And since the issue was legal, she proposed that it be resolved by the Supreme Court.
“My humble opinion is that it’s unconstitutional. But first of all, let’s have the last word from added.
In a separate television interview, Santiago said she favored filing a case before the Supreme Court to question the legality of the DAP, since it also violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Not all lawmakers were informed about the DAP funds, she said.
“That’s a violation of the equal protection clause, which is a keystone of all human rights. I never received any communication with a request to the DAP and I was astonished that there is such a thing. I never found it in the 2001 budget or the 2012 budget during our deliberations,” she said.
Santiago added that DAP usurps the power of Congress over the purse, saying any move to funnel savings of government agencies into new projects should have congressional approval.
But she said there was no need for hostility in seeking the Supreme Court’s ruling on DAP, since she wants the President to succeed.
“We just don’t want him to listen to wrong advice,” she said.
The move to question the legality of DAP before the SC was supported by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV who cited the need to determine whether the funds have basis under the 1987 Constitution or not.
In the same TV interview, Trillanes, who received his P50 million allocation from the DAP funds after Corona’s conviction, said he saw nothing wrong with the disbursements because the President is given the discretion to realign funds.
He said all heads of the branches of government have the authority to realign funds within their Trillanes also denied that the P50 million he received was an incentive or bribe to convict Corona.
“Most of the public would agree that Corona deserved to be kicked out. I would not need an incentive to make a very easy decision,” he said.
Santiago maintained that the President cannot be ousted from office because he wields power over the congressmen and senators.
“Remember that people who want him impeached would have to get one-third vote in the House and two-thirds vote in the Senate so that’s not going to be practical. It will only be theoretical,” she said.
She added that the lawmakers would not want to impeach Aquino because doing so would implicate those who received funds from the DAP.
“If they impeach the President, they would be, in effect, admitting at the very least that they are accomplices and accessories to a crime,” she said.
She said impeaching Aquino at this point was “practically impossible.” With Joyce P. Pañares, Maricel V. Cruz and Rey E. Requejo
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