MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/29 January) – Anybody who has either read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables or seen its movie version would surely love to hate Inspector Javert for persecuting Jean Valjean no end simply because the latter stole a piece of bread.
It’s not that the story’s main character committed no crime, but that his crime could not justify the pain and suffering he goes through till the end. Far greater offenses have been forgiven, why can’t stealing a piece of bread to feed a hungry stomach in troubled times – the setting of the story is the French Revolution – be condoned?
Now here’s a story closer to home, one in which the plot revolves around no less than President Benigno III and some Cabinet members who hatched the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Acting on nine petitions questioning the constitutionality of DAP, the Supreme Court has asked these officials to explain if there is any legal basis for it.
It may be recalled that it was Senator Jinggoy Estrada who revealed the existence of DAP in a privilege speech where he alleged that it was used to influence the senators into convicting impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. The releases of funds came after the impeachment trial which saw Corona thrown out of the country’s metaphorical equivalent of Mount Olympus in Padre Faura Street in Manila.
At the resumption of oral arguments on DAP on Tuesday (January 28), Malacanang officials asked the Supreme Court to dismiss petitions seeking to declare the controversial presidential pork barrel as unconstitutional. Their argument: The petitions had become moot and academic since DAP had been terminated. In other words, you may not question something that’s already “extinct,” as Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza put it.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad tried to put icing on the cake when he said the DAP “had already served fully its purpose and that was why the economic managers recommended its termination to the President.”
Offhand, Jardeleza’s argument sounds logical. But if you’re a fan of National Geographic channel, you must have noticed that extinct species like the Tasmanian tiger continue to preoccupy evolutionary scientists. They know there’s no way these species can spring back to life. They just want to offer answers how and why these animals became extinct, and what lessons can be learned from such phenomenon.
The same thing can be said of the controversial DAP. While the program may have already become “extinct,” the questions surrounding its legality – not to mention political motivation as alleged by Senator Jinggoy Estrada – have not been resolved to everybody’s satisfaction.
Thus the Supreme Court must rule on whether or not the executive branch, by instituting DAP, had exceeded its authority on the disbursement of funds whose purpose had been defined by Congress under the General Appropriations Act. This is the meat of the petitions questioning the constitutionality of DAP.
If the Supreme Court relents and dismisses the petitions on the basis of Jardeleza’s argument, here’s the catch – like the dinosaurs in the fictional Jurassic Park DAP may just rear its ugly head again under the current administration or its successor in another guise but for basically the same purpose, that is, as political leverage to keep the lawmakers submit to the wishes of Malacanang.
Perhaps Corona’s haters would say in private that his ouster was a blessing regardless of the sinister means that the Palace supposedly employed against him. But that’s precisely the danger – using devious means to punish perceived crimes, in Corona’s case, betrayal of public trust and other impeachable offenses.
It’s not that Corona is innocent of the crimes leveled against him. The greater issue is that the President apparently influenced the proceedings in a co-equal branch of government, the Senate. Which gives rise to the question “Who between Aquino and Corona had committed the greater offense?” in the same way that Javert’s persecution of Valjean – who could have eaten cake if he has no bread – makes one ask who the real criminal is.
Maybe most of us would have ignored the questions against DAP if it were used to feed the Valjeans of our time. But it was dangled as incentive to those who can afford to throw hundreds of pieces of choice bread out of the stylish French windows of their comfortable homes. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)