MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/03 January) – Riding on the crest of sympathy that followed the death of his mother, President Corazon C. Aquino, Benigno S. Aquino III became the fifteenth president of the republic. It was mainly her passing and the romanticism attached to her name that brought him to power, much to the chagrin of fellow Liberal Party stalwart Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, who was forced to slide as Aquino’s running mate but lost nonetheless.
But has PNoy lived up to the ideals for which the people voted him? After three and a half years in office, how far has his administration achieved in curbing corruption in high places of government? Is this government really serious in treading the much-hyped “daang matuwid”?
The controversy created by the reports on questionable disbursements of the Priority Development Assistance Fund involving lawmakers, government agencies and nongovernment organizations controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles provided a golden opportunity for Aquino to prove he was serious in going after grafters. Unfortunately, he let that opportunity slip through his hands. Instead of categorically supporting the people’s mounting calls to abolish the PDAF or pork barrel, he flip-flopped saying the problem could be addressed by a better budgeting process.
Where Aquino actually stands on the issue was laid bare by Palace efforts to assuage public anger on the eve of the first ever protest against the pork, the spontaneous million people march in Luneta and key cities nationwide.
In fairness, Aquino only inherited – and continued – a patronage system that has been in place since the days of his own mother as president. As a former congressman and senator himself, he knows it is the biggest incentive that has made Congress kowtow to the legislative agenda of the Executive.
Malacanang always gets what it wants as long as a lawmaker is assured of projects from which he or she could earn fat, albeit illegal, commissions.
This may cease to be the order of things now that the Supreme Court has voted in favor of a consolidated petition to declare the PDAF unconstitutional. Unless the lawmakers find “creative” ways to go around the ruling without being noticed by a watchful citizenry and continue to enjoy the perks of pork, the Executive and the Legislature may soon say goodbye to their incestuous marriage of convenience.
Aquino, however, still holds an ace – the Disbursement Acceleration Program which he dangled to the senators to secure the conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The DAP accelerates the disbursement of funds taken from unexpended budget items in a discretionary manner. If the gods of Padre Faura decide to rule in favor of the DAP, Aquino will wield a power so awesome the lawmakers will find themselves walking toward Malacanang on bended knees. For, unlike the case of PDAF where the House members were allotted P70 million and senators P200 million each annually, the President decides alone who gets to receive DAP funds.
The Supreme Court is yet to rule on the petition against the use of the DAP by the Executive as usurpation of Congress’s exclusive power to approve allocations. Yet consider the implications if it gets a favorable ruling from the High Court. Under the 2014 national budget, the PDAF was only worth around P27 billion. The DAP, on the other hand, would be a staggering P1.3 trillion, all in the complete control of one man – the President! Now, how would that not make even the bitterest critic of Aquino in Congress cower in fear and submission?
Congress knows the DAP – if upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court – would render the principle of checks and balance virtually inutile. But opportunistic as they are, the lawmakers are only too aware they have to support it as their last lifeblood or face extinction as political animals (with emphasis on “animals”) now that the PDAF is gone.
No, the lawmakers are not openly supporting the DAP before the Supreme Court. In what is clearly a retaliatory move, they have threatened to hale several Justices to the impeachment court over the lump sum use of the Judiciary Development Fund. It could not be simply a coincidence that the honorable House members took an interest in the JDF after the High Court scrapped as unconstitutional their biggest source of income.
For sure, Aquino won’t lift a finger to stop the House from pushing through with impeachment. He may even be secretly lobbying for a ruling that is favorable to him. It would be to the mutual benefit of the Executive and the lawmakers if the Supreme Court yields to the pressure and uphold the DAP as constitutional. If that happens, Aquino may yet enjoy a kind of dictatorship handed over to him on a silver platter by a judiciary whose independence is being put to test by the selfish machinations of a pork-starved Congress. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)