October 23, 2017, 3:54 pm
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Noynoy Aquino’s ‘ignorance of the law’?

SOON after the Supreme Court struck down the presidential pork barrel, disguised as the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP), as unconstitutional, President Noynoy Aquino’s defenders quickly rose to absolve him from culpability for illegally spending over a billion of the people’s money.
 
Actually, no less than President Aquino himself was the first to adamantly defend the DAP as early as October last year in an attempt to “shame his critics.” On live television, he declared: “The Disbursement Allocation Program is not pork barrel. Spending through DAP is clearly allowed by the Constitution and by other laws. DAP is only a name for a process in which the government can spend both savings and new and additional revenues...”
 
“I did not steal,” he fervently intoned. “Those who have been accused of stealing are those sowing confusion. They want to dismantle all that we have worked so hard to achieve on the straight path...I have pursued the truth and justice, dismantled the systems that breed abuse of power--- and yet I am the one being called the Pork Barrel King?”
 
What’s Aquino trying to do? Is he once again showing signs of an eminent Jesuit psychiatrist’s finding that he does not like criticisms, does not like to hear bad news, and refuses to see himself and be seen as a failure, preferring to blame others for his failures, mistakes and blunders? And is he providing himself with what’s called in corporate parlance a “golden parachute” to escape culpability for the illegal spending of millions public funds from the DAP that has now been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?
 
 It was clearly a futile effort on President Aquino’s part because the high tribunal magistrates, by a unanimous vote of 13-0, including the chief justice and other associate justices, who were his own appointees to the high tribunal, ruled that DAP was unconstitutional, and he may be impeached for culpable violation of the Constitution. 
 
 Of course, the President’s mouthpieces were quick to defend him. They said that what he did was done in “good faith.” And even, a former delegate to the Constitutional Convention that drafted the 1987 Constitution, who was appointed by then President Cory Cojuangco-Aquino, ascribed her son Noynoy Aquino’s lapses with the DAP to “ignorance of the law.” And, just as quickly, he added, that Aquino cannot be held liable for culpable violation of the Constitution because the violation has to be intentional, and ignorance of the law is not ground for impeachment. 
 
But the truth has finally caught with President Aquino and his defenders. As early as 2008 when he was then senator, he was already “completely aware” that converting public funds into “savings and realigning” them outside the congressional appropriations law, which is now called DAP, was illegal. 
 
In the second session of the 14th Congress, Aquino, as a member of the opposition in the Senate, principally authored Senate Bill 3121 titled “The Budget Impoundment Control Act” that sought to limit the discretionary powers of the President to realign and defer releases of funds. He sought to prohibit then President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo from “usurping Congress’ power of the purse.” And he even sought a penalty of not less than P500,000 and perpetual disqualification from office for those would violate it once it became law. Unfortunately, his bill didn’t muster enough support from his colleagues and did not pass Senate scrutiny.
 
What Aquino denounced then as “immoral, abuse and misuse of powers,” he is now doing in the case of the DAP. From the very start, he knew that the DAP was illegal. And he knew all along about the constitutional prohibition against the President misusing and abusing the “power of the purse” that belongs to the Congress. 
 
That is why it is wrong to say, as one of his defenders put it, that Aquino’s “lapses with the DAP” were ascribed to his “ignorance of the law.” He knew what he was doing was not the right thing to do, but presidential ignorance here could be more costly because P172 billion of taxpayers’ money went into his DAP, and will probably never be seen again!
 
And so, who then should be held liable for the unconstitutional DAP? Should it be President Noynoy Aquino, who authorized and repeatedly validated it by signing all fund releases under it, or his Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, who invented the patently illegal disbursement scheme? 
 
More than once in this column, I have noted that President Aquino’s actions during his first four years in office went from being merely offensive or damaging to actually being dangerous to our welfare. The sum of their impact collectively leaves little doubt that whether his motives were negligent or intentional, his decisions were still not trustworthy – and for this he deserves to be impeached or removed from office, on or before he bows out of his presidency two years from now in 2016. 
 
While impeaching Aquino remains far-fetched, so far, as a professor of political science at the Ateneo de Manila University put it, his critics and many others are mobilizing their resources to chip away at the political capital of the president. 
 
And so, if his impeachment is not possible because he still has both houses under his iron grip, then let all concerned Filipinos – who are witnesses to his failure to fulfil his vows to introduce government reforms, to put an end to official corruption, to eradicate poverty and to resuscitate democracy – be the final judges!
 
“Vox populi vox Dei”, so goes as an old proverb. “The voice of the people is the voice of God!”
 
***
 
Quote of the Day: “The President hears a hundred voices telling him that he is the greatest man in the country. He must listen carefully indeed to hear the one voice that tells him he is not!” – Harry S. Truman
 
Thought for Today: “A political leader knows that his friends are not always his allies, and that his adversaries are not his enemies!” – Anon.
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