Philippine leader, high court clash on funds use
Jul. 14, 2014
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Monday that his administration would appeal a Supreme Court decision that declared his government's enforcement of a major economic stimulus program partly unconstitutional.
Aquino said in a nationally televised address that such decisions by the high court served to hamper his efforts to pursue reforms after succeeding a president whose administration was tainted with corruption scandals and abuse.
The 15-member court's ruling this month has put Aquino on the defensive. Aquino, the son of revered pro-democracy icons, won the presidency by a wide margin in 2010 on a promise to rid his Southeast Asian nation of corruption and widespread poverty among its 97 million people.
Aquino said Monday that under the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which was enforced from 2011 to last year, government savings and non-allotted revenues were used to provide electricity to remote villages, build schools and finance other projects. He stressed that the funds were not stolen as alleged by critics.
"To the Supreme Court, our message: Do not bar us from doing what we swore to do. Shouldn't you be siding with us in pushing for reform?" Aquino said.
"We do not want two equal branches of government to go head to head," he said. But, he added, "We find it difficult to understand your decision."
Left-wing activists protested in Manila as Aquino spoke, threatening to seek his impeachment for violating the constitution. Rep. Neri Colmenares, a vocal Aquino critic, said the president's defense of his stimulus program "is a declaration of war with the Supreme Court." Two new surveys showed Aquino's popularity has dipped amid the criticisms but his aides said they expected the president's rating to bounce back as the government starts to defend its spending program.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, rejected any insinuations that the reformist Aquino benefited from government funds. "I don't think anyone can accuse the president of being corrupt," Villegas told ABS-CBN television network.
The high tribunal ruled early this month that Aquino and his officials violated the Constitution when they funded projects outside the Congress-approved annual budget.
Aquino used the Executive branch's financial savings to augment the funding of other offices outside that branch of government, the court said. Excess, non-allotted funds were withdrawn from some government agencies and were declared as savings even before the end of a fiscal year, the court added.
Aquino, however, said the court failed to take into account the legal basis that his government used in appropriating revenue savings for projects in one government branch to another.
He said the funds used in his program were different from the Priority Development Assistance Fund — government development and anti-poverty money allocated to pet projects of lawmakers which the Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional.
Three powerful senators have been indicted on charges of receiving huge kickbacks from the anti-poverty funds. They have denied any wrongdoing, but have been detained by police while awaiting trial.