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An opportunity to establish good faith

IT was perhaps inevitable that cases against certain officials would be filed after the Supreme Court ruled on July 1, 2014, that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) implemented by Malacañang and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) was unconstitutional on three counts – the creation of savings prior to the end of the fiscal year, cross-border transfers of savings from one branch of government to another, and the allotment of funds to projects not in the General Appropriations Act.

Last week charges of malversation, graft, and usurpation of legislative powers were filed with the Ombudsman against former President Benigno S. Aquino III and former DBM Secretary Florencio Abad for the release of DAP funds totaling R144.4 billion as of 2013. The complainants had waited until the end of the Aquino administration to file the case, as a sitting President may not be charged in court; he may only be impeached by the House, then tried by the Senate.

After the Supreme Court issued its decision in 2014, Secretary Abad said the DAP was a program designed by his department to ramp up spending to accelerate economic expansion. Malacañang said the DAP authors, sponsors, and implementers must be presumed to have acted in good faith.

In its decision, however, the Supreme Court said good faith has to be established in court proceedings.

President Aquino and Secretary Abad never had an opportunity to establish their good faith as no DAP case was filed against them in any court. It is only now that ten groups – among them the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption, Bayan Muna, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, and Alliance of Concerned Teachers – filed charges against the former President with the Ombudsman, with the expectation that the Ombudsman will file the charges with the Sandiganbayan.

The case, if it gets to court, should finally provide that opportunity to establish good faith.

Then the court will have to rule if good faith and the presumption of regularity are sufficient to overcome the three constitutional issues of (1) creation of savings prior to the fiscal year’s end, (2) cross-border transfers of fund, and (3) allotment of funds not in the General Appropriations Act. And whether the acts of former President Aquino and Secretary Abad constitute malversation, graft, and usurpation of legislative powers.

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