Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has a lot to thank Typhoon Glenda (Rasmmasen) for. Otherwise, he would have already drowned in the flood of criticism he received for going on national TV and castigating the Supreme Court that declared his budget-tweaking Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.
Disrupting prime time programs, Aquino used a 1987 administrative code and ‘acting in good faith’ to justify the re-alignment of public funds generated from forced savings to allocate the same to his pet projects – including the distribution of ‘largesse’ to legislators who voted to impeach former Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona.
To make matters worse, the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) gave him another slap on the wrist by unequivocally stating that the interpretation of the law is the domain of the Supreme Court. It was a veiled reminder that the president is not above the law.
True, the president was within his executive right to file a motion for reconsideration with respect to the Supreme Court ruling. But going on national TV to react to a legal rebuke from the highest court of the land is a dangerous foray into the realm of presidential authoritarianism.
He may have gotten his wish when he succeeded in ousting Corona, but he cannot whimsically assail the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court.
The DAP controversy and the largesse that went to legislators out of the said program is a legally-coated version of disgraced former President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo’s brown paper bag “executive diplomacy.” Arroyo was reported to have handed out brown paper bags containing P500,000 (about US$11,500 at current exchange rates) to legislators and local executives during the height of the latter’s impeachment attempt in 2007.
With barely two years left in office, Aquino’s approval ratings have taken a serious beating over the last couple of years – his avowed campaign to rid the government of corruption is now ringing very hollow.
He now faces the specter of finding himself in the same category as his predecessors – Arroyo and Joseph Estrada, another former president – who faced plunder charges after they were out of office.
That possibility is getting stronger by the day as Aquino’s rapid dip in the approval ratings is threatening to pull down with him any anointed successor (the president is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election).
In 2016, when Aquino’s term ends, it would be a waste to see that nothing has changed 30 years after his mother was swept into power following a popular revolt against the Marcos dictatorship.
Some things really never change.