Corruption law meets legal challenge


Just when the fledgling government of Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was about to fire its opening salvo in investigating the high-profile corruption cases allegedly committed by his predecessor, a Senator tagged his “anti-graft weapon” as unconstitutional. The President signed Executive Order (EO) Number 1 on July 30, which created the so-called Truth Commission, tasked to investigate the anomalies supposedly committed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her government.

Three days later, the Chief Executive’s former Senate colleague, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, a known constitutional expert, noted that the creation of the Commission is a usurpation of Congress’ powers.

This, she said, is because only Congress was vested with the power to create a government office and to appropriate funds for its use.

“We cannot allow legislative functions to be delegated to other officials without our consent. That is the principle known as the doctrine of non-delegation. In 2001, the Supreme Court said, “the power to create an agency is peculiarly legislative in nature,” she said in a press conference.

Santiago suggested that President Aquino withdraw his EO or face a constitutional challenge at the Supreme Court which she herself will file.

She stressed she is only doing this to bolster the President’s desire to pin down the corrupt officials in the former government, without encountering constitutional challenges from, say, witnesses to the cases.

Santiago stressed that Malacanang (the President’s seat of power) should not use an administrative order which was used during the term of her mother, former President Corazon Aquino, in creating the new investigative agency.

“It is claiming that its power is drawn from the Administrative Code of 1997 passed by Pres. Corazon Aquino whose provision says 'The President shall have power at any time to reorganize his office.'”

"Is the President merely reorganizing his office when he creates the Truth Commission? Come on! You reorganize when something already existed and you change something in that existing office. Here, they are creating something out of nothing. They are not reorganizing, they are creating. They fall squarely under the statement of the SC 'The power to create an agency belongs exclusively to the Congress',” the Senator said.

Santiago went on to say that the best thing President Aquino should do is to “be humble” and ask Congress to pass a measure that will put up the said Commission instead of risk the vision of putting behind bars former government officials who erred.

She cited a recent Supreme Court ruling determining that a "statute or the law must be complete", which Santiago says should encourage incumbent officials to heed her call. That ruling means there must be a statute passed by Congress. The essential element of "completion" means there is a policy stated by the Congress in that particular law.

Second, there should be a sufficiency of standards, meaning that Congress must give the limitations or the guidelines so that the person enacting a delegated legislative power will not take undue liberties in his role.

"In any event, you will see from the jurisprudence of our Supreme Court, that one doctrine has remained the same for the years, and that is legislative function cannot be exercised unless it is duly delegated by Congress. Duly delegated means that Congress has passed a law that tells the executive or the judicial branch what is the policy of the law and what are the limitations and the restrictions,” she said.

President Aquino first mentioned about the Truth Commission in his speech during the inauguration of his presidency on June 30, along with several exposés that revealed more anomalies supposedly committed by the former administration.

He promised that there will be closure to all pending and future cases to be filed against the erring government officials during the previous administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Furthermore, he vowed that government money will not be wasted under his administration.

“We will stop the wasteful use of government funds. We will eradicate projects that are wrong."

"This is the point of what we call the zero-based approach in our budget. What used to be the norm was every year, the budget merely gets re-enacted without plugging the holes,” President Aquino stressed in his first State of the Nation Address.

To date, government has already ordered some of the highest-paid government personnel in the previous administration to return the exorbitant fees they received during their stay in office.

The President has also sought the help of Congress in pushing legislation that will limit government expenses.

“We will push for the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, which will limit spending bills only for appropriations that have identified a source of funding. We need 104.1 billion pesos to fund those laws already passed but whose implementation remains pending because of lack of funds.”

President Aquino also said there is a need to revisit incentives being given to certain businesses, since laws overlooking certain types of profits have further depleted government coffers.

“We will re-evaluate fiscal incentives given in the past. Now that we are tightening our purse strings, we need to identify those incentives that will remain and those that need to be done away with,” he stressed.

The Chief Executive also vowed not to have large-scale transactions that could give big kickbacks to certain government officials.

“We will not allow another NBN-ZTE (broadband) scandal to happen again. Whether from local or foreign sources, all proposed contracts must undergo the scrutiny of correct procedures. I now ask for your help with amending our Procurement Law.

He also mentioned about a tax evader who purchased a 26 million-peso-worth of car but who hasn’t been paying taxes.

“If he can afford to buy a Lamborghini, why can’t he pay his taxes?

The President however admitted no matter how intesively his government pursues tax evaders and smugglers, government revenues will not be enough to overcome past budget excesses.

“If the answer to justice is accountability, the answer to the dearth in funds is a new and creative approach to our long-standing problems," he said

"We have so many needs: from education, infrastructure, health, military, police and more. Our funds will not be enough to meet them. No matter how massive the deficit is that may keep us from paying for this list of needs,” President Aquino added.

His only consolation, he noted, is that many individuals and sectors have extended their hands in helping his government to allow recovery for the Philippines.

“I am heartened because many have already expressed renewed interest and confidence in the Philippines.

Our solution: public-private partnerships. Although no contract has been signed yet, I can say that ongoing talks with interested investors will yield fruitful outcomes.

There are some who have already shown interest and want to build an expressway from Manila that will pass through Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, until the end of Cagayan Valley, without the government having to spend a single peso,” the Chief Executive announced.

Money, he added, can also come from leasing some government properties, such as the Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard, to foreign firms which would help modernize the Philippine navy. The navy currently has just 32 boats to patrol 36,000 nautical miles. Some of the boats were built during World War II, Aquino said.

Such public-private partnerships will benefit all Filipinos, the president said. Foreign partners will take care of the funding necessary to transfer the Navy Headquarters to Camp Aguinaldo, along with an initial payment of 100 million dollars and a portion of their profits from the businesses that would occupy the land.

These proposals and more were great applause lines during the President’s first State of the Nation Address. There were 33 breaks in the speech for applause in all.

Filipinos only wish the President will be able to pull off drastic changes in governance, especially purging it of corrupt officials and employees.

“My firm belief is that our fate is in the hands of God and our people. While we focus on uplifting the lives of our fellow men, I have an unshakeable faith that Almighty God will give us His blessings and support. If we remain firm in our belief that God is on our side, is there anything impossible for us to achieve?", Aquino concluded.