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What we learn is not what they know

THE RECENT 13-0-1 decision by the Supreme Court declaring the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP unconstitutional has been hogging newspaper headlines for days now, fuelled by President Aquino’s frustrated, defiant speech last July 14. In a televised address, the President defended the DAP as necessary to fast-track government projects and fund urgent needs. Some commentators have seen the President’s speech as veiled threats against the High Court, and consequently, our system of checks and balances.

Regardless of how the succeeding events will play out, the public reaction to the issue remains intriguing. There have been passionate defenses coming from both sides. The common defense in favor of the Court is that it is the last word in the interpretation of the Constitution, thus, no matter how the President remains defiant, the DAP is still unconstitutional. Law students who have gone through Constitutional Law I know that the President cannot make cross-border transfers, or declare “savings” without complying with the General Appropriations Act, and then apply these “savings” to projects not even declared in the GAA. This is, plain and simple, usurping Congress’ power of the purse.

In favor of the President and his embattled Budget Secretary, Butch Abad, is the defense of good faith. Just go through the comments section of any online article regarding the DAP, and you will see that the President’s supporters recognize his good intentions—that there is no proof the DAP went to the wrong hands, and that even the Court acknowledged its positive results based on a World Bank study.

One comment I read is that schools have been built in an area in Mindanao, and their community found out that the funds for these schools came from the DAP. Another commenter says that these legal arguments are trifles only of city folk, while those in the provinces do want accelerated funds to see immediate results. They call on the Court to interpret the Constitution based on “protecting public interest and the greater good.”

As law students, we bring it upon ourselves to defend the law to the letter. Some of us are frustrated that people can just toss the law and the Constitution out the window on the basis of good faith, because for most of us, it is quite clear that the DAP is illegal, no matter how well-intentioned it is. But not everyone is privy to our understanding, and thanks to the internet, (mis)information spreads quickly—and attached to it is the blind passion towards political personalities.

Taking the latter aside, what I can see from these online comments is that, at least for some of our countrymen, there is no congruence between the law and what is on the ground, or as how one commenter put it, “strict judicial legalism versus executive activism.” No one will espouse setting aside the law for some vigilante acts for the greater good, as that will lead to anarchy.

But when the demands of the people require immediate results, and the law seems to restrict immediate action, how should the law respond? Amendments take years, if they happen at all. How should law students respond to these comments of our countrymen who only want to see concrete solutions, and don’t care for what is legally correct? P

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