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Aquino tells SC: File SALNs

‘The major issue here is transparency’‘The major issue here is transparency’

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About time the Supreme Court justices come clean about the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and their wealth, President Benigno Aquino III said on Friday.

“The major issue here is transparency. How much is coming in, and where does it end up? That, after all, is the job of Congress,” Mr. Aquino said in the third part of his interview with TV5.

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The Supreme Court has rejected a Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) request for copies of the justices’ statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) “for lack of sufficient basis.”

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has also asked the House of Representatives to exclude the judiciary from a justice committee inquiry into the JDF until the Supreme Court could resolve the government’s motion for reconsideration of a July 1 ruling that struck down President Aquino’s economic stimulus plan, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

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For that, Mr. Aquino’s allies in the House have threatened to impeach Sereno, a move widely seen as retaliation for the Supreme Court’s adverse rulings on questioned government programs.

Last year, the Supreme Court angered Congress by striking down the pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which financed development projects in congressional districts.

It’s in the Constitution

In his television interview, President Aquino reminded the justices about the constitutional provision that requires them to disclose their financial statements.

“It’s in the Constitution. You need to file your SALN. We—the President, the Vice President, justices of the Supreme Court, heads of other constitutional commissions, and toward that end, the officers of the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] with flag rank—have to make this statement public. If you want, I can find it for you,” Mr. Aquino said.

In the first part of the television interview, Mr. Aquino said he was now open to constitutional changes that would lift the presidential term limit but that did not mean he would seek a second term.

Judicial overreach

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But he complained that the checks and balances in the government had faded and the Supreme Court now had the power to overrule Congress and the executive branch.

He was referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling that declared the DAP unconstitutional, which drew his ire and drove him to threaten the justices with impeachment.

Despite the locking of horns between Malacañang and the Supreme Court, Mr. Aquino on Friday said there would be no constitutional crisis.

“We have not reached a constitutional crisis. We’re trying to act as the father of the nation and pacify all,” Mr. Aquino said.

“There were those who have told me, ‘After you’ve been slapped, insulted and trampled upon, you’re going to offer the other cheek?’ I replied: ‘Better that than getting mired in conflict.’ It’s important that there’s no fried chicken,” the President said, using a colloquialism for pride.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Vice President Jejomar Binay blamed Mr. Aquino’s combative stance on his advisers who have “selfish interests,” saying they were pushing him into a direct confrontation with the judiciary that could plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.

Binay made no direct reference to Mr. Aquino, but it was clear in the statement that he opposed the President’s plan to amend the Constitution to lift the presidential term limit, which would allow him to run for a second term, and remove the power of the Supreme Court to review executive and legislative acts.

He said Mr. Aquino’s advisers were also imperiling the President’s chance to leave a positive legacy after serving his term.

Foundations of democracy

“Those advising the President to pursue a course that will lead to a . . . confrontation with the Supreme Court are bringing our country to the brink of a political and constitutional crisis,” Binay said.

Binay said there was nothing wrong with checks and balances, stressing that  “these are the foundations of democracy.”

“When the Supreme Court declared the Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional, it was in exercise of its power and duty as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution ratified during the time of President Cory Aquino,” he said.

He said the judiciary is explicitly mandated by the Constitution “to determine whether or not there has been grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government.”

“This was included precisely to prevent a situation where the judiciary bends to the will of one branch or of one man, as was the case during martial law,” he said.

Respect for one another

Binay stressed that “a democracy obligates the three coequal branches—executive, judiciary and legislature—to respect each one’s independence and recognize each one’s powers, duties and limitations set by the Constitution.”

Binay, leader of the nominally opposition United Nationalist Alliance, blamed Mr. Aquino’s advisers for the controversy.

“They are also putting in peril the President’s chance to leave a positive legacy to the people. In doing so, they invoke the name of public interest. To blur the delineation between their selfish interest and public interest is dangerous and despotic,” Binay said.

Binay said he had always been opposed to constitutional amendments, except to the Constitution’s economic provisions.

Childhood dream

Binay, who also heads the government’s housing program, traveled to Legazpi City in Albay province to meet with regional officials on housing matters. There he told reporters that he would run for president in 2016 despite the possibility of Mr. Aquino’s seeking a second term.

He said becoming president of the Philippines was his childhood dream and that his 21 years of experience as mayor of Makati City would serve him well in running the country from Malacañang.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, an ally of the President, said he did not think Mr. Aquino would pursue a second term, but he was happy that at least the President had abandoned his opposition to amending the Constitution.

Divisive move

Former Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, a member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, warned that Mr. Aquino’s seeking a second term would divide the nation.

“Learning from our experience with previous Philippine presidents who explored term extension, this idea of one more term for the incumbent President will be divisive for the country,” Sarmiento said in a text message to the Inquirer.

Instead of campaigning for a second term, Mr. Aquino should pursue socially innovative programs for the poor during the last two years of his term, Sarmiento said. With reports from Tarra Quismundo in Manila and Michael B. Jaucian and Juan Escandor, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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TAGS: Aquino, Benigno Aquino III, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Disbursement Acceleration Program, House of Representatives, JDF, judiciary development fund, Maria Lourdes Sereno, President Aquino, Supreme Court, transparency
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