In a Decision dated July 1, 2014, the Supreme Court partially granted the consolidated petitions for certiorari and prohibition and declared the following acts and practices under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), National Budget Circular No. 541 and related executive issuances unconstitutional for violating Section 25(5), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers, namely:
(a) The withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies, and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Acts;
(b) The cross-border transfers of the savings of the Executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the Executive; and
(c) The funding of projects, activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the General Appropriations Acts.
The Court further declared void the use of unprogrammed funds despite the absence of a certification by the National Treasurer that the revenue collections exceeded the revenue targets for non-compliance with the conditions provided in the relevant General Appropriations Acts (GAAs).
Remedial law; Certiorari and prohibition. The remedies of certiorari and prohibition are necessarily broader in scope and reach, and the writ of certiorari or prohibition may be issued to correct errors of jurisdiction committed not only by a tribunal, corporation, board or officer exercising judicial, quasi-judicial or ministerial functions but also to set right, undo and restrain any act of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction by any branch or instrumentality of the Government, even if the latter does not exercise judicial, quasi-judicial or ministerial functions. Thus, petitions for certiorari and prohibition are appropriate remedies to raise constitutional issues and to review and/or prohibit or nullify the acts of legislative and executive officials.
Remedial law; Locus standi. Citing De Castro v. Judicial and Bar Council, the Supreme Court ruled that the assertion of a public right as a predicate for challenging a supposedly illegal or unconstitutional executive or legislative action rests on the theory that the petitioner represents the public in general. Although such petitioner may not be as adversely affected by the action complained against as are others, it is enough that he sufficiently demonstrates in his petition that he is entitled to protection or relief from the Court in the vindication of a public right. The Court likewise cited Agan, Jr. v. Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc., to explain that “[s]tanding is a peculiar concept in constitutional law because in some cases, suits are not brought by parties who have been personally injured by the operation of a law or any other government act but by concerned citizens, taxpayers or voters who actually sue in the public interest.”
Transcendental importance as a ground to waive locus standi. Each of the petitioners has established sufficient interest in the outcome of the controversy as to confer locus standi on each of them. In addition, considering that the issues center on the extent of the power of the Chief Executive to disburse and allocate public funds, whether appropriated by Congress or not, these cases pose issues that are of transcendental importance to the entire Nation, the petitioners included. As such, the determination of such important issues call for the Court’s exercise of its broad and wise discretion “to waive the requirement and so remove the impediment to its addressing and resolving the serious constitutional questions raised.”
Administrative law; Budget process; Implementation and funding of the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP). Four phases comprise the Philippine budget process, specifically: (1) Budget Preparation; (2) Budget Legislation; (3) Budget Execution; and (4) Accountability.
The DAP was to be implemented and funded (1) by declaring “savings” coming from the various departments and agencies derived from pooling unobligated allotments and withdrawing unreleased appropriations; (2) releasing unprogrammed funds; and (3) applying the “savings” and unprogrammed funds to augment existing [program, activity or project] or to support other priority PAPs.
Administrative law; Nature of the DAP. The DAP was a government policy or strategy designed to stimulate the economy through accelerated spending. In the context of the DAP’s adoption and implementation being a function pertaining to the Executive as the main actor during the Budget Execution Stage under its constitutional mandate to faithfully execute the laws, including the GAAs, Congress did not need to legislate to adopt or to implement the DAP.
Constitutional law; The DAP is not an appropriation measure and does not contravene Section 29(1), Article VI. The President, in keeping with his duty to faithfully execute the laws, had sufficient discretion during the execution of the budget to adapt the budget to changes in the country’s economic situation. He could adopt a plan like the DAP for the purpose. He could pool the savings and identify the PAPs to be funded under the DAP. The pooling of savings pursuant to the DAP, and the identification of the PAPs to be funded under the DAP did not involve appropriation in the strict sense because the money had been already set apart from the public treasury by Congress through the GAAs. In such actions, the Executive did not usurp the power vested in Congress under Section 29(1), Article VI of the Constitution [that no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law].
Requisites of a valid transfer of appropriated funds under Section 25(5), Article VI. The transfer of appropriated funds, to be valid under Section 25(5), [Article VI of the Constitution], must be made upon a concurrence of the following requisites, namely: (1) There is a law authorizing the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of the Constitutional Commissions to transfer funds within their respective offices; (2) The funds to be transferred are savings generated from the appropriations for their respective offices; and (3) The purpose of the transfer is to augment an item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices.
It is then indubitable that the power to augment was to be used only when the purpose for which the funds had been allocated were already satisfied, or the need for such funds had ceased to exist, for only then could savings be properly realized. This interpretation prevents the Executive from unduly transgressing Congress’ power of the purse.
Savings, defined. The definition of “savings” under the 2011, 2012 and 2013 GAAs refer to portions or balances of any programmed appropriation in this Act free from any obligation or encumbrance which are: (i) still available after the completion or final discontinuance or abandonment of the work, activity or purpose for which the appropriation is authorized; (ii) from appropriations balances arising from unpaid compensation and related costs pertaining to vacant positions and leaves of absence without pay; and (iii) from appropriations balances realized from the implementation of measures resulting in improved systems and efficiencies and thus enabled agencies to meet and deliver the required or planned targets.
The Court agreed with petitioners that respondents were forcing the generation of savings in order to have a larger fund available for discretionary spending. Respondents, by withdrawing unobligated allotments in the middle of the fiscal year, in effect deprived funding for PAPs with existing appropriations under the GAAs.
The mandate of Section 28, Chapter IV, Book VI of the Administrative Code is to revert to the General Fund balances of appropriations that remained unexpended at the end of the fiscal year. The Executive could not circumvent this provision by declaring unreleased appropriations and unobligated allotments as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year.
Augmentation is valid only when funding is deficient. The GAAs for 2011, 2012 and 2013 set as a condition for augmentation that the appropriation for the PAP item to be augmented must be deficient, to wit: – x x x Augmentation implies the existence in this Act of a program, activity, or project with an appropriation, which upon implementation, or subsequent evaluation of needed resources, is determined to be deficient. In no case shall a non-existent program, activity, or project, be funded by augmentation from savings or by the use of appropriations otherwise authorized in this Act.
The President cannot substitute his own will for that of Congress. The Court held that the “savings” pooled under the DAP were allocated to PAPs that were not covered by any appropriations in the pertinent GAAs. Although the [Office of the Solicitor General] rightly contends that the Executive was authorized to spend in line with its mandate to faithfully execute the laws (which included the GAAs), such authority did not translate to unfettered discretion that allowed the President to substitute his own will for that of Congress. He was still required to remain faithful to the provisions of the GAAs, given that his power to spend pursuant to the GAAs was but a delegation to him from Congress. Verily, the power to spend the public wealth resided in Congress, not in the Executive. Moreover, leaving the spending power of the Executive unrestricted would threaten to undo the principle of separation of powers.
Cross-border transfers or augmentations are prohibited. By providing that the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Heads of the Constitutional Commissions may be authorized to augment any item in the GAA “for their respective offices,” Section 25(5) has delineated borders between their offices, such that funds appropriated for one office are prohibited from crossing over to another office even in the guise of augmentation of a deficient item or items. Thus, we call such transfers of funds cross-border transfers or cross-border augmentations.
Regardless of the variant characterizations of the cross-border transfers of funds, the plain text of Section 25(5) disallowing cross-border transfers was disobeyed. Cross-border transfers, whether as augmentation, or as aid, are prohibited under Section 25(5).
No violation of equal protection. Petitioners claim that the Executive discriminated against some legislators on the ground alone of their receiving less than the others could not of itself warrant a finding of contravention of the Equal Protection Clause. The denial of equal protection of any law should be an issue to be raised only by parties who supposedly suffer it, and, in these cases, such parties would be the few legislators claimed to have been discriminated against in the releases of funds under the DAP. The reason for the requirement is that only such affected legislators could properly and fully bring to the fore when and how the denial of equal protection occurred, and explain why there was a denial in their situation. The requirement was not met here.
Operative fact doctrine. The doctrine of operative fact recognizes the existence of the law or executive act prior to the determination of its unconstitutionality as an operative fact that produced consequences that cannot always be erased, ignored or disregarded. In short, it nullifies the void law or executive act but sustains its effects. It provides an exception to the general rule that a void or unconstitutional law produces no effect. But its use must be subjected to great scrutiny and circumspection, and it cannot be invoked to validate an unconstitutional law or executive act, but is resorted to only as a matter of equity and fair play. It applies only to cases where extraordinary circumstances exist, and only when the extraordinary circumstances have met the stringent conditions that will permit its application.
The operative fact doctrine applies to the implementation of the DAP. To declare the implementation of the DAP unconstitutional without recognizing that its prior implementation constituted an operative fact that produced consequences in the real as well as juristic worlds of the Government and the Nation is to be impractical and unfair. Unless the doctrine is held to apply, the Executive as the disburser and the offices under it and elsewhere as the recipients could be required to undo everything that they had implemented in good faith under the DAP. That scenario would be enormously burdensome for the Government. Equity alleviates such burden.