Philippine President Benigno Aquino is defending an economic stimulus program amid calls for his impeachment as well as the resignation of his budget secretary.
President Aquino said the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program was meant to give the economy an immediate boost. The idea behind the funding mechanism is to take unspent money from government agencies and immediately inject it into public projects to speed up their completion.
Aquino said his administration came up with the program in 2011 because under-spending significantly brought down the Gross Domestic Product.
During a nationally televised address he said, “Without doubt, any good leader would want to implement projects that benefit the public at the soonest possible time. He said he did "not see any reason to delay benefits for our countrymen, especially because we have the wherewithal to alleviate their plight.”
Various groups filed petitions with the Supreme Court questioning the program. On July 1 the high court said portions were unconstitutional. The court said it was unconstitutional to take unspent money out of budgets before the fiscal year ended, transfer them to branches of government beyond the office of the executive and fund projects that were not covered by the general spending plan.
Aquino addressed the court directly pointing out the legal basis for the program was based on an administrative code from 1987. He said it clearly allowed the president to transfer savings to other projects.
“The Disbursement Acceleration Program is good,” he said. “Our intentions, our processes, and the results were correct, … he promised he "will not allow your suffering to be prolonged-especially if we could do what we can as early as now.”
The decision prompted calls for the country’s budget secretary to resign. Secretary Florencio Abad tried to submit his resignation last week, but Aquino refused to accept it. At least one private citizen has filed an impeachment case over the issue and some citizens’ groups say more will follow.
Aquino has been under fire as one of the largest political scandals to rock the country plays out. The administration canceled special lawmaker allocations after it was discovered that certain officials allegedly received kickbacks in a scheme that cycled the funds through bogus non-government agencies and returned the money to them. This brought closer scrutiny to the disbursement program.
The president’s popularity has reached an all-time low this year. After having mostly polled above 60 percent since he took office in 2010, the numbers declined. Manila-based Pulse Asia found last month his approval rating dropped to 56 percent from 70 percent in March.
One survey by Manila-based Social Weather Stations shows the lowest ratings, so far. The survey also taken last month shows his net satisfaction rating was down to 25 percent from 45 percent in March.