The P5 Million question

The President asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to go easy on the P5 Million fund diversion given to National Commission on Muslim Filipinos purposely for use of the participants to the “2018 HAJJ for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of Marawi City” in their pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Said amount is part of the P500 Million allocated by the Office of the President to the Marawi Rehabilitation Fund of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).

COA specifically mentioned that the P500 Million fund is strictly for use in the “recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the City of Marawi and other affected localities.” A comprehensive agreement detailed how this fund should be disbursed (which are either for the construction and reconstruction of infrastructures; such as roads and bridges, and Health Services or for peace and order needs of the Military and Police, among others), but nowhere it says that sponsorship to any event or travel is allowed, COA further stressed. VP Leni Robredo who previously headed the HUDCC in her press release, contradicted President Duterte in his defense of this diverted P5 Million used as travel expenses of some of the Hajj to Mecca. She said, “What is allocated for rehabilitation should only be used for such purpose”. This is quite true for proper budgeting.

Many have been said and written about this issue, but most of them are centered on the technicality of this fund diversion.

In a contrasting perspective, discussion here is more on the palpable violation of the provisions in the Constitution, not by the act of fund diversion, but rather where the P5 Million was intended and spent for.

The Constitution spells out clearly the Separation of Church and the State: “No public money may be spent in support of any religion”, Article 3 says in part. In furtherance, Article 6, section 29 (2): states “No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution, or system of religion..”

The diverted P5 Million fund was intentionally used directly in support of a religious activity; the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca—this is the whole point of constitutional discourse.

The President cannot just order COA to go easy on their audit findings and forget about it even though the funds came from his Office because the real issue here is bigger than the COA or even the presidency itself—it is the apparent violation of the Articles in the Constitution as mentioned above which neither COA nor the President, nor any citizen of the country for that matter can ignore or set aside.

It is not just a clear case of Malversation (not just a Technical Malversation according to the legal opinion of my Fiscal friend in his Facebook post), worse; it is a direct assault on the 1987 Constitution.

The President in his defense of the fund diversion expressed alarmingly the threat of another war from Muslims in Mindanao if they are not correspondingly appeased—what with the injustices done to them for centuries, so he staunchly articulated. What is P5 Million in exchange of sustained peace, he further asserted.

True, if the argument is between the “measly amount of P5 Million” and the hundreds of lives that will be lost when a war breaks out in Mindanao again. Of course everyone will undoubtedly agree with him, no question about that. However, this inconsequential comparison is merely on the basis of attaching an amount, no matter how significant or insignificant it is, to a cause and effect analogy that is totally out of touch to the real issue at hand—that what was committed is not just an ordinary transgression, but also a violation of the provisions in the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, which is inconceivable!

As stated, our Constitution does not favor any Church or system of religion. If the President wants to appease the Muslims in Mindanao, he should, by all means, tell Congress instead to craft more laws that would specifically address this hounding issue. In the meantime, he should not, in any way, interfere in the legitimate COA findings and reprehensively justify what is apparently wrong by brushing aside its recommendation to return the diverted fund, otherwise, the fundamental law of the land will subsequently crumble and lose its meaning.

When the President took his oath of office, he swore ‘to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution”. We expect him to do just that.

No one is above the law, more so above the Constitution of the land.