By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
The Supreme Court has acquitted itself by resoundingly, citing clearcut legal arguments, declaring the pork barrel unconstitutional. Voting unanimously (with one abstention), the tribunal thus reversed its two previous rulings on the issue in 1994 and 2012.
At bottom, the Court’s decision announced last Tuesday, before it started hearing oral arguments on the Disbursement Acceleration Fund whose constitutionality is likewise challenged, is a substantial, though partial, triumph of the Filipino people’s sustained demand for the absolute abolition of pork barrel in whatever form.
Credit must also be accorded the courageous whistle-blowers on the P10-billion pork-barrel scam (now subject of plunder charges against Janet Napoles, certain senators and others) and the sustained exposes by a leading newspaper followed by all other media, with prominent participation of the social media.
The exposes spurred nationwide protests, which quickly evolved into a unified demand in August to abolish not only the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund but also all lump-sum funds, in hundreds of billions, whose disbursements were subject only to presidential discretion.
The full text of the SC decision has yet to be released. But the commentary on the publicized three-page dispositive part, written by Oscar Franklin Tan, cochair of the Philippine Bar Association committee on constitutional law, is interesting. He refers to it as “an unusually long order… that reads like a dream Scrap Pork Network manifesto.”
In sum, the SC ruled that the PDAF provision in the 2013 national budget and “other similar provisions of law constituting the pork barrel system” are unconstitutional on the following grounds:
1. They allowed legislators to wield, in “varying gradations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget execution.” This means members of Congress were allowed to intervene in the Executive’s implementation of the budget they had approved, thus violating the constitutional principle of separation of powers (between the legislative and executive).
2. They conferred on legislators the power of appropriation by giving them personal, discretionary funds from which they were able to fund specific projects determined by themselves. This violated the principle of “non-delegability of legislative power” (which cannot be delegated to individual legislators).
3. They created a system of budgeting wherein items are not “textualized” (listed as specific items) into the appropriation bill, thus denying the President the exercise of his veto power on line items.
4. They diluted the effectiveness of congressional oversight on the executive’s implementation of the national budget by giving legislators a stake or participation in the process. This impaired accountability on the use of the people’s money.
5. They authorized legislators, who are national officials, to intervene “in affairs of purely local nature, despite the existence of capable local institutions.” This subverted genuine local autonomy.
6. They conferred on the President the power to appropriate funds intended by law only for energy-related purposes (referring to the Malampaya fund) to other purposes he/she may deem fit. This also violated the principle of non-delegability.
Both former President Arroyo and President Aquino used parts of the Malampaya funds for other purposes – with specific evidence of abuse and misuse by the Arroyo government, as gathered by the Commission on Audit.
Thus, the SC decision has made permanent its temporary injunction issued on Sept. 30, 2013 against further releases of PDAF funds this year, and of Malampaya funds covered by Special Allotment Release Order under the phrase, “and for such other purposes as may hereafter be directed by the President.”
The Court likewise has prohibited the further release of money from the Presidential Social Fund under the phrase, “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects.” The decision mandates that money in both the Malampaya and PSF shall be disbursed only “for their respective special purposes not otherwise declared unconstitutional.”
Other questions raised may be answered after the full SC decision is released. More so after the Court rules on the constitutionality of the DAP, which critics consider part of the President’s pork barrel.
The SC decision is final and executory. Malacanang, which argued for the PDAF’s constitutionality, is not filing a motion for reconsideration.
Ditto with the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. both said they won’t appeal the decision, despite the remonstrations by certain legislators on the ruling’s adverse impact on their pet projects.
Drilon and Belmonte correlated the pork barrel abolition to efforts to eliminate political patronage, which Drilon acknowledged “has allowed a few to maintain their political dominance in certain areas.” Belmonte averred that removing political patronage is “for the good of everybody.”
A related development may test just how seriously committed the 16th Congress leadership is to ending political patronage, which has perpetuated political dynasties, both old and new.
After so many attempts in the past 18 years, the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms this week unanimously approved a consolidated bill seeking to carry out Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution’s Declaration of Principles and State Policies: “The state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be provided by law.”
The bill has a long way to go through the legislative mill. Like the abolish-the-pork movement, it needs sustained vigorous public support to succeed.
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November 23, 2013