“It’s a small step forward in our fight against corruption and political patronage. Yet what is notable about the decision is that it would set the precedent for succeeding constitutional challenges regarding discretionary public funds.” – Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Several groups welcomed the Supreme Court decision declaring as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
In a landmark decision, the high court, voting 14-0-1, ruled that PDAF is “inconsistent with the constitutional mandates of the executive and legislative branches of government.”
“The court hereby declares as unconstitutional the entire 2013 PDAF article (and) all legal provisions of past and present congressional pork barrel law such as previous PDAF articles, various insertions unrelated to the power of congressional oversight,” Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said.
The high court found that the intervention, assumption and participation of lawmakers in any of the post-enactment stages in the execution of the budget – such as identification of projects, fund release and/or fund realignment – to be unrelated to Congress’ power of oversight.
Moreover, the high tribunal deemed that the phrases in Section 8 of Presidential Decree 910 on the Malampaya Funds “and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President,” and the “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects” under Sec. 12 of PD 1869 (under the President’s Social Fund), as amended by PD 1993, had violated the principle of non-delegability of legislative power.
In a statement, youth group Anakbayan said, “We welcome the SC ruling declaring the PDAF unconstitutional as a victory of the Filipino people’s collective action. It is a step in the right direction.”
“The ruling sends a clear message to the pork barrel king and the lord of thieves Noynoy Aquino. They should stop the lies and immediately scrap all pork,” Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan chairman, said.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus called it “a victory of the Filipino people in demanding accountability of the Philippine government to the taxpayers in the drafting of the budget and assuring that their taxes are spent on legislated items.”
The groups are one in saying that the fight against the pork barrel system is not yet over.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan lamented the court’s denial of the appeals to compel President Aquino’s subalterns such as the Department of Budget and Management to release all financial reports detailing how the PDAF and Malampaya funds were spent.
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap said the presidential pork, which is far bigger than the Congress and Senate’s PDAF combined, is still very much intact.
According to Kabataan partylist, Aquino’s pork barrel is more than P1.3-trillion ($29.41 billion) for 2014. The President also exercises discretion in the spending of Malampaya funds. Since 20002, royalty payments of Caltex and Shell to the Philippines for extracting natural gas in Malampaya amounted to P173 billion ($3.91 billion).
Anakpawis party-list national president Rafael Mariano zeroed in on the Disbursment Acceleration Program (DAP). He urged the high court to seal the fate of the highly controversial DAP by making it illegal and unconstitutional.
Created in 2011, the DAP is a spending mechanism that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said was meant to “fast-track disbursements and push economic growth in light of the global slowdown and the onslaught of recent calamities.” In 2011, Aquino allegedly used the P85.5 billion ($2 billion) DAP funds in order to ensure the swift impeachment of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. Various groups filed petitions before the high court seeking to declare DAP as unconstitutional.
“The high court’s collegial body should end President Aquino’s power tripping, his constitutional power is not absolute,” Mariano said.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said the SC decision “dismantled only the tip of the iceberg.” “It’s a small step forward in our fight against corruption and political patronage. Yet what is notable about the decision is that it would set the precedent for succeeding constitutional challenges regarding discretionary public funds,” Ridon said.
The groups also warned the Aquino administration against using supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) victims as justification for DAP.
“This heartless, gutless and callous government is obviously taking advantage of the situation in the typhoon-ravaged areas in the name of tapping DAP. It even goes down low as it claims that the TRO [temporary restraining order] issued against DAP will cripple the relief and rehabilitation of all the areas wreaked by typhoon Yolanda,” Mariano said.
Anakbayan’s Crisostomo branded as ‘pure evil’ the attempts of Aquino’s allies in Congress to salvage the 2013 pork by realigning it to so-called calamity funds.
Aquino’s allies filed House Joint Resolution No. 7, a resolution “waiving all rights to the unreleased balance of the 2013 Priority Development Assistance Fund and authorizing the Executive Department to realign the same to the calamity fund.
“There is something sinister hiding behind this resolution. While it supposedly intends to free up funds for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda; it is in effect actually transferring more lump-sum funds to the hands of the Executive Department – funds that did not undergo public scrutiny and are highly vulnerable to corruption,” Ridon said.
The Makabayan bloc in Congress filed an alternative resolution urging the President to come up with a comprehensive and people-oriented rehabilitation program for the areas devastated by super typhoons Yolanda and Santi, the Bohol earthquake, and other calamities and to submit an itemized supplemental budget to be approved by Congress.
Senior Deputy Minority Leader Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the funding requirements for the rehabilitation program shall be sourced from the deletion of the P25.24 billion PDAF and the P200 million fund for the priority programs and projects of the Vice President and from the presidential pork barrel.