A year ago it had seemed that the spontaneous gesture of outrage by hundreds of thousands who converged at the Rizal Park to protest the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) anomalies signaled the end of congressional pork.
President Benigno S. Aquino III, after vigorously defending the PDAF, then attempted to defuse the explosive situation by announcing that he and the leaders of Congress had agreed to do away with the PDAF. He claimed that the pork barrel system was effectively abolished in response to the people’s clamor.
Nonetheless, the protests continued, with several sectors and budget reform advocates calling attention to huge lump sums of presidential pork that Malacaang used to sustain the canine loyalty of its allies in Congress and in various local government units. This accusation Malacaang vehemently denied.
Then came the Supreme Court ruling declaring the PDAF unconstitutional and placing restrictions on the use of the Presidential Social Fund but still left wide openings for pork to persist in other forms. Reports of Malacaang assuring its allies in the House of Representatives that they can still have their pork, albeit hidden in different line agencies such as the health and education departments, swirled anew. True enough, pork reappeared through new and informal arrangements sans an incriminating official paper trail.
The anti-pork movement began to focus more intently on presidential pork. The Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), in particular, caught its ire after Malacaang was forced to admit the DAP’s existence in the wake of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s revelation that senators had received additional pork as “incentive” to vote for the impeachment of then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, a Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointee and hold-out.
Several taxpayers’ suits against the DAP were filed with the Supreme Court. The case against the DAP was so solid, the Court unanimously ruled that “acts and practices” under the DAP were unconstitutional; that is, the meat of the DAP or the DAP itself was thumbed down by the SC.
Malacaang was thus put on the spot and Mr. Aquino chose to challenge the SC over its DAP decision rather than risk graver consequences of meekly accepting it. (It would appear that Malacaang believes that, in this instance, offense is still the best defense.)
Mr. Aquino’s counter-offensive against the High Court is multi-pronged. After making a defiant, high-profile defense of the DAP and issuing a stinging rebuke of the Supreme Court’s undercutting what he deems as part of executive function and prerogative, the Office of the Solicitor General filed a motion for reconsideration on the DAP decision, recycling the same arguments.
In an obvious attempt to impugn the SC’s integrity, Mr. Aquino threw several accusations of misconduct against the Court in its handling of the Judicial Development Fund (JDF). He also pushed his minions in the lower house to take steps to investigate and eventually abolish the JDF, calling it judicial pork. It did not take long for Mr. Aquino’s attack dogs in the House to threaten Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno with impeachment for the JDF’s alleged misuse.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) for its part demanded the disclosure by the Court of all the justices’ Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN). When this was not provided pronto, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares went to town accusing the justices of making themselves an exception to the rule and of setting a bad example. The BIR also suddenly saw it fit to implement an old and largely disregarded order to tax the benefits of judiciary employees.
Mr. Aquino also announced his openness to Charter change in order to curtail “judicial overreach.” In the process, Mr. Aquino stands justly accused of teetering on the brink of dictatorship, with his attempt to reverse a constitutional provision that vests the Supreme Court with the power to check abuses by either the President or Congress.
Further, in a brazen if not surprising twist to the ongoing clash between Malacaang and the Court, Mr. Aquino has appointed his Solicitor General, the same government lawyer who defended the DAP before the Supreme Court, to the remaining vacant seat in that august body. This development came after Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza was excluded from the shortlist of nominees upon the instance of Chief Justice Sereno but thereafter reinstated when he won his petition to the Court asking for the reversal of his exclusion. Malacaang appears to be gaining some ground in its campaign to pressure and divide the Court as the latter reviews its unanimous DAP decision.
Unfortunately for Malacaang, the anti-pork movement continues to gain ground, unfazed by his face-off with the Court and the looming constitutional crisis this has set in motion.
The People’s Initiative (PI) to enact a law abolishing the pork barrel by means of the direct exercise of the people’s power to legislate was launched last Aug. 23 through a people’s congress held in Cebu City. A rally in the city’s Plaza Independencia kicked off the mass signing of the petition for the PI.
In Manila, a mammoth rally is in the making on Aug. 25, to commemorate the Million People March against pork as well as to provide a venue for the seething anti-pork sentiments of the people to be expressed anew.
Dubbed Stand up, Sign up against All Forms of Pork, the event has quickly gained the support of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines, the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
The PI is the latest response of the anti-pork movement to attempts by Mr. Aquino and his rubber-stamp Congress to further entrench the pork barrel system in flagrant disregard of the wishes of the vast majority of people in this country.
The PI effort has the potential to galvanize and wield broad consensus, mobilize the citizenry for decisive legal and political action versus pork, and possibly render one of the most fatal blows against the Aquino regime’s vapid claims to good governance.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
August 24, 2014