Political Storm Surge

To earn more brownie points and avoid disclosing their real interests, the occupants of Malacanang had no choice but to change lanes and go with the overwhelming public clamor to trash the pork barrel of our legislators. The Supreme Court has acquitted itself by resoundingly citing clear-cut 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. 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, co-chair 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 Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) provision in the 2013 national budget and “other similar provisions of the law constituting the pork barrel system” are unconstitutional on the following grounds: First, they allowed legislators to wield, in “varying gradations, non-oversight, and 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. Second, 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 them. This violated the principle of “non-delegability of legislative power”. Third, they created a system of budgeting wherein items are not “textualized” into the appropriation bill, thus denying the President the exercise of his veto power on line items. Fourth, 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. Fifth, 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. Lastly, they conferred on the President the power to appropriate funds intended by law only for energy-related purposes (referring to the Malampaya fund) to others purposes he/she may deem fit. This also violated the principle of non-delegability.

It was just a matter of time, however, that what has been called the “super pork”, aka the Presidential Social Fund (PSF) which is the pork barrel of President Aquino, would eventually be exposed to public scrutiny as well. While the PDAF earmarked in the 2013 budget for all lawmakers amounts to a walloping P25.2 billion, it becomes miniscule compared to the President’s pork- more than P1.4 trillion, which is probably why he is so adamant against relinquishing it despite his strong statements to dismantle the PDAF of the senators and congressmen. Like the pork barrel system, the PSF suffers from the same “flaw of exclusive discretion,” a flaw that has blamed as the culprit that opened the window for unscrupulous members of both the Senate and the House to connive with alleged pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles.

Why would the President need that much money if the agencies of the national government are expected to deliver the services they owe the Filipino people as demanded by of their respective mandates? What do these agencies lack that the President himself needs to fill, such that so humungous an amount should be entrusted to one office or person?

Mr. President, please lead the nation by example. Show yourself as someone willing to go through the same moral and ethical restrictions you demand of others in the government, particularly considering how unforgiving your hand has been in demanding these from those on the other side of the political fence. Demonstrate to us that you still have your balls despite your age and all your other inconsistencies that have caused so much divisiveness, economic disparity and criminality in the last three years. — Faye Bumanglag