SC allows live audio of PDAF arguments

Ayee Macaraig
For the first time, the Court allows the audio livestream of the oral arguments on the pork barrel, saying it's a gut-level issue

A FIRST. Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te says the oral arguments' topic, pork barrel, is a "gut-level" issue, thus the go-signal for an audio livestream for the public to listen live. File photo Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – In a bid to improve transparency, the Supreme Court will allow for the first time the audio livestream of the oral arguments on the pork barrel.

The High Court issued an advisory setting the guidelines for the audio livestream, a first in the history of the Tribunal. In the past, those who wish to watch the proceedings can only do so in the Supreme Court session hall and via a screen set up at the lobby. (Check audio livestream here)

The Court is tackling 3 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the use of the Malampaya fund for purposes other than energy development, and the President’s Social Fund (PSF).

Supreme Court Spokesperson Theodore Te told Rappler there were past attempts and requests to have oral arguments broadcast live. This time though, the Court allowed the audio livestream because of public interest in the issue.

“Now, on this particular occasion, we felt that because the issues are in fact very, well, they’re gut level issues, people are angry, people are definitely taking a position one way or another on PDAF and because it is national in scope, there are a lot of people involved in the issue.”

“The Court felt it was important that people could hear what was going on and hear it real time. And that’s why they allowed – only for this occasion – a live stream of the audio of the oral argument,” added Te.

Te said that the audio livestream is in line with the efforts of the court to use technology to ensure transparency.

“Since last year, the Court has really been doing things with technology…. Now with the livestream wherein the Court is basically using technology like YouTube and going real time, allowing people to hear real-time what was going on in terms of the oral arguments, I think it enhances transparency. It opens up the Court in terms of how it deliberates, how it thinks.”

TRO on PDAF, Malampaya

Last September 10, the High Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the release of the remaining PDAF for 2013 and the Malampaya fund for purposes outside energy spending.

Former senatorial candidates Greco Belgica, Samson Alcantara, and former Boac, Marindique Mayor Pedrito Nepomuceno filed separate petitions after media reports and the Commission on Audit report on the pork barrel and Malampaya scams.

In the PDAF scam, lawmakers allegedly channeled their development funds to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for kickbacks at high as 50% of the bogus project. Whistleblowers said P900 million from the Malampaya fund was also siphoned off to the fake NGOs of scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

READ: Plunder charges vs Enrile, Revilla, Estrada

The Malampaya fund comes from the proceeds of the Malampaya natural gas project off the coast of Palawan that started in 2001.

READ: How the Malampaya fund was plundered

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed plunder complaints before the Ombudsman for the pork barrel and Malampaya scams.

The scale and extent of corruption outraged Filipino citizens, who have been organizing protests for two months now since the scams were first made public.

READ: Plunder raps vs GMA, others over Malampaya fund

Checks, balances, separation of powers

While the DOJ and Congress have been investigating the scams, the case signals the possible intervention of the judiciary in the issue that has been hounding the executive and the legislative branches for months.

READ: Hard issues on PDAF, DAP

The respondents in the case are Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr . They will be represented by the Office of the Solicitor General.

In an advisory last week, the court limited the issues to be discussed in the oral arguments:

Congressional pork barrel – whether or not the PDAF and the Various Infrastructure including Local Projects (VILP) Fund
a. constitute an undue delegation of legislative power

b. violate the principle of separation of powers

c. impair the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches

d. violate the accountability provisions in the Constitution

Presidential pork barrel
a. Malampaya Fund – whether or not the use of the phrase “and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President” in Section 8 of Presidential Decree No 910 constitutes undue delegation of legislative powers

b. PSF – whether or not the phrase “may also be appropriated and allocated to fund and finance infrastructure and/or socio-civic projects throughout the Philippines as may be directed and authorized by the Office of the President of the Philippines” in Title IV, Section 12 of Presidential Decree No 1869 constitutes undue delegation of legislative powers

Petitioners and respondents will also argue on whether or not the Court’s TRO should be partially lifted to allow the release of PDAF for educational and medical assistance purposes, as requested in the comment of the Solicitor General.

The Court also asked Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan to appear as an amicus curiae or a resource person. The justices also instructed the Solicitor General to bring representatives of the budget department and Congress to answer questions on the budgeting process.

Political or judicial question?

Beyond what the Court termed substantial issues, both sides will also present their case on procedural issues.

The petitioners have argued that the court can use its power of judicial review to decide on the constitutionality of the pork barrel. They have also said that the tribunal must revisit its past rulings upholding the legality of the PDAF because the COA special audit report on the PDAF and the pork barrel scam were not taken into consideration in the past decisions.

The court upheld the constitutionality of the PDAF in Philippine Constitution Association v Enriquez in 1994, Andres Sarmiento et al v the Treasurer of the Philippines et al in 2001, and Lawyers Against Monopoly and Poverty (LAMP) v Secretary of Budget and Management in 2012. 

Yet in its comment, the Solicitor General argued that the judiciary should allow the political branches of government to craft solutions to the problem. It said the government is in the process of reforming the pork barrel, and a court decision could preempt and limit these reforms.

The Solicitor General maintained that the reported abuses of the PDAF “are problems of implementation and do not go into the constitutionality of the PDAF.”

The government then argued that “the remedy should be [through the] political process].” –