MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers plan to pass a supplemental budget for 2013 to help disaster victims after the Supreme Court struck down their pork barrel.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said he will discuss the proposal with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr following the High Court ruling declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional.
Legislators had mixed reactions to the ruling – with some welcoming it as a boost for transparency, others as vindication of their crusade, and the rest as a “sad day” for their constituents.
For Drilon, the P14.5 billion in unused PDAF for 2013 might as well go to relief and rehabilitation efforts for victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and typhoons Santi (Nari) and Labuyo (Utor), the magnitude 7.2 earthquake in the Visayas, and the Zamboanga siege.
“We are now eyeing the passage of a supplemental budget for 2013 – and we will thereafter urge the President to certify it as urgent,” Drilon said in a statement on Tuesday, November 19.
Drilon explained that the House of Representatives must first pass the supplemental budget. He suggested that the Senate then suspend the deliberation of the 2014 national budget to tackle the supplemental budget.
“I would urge the immediate passage of the supplemental budget before the year ends because the General Appropriations Act for 2013 would expire by December 31. The supplemental budget must be passed before the year ends,” the Senate President told reporters.
In a unanimous decision, the Court declared the PDAF unconstitutional, particularly laws that allow lawmakers to “intervene, assume, or participate in any of the various post-enactment stages of the budget execution.”
Drilon and Belmonte said instead of appealing the decision, Congress will just respect the ruling.
Before the Supreme Court decision, lawmakers intended to realign the PDAF to help calamity victims.
Yet Drilon said that this can no longer be done under the High Court ruling.
“It goes back to the national treasury and we won’t be able to use it for storm victims. We cannot even realign PDAF because the SC erased it from the 2013 budget.”
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano supported the use of the remaining funds for the disaster victims.
“Let me also…call on the Executive and Congress to make sure that the unspent portion of this year’s PDAF goes straight to the people as fast as possible, especially to the victims of the recent calamities,” Cayetano said in a statement.
Before the ruling, senators were allocated P200 million in PDAF each year while congressmen got P70 million. The PDAF was meant to be used for priority projects of lawmakers’ districts like roads, medical assistance and school buildings. Yet it was often used as a political tool and the system became prone to corruption.
The Supreme Court decision reversed its past rulings upholding the legality of the PDAF. It comes after national outrage over the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam, where lawmakers allegedly channeled their PDAF to fake non-governmental organizations of supposed mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles in exchange for kickbacks.
Miriam: There’s a God after all
Some lawmakers hailed the Supreme Court decision as a step toward transparency. Drilon said it will “dismantle the system of political patronage.”
Yet for Senator JV Ejercito, the Court must not stop with the PDAF and include the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
“If the PDAF was declared as unconstitutional, then all forms of pork barrel should likewise be declared unconstitutional so it will be consistent.”
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares agreed. “I also hope that the same decision would be issued for the DAP because any president must not be allowed to realign funds at whim as this will lead to corruption and misuse of funds.”
The High Court handed down its PDAF ruling on the same day it began oral arguments on the DAP, which critics said was a “budget within a budget” and another form of pork barrel. The government said though that it was meant to boost spending when the economy’s growth slowed down.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also hailed the Supreme Court ruling. She quipped, “There’s a God after all.”
Santiago said the ruling was consistent with her criticism of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile’s selective distribution of additional Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) in December 2012 because the SC struck down “all informal practices of similar import and effect [as the PDAF] which the court deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of or excess of discretion.”
“Enrile’s arrogance has now been declared as bluff and bluster by the Supreme Court. At the very least, he should offer to commit hara-kiri because this dishonor belongs to him,” Santiago said.
“Getting sick over the pork barrel scandal was well worth it, now that the Supreme Court has validated my position. This is a vindication not only for me but also for the entire Filipino electorate,” she added.
Santiago’s rival, former Senator Panfilo Lacson, also saw the decision as a vindication. Lacson and former Senator Joker Arroyo were the only ones who refused to use their PDAF allocations.
“Ten years ago, I called for the pork barrel abolition…. Nobody listened. Instead, I was looked down upon as one stupid legislator with no political sense. At last, I feel vindicated that I proved myself right. I couldn’t be happier for myself and for our people,” Lacson said in a statement.
‘Scholars innocent victims of Napoles scam’
Other lawmakers criticized the Supreme Court decision.
“It is a big blow to our efforts to raise funds for the rehabilitation and reconstruction [after disasters]. While all sectors of society in the national and international community are in a frenzied mood to look for resources to support the typhoon victims, the SC appears to be insensitive to our situation,” said Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone.
Senator Sonny Angara and Marikina Representative Miro Quimbo said the government must now look for ways to fund scholars and indigent patients affected by the ruling.
“They are unfortunately the innocent victims of the Napoles scam,” Quimbo said.
“It is high time too that congress now begins to craft a specific line item budgeting process that will ensure the needs of the indigent constituents in the different districts that have been the main beneficiaries of the PDAF, at least in my district,” Quimbo added.
Despite lawmakers’ statements expressing concern about students and patients, the budget that the House passed showed a different priority. The congressmen chose to realign their PDAF to 6 line agencies, with the least amount given to the education and health departments.
What do you think of the SC decision and the lawmakers’ reactions? Let us know in the comments section below. – Rappler.com