SC junks PDAF as unconstitutional

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(4th UPDATE) Voting unanimously, 14 justices decide against the pork barrel system

ACTING ON PORK. The Supreme Court says the pork barrel of lawmakers is unconstitutional. File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (8th UPDATE) – The Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 19, declared as unconstitutional the legislators’ controversial pork barrel fund known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

The High Tribunal also struck down as illegal provisions in two laws that allow the President to use the Malampaya Fund and the President’s Social Fund for purposes beyond the mandate of the funds.

The vote against the PDAF was 14-0, according to Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te. Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr inhibited from the case because his son is a congressman. The ponente, or writer of the decision, is Associate Justice Estela Bernabe, an appointee of President Benigno Aquino III.

The verdict reads:

“In view of the constitutional violations discussed in this Decision, the Court hereby declares as UNCONSTITUTIONAL: (a) the entire 2013 PDAF Article; (b) all legal provisions of past and present Congressional Pork Barrel Laws, such as the previous PDAF and CDF Articles and the various Congressional Insertions, which authorize/d legislators—whether individually or collectively organized into committees—to intervene, assume or participate in any of the various post-enactment stages of the budget execution, such as but not limited to the areas of project identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release and/or fund realignment, unrelated to the power of congressional oversight; (c)  all legal provisions of past and present Congressional Pork Barrel laws, such as the previous PDAF and CDF Articles and the various Congressional Insertions, which confer/red personal, lump-sum allocations to legislators from which they are able to fund specific projects which they themselves determine; (d) all informal practices of similar import and effect, which the Court similarly deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of discretion; and (e) the phrases (1) “and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President” under Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910 and (2) “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects” under Section 12 of PD 1869, as amended by PD 1993, for both failing the sufficient standard test in violation of the principle of non-delegability of legislative power.”

Malampaya and President’s pork

In its decision, the Court stopped the release of money from the Malampaya fund that is not for energy projects and activities. It struck as illegal the phrase “and for such other purposes as may hereafter be directed by the President,” which is stated in Presidential Decree 910, or the law that is the basis of government’s use of revenues from national resources such as gas. 

The justices also disallowed the release of parts of the President’s Social Fund that are used “to finance…priority infrastructure development projects,” as stated in Presidential Decree 1869.

Critics have said these phrases are discretionary in nature. (READ: The pork barrel trail)

The Court said they were striking down these portions of the two laws “for failing the self-sufficient standard test in violation of the principle of non-delegability of legislative power.”

The Court also ordered all prosecutors to investigate and prosecute all government officials and private individuals “for possible criminal offenses related to the irregular, improper and/or unlawful disbursement/utilization of funds under the Pork Barrel System.”

Remaining 2013 PDAF to be returned to Treasury

With the SC decision, the temporary restraining order on the PDAF imposed on September 10, 2013 has been declared permanent. 

The remaining 2013 PDAF allocations yet to be released to lawmakers, as well as portions of the PSF and Malampaya Funds declared unconstitutional, will be returned to the government’s coffers

Ahead of the SC decision, both chambers of Congress waived their right to their frozen PDAF for 2013 and authorized the President to use it as a calamity fund.

In an ambush interview shortly after the decision was announced, Budget Secretary Butch Abad said he has yet to read the SC decision as of posting time but the government is studying how the funds will be used. 

Meanwhile, the SC denied the petitioners’ request for the budget department to provide a detailed list of how the PDAF, the Malampaya and PSF Fund was utilized and availed since the public already has access to the documents. 

Below are the parts of the decision, as read by Atty Te in a press briefing Tuesday:

Following public uproar over the multibillion pork barrel scam, petitioners went to the High Court to question the legal basis that allowed lawmakers to participate in the execution of projects even after the budget is passed.

Earlier, Justice Carpio called the PDAF “illegal on its face” and “riddled with unconstitutionality.” 

He said the 2013 General Appropriations Act (GAA) violated the Constitution when it gave Cabinet Secretaries the President’s power to realign savings and required the concurrence of both chambers of Congress to realign and release funds.

In the past, the High Court upheld the system’s constitutionality. But the PDAF in the 2013 national budget was “a different animal,” Carpio earlier said, because it made the identification of a lawmaker’s project “mandatory” rather than “recommendatory.”

The pork barrel scam involving the alleged misuse of at least P6 billion worth of lawmakers’ discretionary funds sparked massive protests to abolish the system. The woman at the center of the scam, Janet Lim Napoles, is detained over serious illegal detention charges and also faces a plunder complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman.

In its decision, the high court also ordered the investigation of government officials who may have misused the funds. 

Earlier, the House of Representatives decided to scrap the PDAF from the proposed 2014 GAA and realign its P25.2 billion allocation to 6 executive agencies.

Most senators, meanwhile, are leaning towards completely deleting their PDAF allocation for 2014 from the budget. – with reports from Angela Casauay/

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