Pork and the Supreme Court
Is it a good idea for concerned citizens to ask the Supreme Court to step in to resolve the controversy over the horrendous multi-billion-peso corruption in the use of legislators’ “pork barrel”?
If you ask this group, who call themselves Lawyers Against Monopoly and Poverty or LAMP, that is the way to go. As early as 2004, they questioned the constitutionality of the pork, euphemistically called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). They wanted the Supreme Court to stop the budget department from releasing these funds.
In fact, they wanted this practice to end and the legal way, in their minds, was for the highest court in the land to scrap it by declaring that PDAF violates the Constitution.
The lawyers argued that members of Congress “do not possess the power to propose, select and identify which projects are to be actually funded by PDAF.”
LAMP contended that “in receiving and spending funds for their chosen projects, members of Congress intruded into an executive function.” They continued: Legislators cannot directly spend the funds which they themselves appropriated. Moreover, they cannot “virtually tell or dictate upon the Executive Department how to spend taxpayers’ money.” This, they claimed, violated the core principle of separation of powers.
Ceferino Padua, who headed this activist group, has passed away. He joined the roll of Philippine lawyers in 1950 and is remembered by some for his anti-establishment streak. He must have been in his 70s when he filed the “pork barrel” case.
(The phrase “pork barrel” has its roots in the US and has become a derogatory term, referring to government funds used for “political opportunism.”)
Among those who joined Padua’s petition were father and son, Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. (who was a senator then) and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who sits in the current Senate.
However, LAMP’s soaring rhetoric fell flat. The group merely attached news clips to back up their claims, rather than going to original sources such as Commission on Audit reports or budget department documents.
In 2012, or 8 years after they filed their petition, the Supreme Court dismissed it because the lawyers failed to provide proof that the PDAF was directly released to members of Congress and that they spent these solely according to their discretion.
But instead of issuing a minute resolution, those one-pagers that say one’s petition doesn’t merit the justices’ attention, the Court wrote a thoughtful 9-page decision. Here’s what the justices said: “…the petition poses issues impressed with paramount public interest. The ramification of issues involving the unconstitutional spending of PDAF deserves the consideration of the Court…”
They continued: “Regrettably, these allegations lack substantiation…Not even a documentation of the disbursement of funds by the DBM in favor of the Members of Congress was presented by the petitioner to convince the Court to probe into the truth of their claims…Newspaper or electronic reports showing the appalling effects of PDAF cannot be appreciated by the Court…”
In conclusion, the Court said: “So long as there is no showing of a direct participation of legislators in the actual spending of the budget, the constitutional boundaries between the Executive and the Legislative in the budgetary process remain intact.”
Now comes COA Chairperson Grace Tan who said, in an interview with the Philippine Star that her agency is set to release a full audit report on PDAF for the years 2007-2009. This much-awaited report will apparently show that more legislators, including those from the administration, give their pork to shady NGOs.
Could this be the proof LAMP or any other civic-minded citizen needs to convince the Court to declare the PDAF unconstitutional?
Former Senator Nene Pimentel doesn’t remember the LAMP case but he says it is okay to go to the Supreme Court again to question the PDAF. But he hesitates, at the same time, because he doesn’t want a “general condemnation” of the fund. There is a “good side” to the PDAF, as his experience shows.
“If PDAF is properly used, it can help level things up. Some areas, which are within warlord territory, are neglected because their leaders are not with the ruling clan,” Pimentel tells me. This is where he usually helps out.
For example, a small part of his PDAF (P200 million a year is allotted for each senator) went to the construction of a 3-room school building in Aparri. “My God! The inauguration of the school was a fiesta. The entire town was on the streets,” Pimentel recalls. “They were deprived through the years because of partisan politics. So the PDAF made up for this.”
Pimentel says public officials who misused the PDAF, in the light of revelations about this development fund going to ghost projects, should be made accountable. There are enough laws, he adds, to deal with corrupt officials.
But, yes, the other track that can be taken is to make a co-equal body of Congress review the PDAF.
This will surely create tension between the 2 branches of government. Let’s see who will prevail. - Rappler.com