📰 The pork barrel monster [BusinessMirror]

pork-roanoke-tribune
Image courtesy: Roanoke Tribune

From Santiago F. Dumlao Jr. in BusinessMirror: The public has all along been aware of the reprehensible practices associated with the pork barrel system, and some senators, Sen. Panfilo Lacson Sr. specifically, indeed have refused their pork barrel allocation to publicly express their personal protest.

The pork barrel monster

By Santiago F. Dumlao Jr. – February 19, 2019

With the horrors of pork barrel continuing to inflict themselves upon us, almost helpless citizens, let us recall what happened in 2013, the year the pork barrel abuses were revealed to the public in all its monstrous perniciousness.

This “pork barrel” system has always been questionable, and its use to promote political patronage has been marked by abusive practices, characterized by irregularities in the award of public works contracts, kickbacks, bribery, all manner of corruption and wasteful spending of public funds. It has really been a scandal, abetted by a collusion between Congress and the Executive department and as well between the House and the Senate.

Nevertheless, because of the inertia of repetitive practice, the Executive department has always been including “pork” appropriations for lawmakers in the national budgets it annually proposes to Congress. “Pork” comes in various names, such as Country Development Fund in the time of President Cory Aquino, and subsequently called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the PNoy administration.

The public has all along been aware of the reprehensible practices associated with the pork barrel system, and some senators, Sen. Panfilo Lacson Sr. specifically, indeed have refused their pork barrel allocation to publicly express their personal protest. The issue against pork barrel has been raised in presidential elections, but the issue has been largely ignored. The legislators, who pass the General Appropriations Act (GAA), could hardly be expected to abolish their source of largesse and their tool of political patronage. And the presidents of the land have been always content enough to include pork in their National Expenditure Program to keep the lawmakers happy — and cooperative. To keep the pork barrel appropriations in the national budget was a mutually beneficial arrangement between Congress and the president.

The public, we might conclude, got used to being ignored in making their objections, and their voices of protest eventually faded to accept “the reality of our politics.” The pork barrel system, it was now being rationalized, has its positive aspects of allowing Congressmen to help their constituents in ways they, as local representatives, can only understand the local needs—scholarships, medical clinics, country roads, livelihood projects and an assortment of projects.

Even as the corruption attending pork barrel disbursements was being conceded, the public had become more accepting of the pork barrel system with supine resignation.

Ghost projects

On July 12, 2013, the Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with its special five-part report that a certain businesswoman, Janet Lim-Napoles, had allegedly used the PDAF of 28 lawmakers to channel the money to ghost projects — a staggering amount of some P10 billion over a period of 10 years. This allegation was made by her former employees, principally Benhur Luy, Janet’s cousin. The whistle-blowers submitted affidavits alleging that Napoles formed bogus nongovernment organizations to be the recipients of pork barrel allocations of lawmakers who, it was reported, directed their PDAF sums to these NGOs.

The PDAF was not the only source of funds directed to NGO ghost projects. The Malampaya Fund (government’s share from the Malampaya gas project) was also used by Napoles to channel funds to bogus NGOs.

Serendipitously, the Commission on Audit published its special audit that “funds totaling P6.2 billion from PDAF allocations of 12 senators and 180 congressmen from 2007 to 2009 were transferred to 82 bogus NGOs ‘in clear violation of the law.’” This corroborated the allegations of the whistle-blowers against Napoles, who, according to this COA report, was linked to 10 of the bogus NGOs that received PDAF amounts.

Meantime, three petitions were filed with the Supreme Court calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system, and for stopping any further release of PDAF amounts. On September 10, 2013, the high court did issue its order to stop further releases. Meantime, the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation started their own investigation. Then, on September 16, 2013, “charges of plunder, malversation, bribery, graft and corrupt practices were filed in the Office of the Ombudsman against Napoles, Sens. Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada, and 34 other people.” In a related action, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court questioning the legality and constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP, which released funds to selected legislators as “additional pork barrel” to help accelerate public spending. The DAP funds received by congressmen were reported to be P10 million to P15 million each—to pump-prime the economy, was the justification.

On October 8, 2013, the first oral arguments were heard in the Supreme Court on the petition questioning the legality and constitutionality of the PDAF.

Finally, on November 19, 2013 the Supreme Court promulgated its pork barrel decision.

The decision of the Supreme Court on the pork barrel, declaring it unconstitutional, is a landmark decision. It is a commendable elucidation of the constitutional principles by which the formulation and implementation of the national budget are to be guided, explaining the reasons for such principles and wisdom that underlie the constitutional arrangements in the sharing of authorities over government spending.

The vote of 14 justices, out of 15 members, was an impressive solid vote that gave authoritative weight to the decision. One member of the Court, Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., took no part on the ground that his son was a legislator.

Instructively, the Court traced the history of the pork barrel system that its decision was addressing, and made these clarifications.

“…The Court defines the pork barrel system as the collective body of rules and practices that govern the manner by which lump-sum, discretionary funds, primarily intended for local projects, are utilized through the respective participations of the Legislative and Executive branches of government, including its members. The pork barrel system involves two kinds of lump-sum discretionary funds:

“First, there is the Congressional Pork Barrel, which is herein defined as a kind of lump-sum, discretionary fund wherein legislators, either individually or collectively organized into committees, are able to effectively control certain aspects of the fund’s utilization through various post-enactment measures and/or practices. In particular, petitioners consider the PDAF, as it appears under the 2013 GAA, as Congressional Pork Barrel, since it is, inter alia, a post-enactment measure that allows individual legislators to wield a collective power,” and

“Second, there is the Presidential Pork Barrel which is herein defined as a kind of lump-sum, discretionary fund, which allows the President to determine the manner of its utilization.”

We now quote the second part of the Supreme Court decision, which summarizes the major reasons for the judgment, including an exhortation to the Filipino people, and the dispositive portion that is the core of the decision.

Conclusion

“The Court renders this decision to rectify an error which has persisted in the chronicles of our history. In the final analysis, the Court must strike down the pork barrel system as unconstitutional in view of the inherent defects in the rules within which it operates. To recount, insofar as it has allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget execution, the system has violated the principle of separation of powers; insofar as it has conferred unto legislators the power of appropriation by giving them personal, discretionary funds from which they are able to fund specific projects, which they themselves determine, it has similarly violated the principle of non-delegability of legislative power; insofar as it has created a system of budgeting wherein items are not textualized into the appropriations bill, it has flouted the prescribed procedure of presentment and, in the process, denied the President the power to veto items; insofar as it has diluted the effectiveness of congressional oversight by giving legislators a stake in the affairs of budget execution, an aspect of governance which they may be called to monitor and scrutinize, the system has equally impaired public accountability; insofar as it has authorized legislators, who are national officers, to intervene in affairs to purely local nature, despite the existence of capable local institutions, it has likewise subverted genuine local autonomy.

“For as long as this nation adheres to the rule of law, any of multifarious unconstitutional methods and mechanisms the Court has herein pointed out should never again be adopted in any system of governance, by any name or form, by any semblance or similarity, by any influence or effect. Disconcerting as it is to think that a system so constitutionally unsound has monumentally endured, the Court urges so constitutionally stewards in government to look forward with the optimism of change and the awareness of the past. At a time of great civic unrest and vociferous public debate, the Court fervently hopes that its decision today, while it may not purge all wrongs of society nor bring back what has been lost, guides this nation to the path forged by the Constitution so that no one may heretofore detract from its cause nor stray from its course. After all, this is the Court’s bounden duty and no other’s.”