It’s true that the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that pork barrel funds are constitutional—at least thrice since 1994, in fact.
In the first case, Philconsa v. Enriquez, the Supreme Court even called the pork barrel system—still known at the time as the Countrywide Development Fund—as “an imaginative and innovative process or mechanism of implementing priority programs/projects specified in the law.” As to the charge that lawmakers should not be proposing and identifying local projects in their districts, a practice that inevitably leads to patronage politics and corruption, the high court said that the power of approval remains with the president, and that “the proposals and identifications made by the members of Congress are merely recommendatory.”
In two other cases—Andres Sarmiento et al. v. the Treasurer of the Philippines et al. and Lawyers Against Monopoly and Poverty (Lamp) v. the Secretary of Budget and Management et al.—the high court dismissed the petitions and basically reiterated its earlier ruling upholding the constitutional standing of the pork barrel funds.
But it’s also true that the Supreme Court may have taken an exceedingly naive view of how the system works when it deemed the lawmakers’ role in using what is now called their Priority Development Assistance Fund as “merely recommendatory.” As Dean Tony La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government pointed out in an online article, “the conclusion that legislators only make recommendations was in fact not entirely accurate in that legislators actually meddled with implementation by among others endorsing favored contractors and/or NGOs. In some cases, some for good reason, legislators even provide specifications on the materials to be used and the time frame of implementation.”
And it’s also true that, while the Supreme Court has ruled that the fund itself is constitutional, availing themselves of the PDAF is not something mandatory for congressmen and senators. One may choose not to use his/her PDAF—as Sen. Joker Arroyo has done in all his years in the House and Senate—and not run afoul of the law.
It’s important to note these things now that the many members of Congress seem to be recovering from the shell shock they got at the firestorm of public fury generated by the pork barrel scandal. In the wake of the identification of Janet Lim-Napoles and the staggering PDAF anomalies she allegedly helped arrange in collusion with politicians up and down the aisle, many lawmakers went mute, afraid to buck the national outrage by taking up the cudgels for the hated PDAF, even with President Aquino’s announcement that by 2014, their automatic allocations—P70 million for congressmen, P200 million for senators—would be gone.
But now some of them are getting back their moxie—or, if you will, lack of shame. Both Deputy Speaker Sergio Apostol and Davao Oriental Rep. Thelma Almario have grumbled about the loss of their PDAF while questioning Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson during the House of Representatives’ budget hearing last Thursday. And while the Senate and the House have announced that they would respect the Supreme Court’s action on a petition by the Social Justice Society for a permanent prohibition of the pork barrel system, the side comments by some lawmakers are far more telling of their true sentiments.
Thus, Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao has chosen to express his opposition to such anti-PDAF moves by framing the issue as a bald political game—nothing more than an exercise of tit-for-tat political hardball. The Supreme Court has long settled the PDAF question, he said, but if it chooses to look at the matter again now, “Congress will certainly view that as payback time for the conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.”
Somebody should tell Aggabao that the public at this point would in fact applaud the high court if it finally takes cognizance of the huge corruption that has hijacked the PDAF, and shuts it down for good. Slapping on the court a dead issue such as the Corona case is a sleazy attempt to frighten it to retain the congressmen’s expedient stash of public funds; it also readily belies the House’s stated sentiment that its members are willing to heed the citizenry and give up their pork.
Nothing is stopping the House and Senate from abandoning the discredited PDAF altogether—if they so choose—and forging with Malacañang a new, honest, efficient and transparent means of disbursing public funds. Nothing, that is, except their own stubborn vested interests. Walk the talk, ladies and gentlemen.