Not all lump sums are unconstitutional | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

Not all lump sums are unconstitutional

The current ruckus on the gargantuan lump sums — especially on the P9.3 billion “confidential and intelligence funds” — allegedly included in the proposed P5.268 trillion national budget for 2023 brings up once again the massive graft discussed in my Oct. 17 column titled “The penumbra of PDAF.”

TO RECALL, THE PORK BARREL SYSTEM also known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Countrywide Development Fund had been banished by Belgica v. Ochoa (Nov. 19, 2013) expertly penned by Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe. Without repeating what I had written on Oct. 17 but to guide readers in understanding my present column, may I just quote another portion of this monumental 2013 Belgica decision that shows why and how lump-sum appropriations were deemed unconstitutional:

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“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 of purely local nature, despite the existence of capable local institutions, it has likewise subverted genuine local autonomy; and again, insofar as it has conferred to the President the power to appropriate funds intended by law to energy-related purposes only to other purposes he may deem fit as well as other public funds under the broad classification of ‘priority infrastructure development projects,’ it has once more transgressed the principle of non-delegability.” (bold types in original)

I ENDED THAT OCT. 17 COLUMN IN THIS WISE: “Do the lump sums in the 2023 budget constitute a form of pork barrel that could be scuttled using Belgica v. Ochoa? At this point, not being privy to the penumbral facts surrounding the lump-sum black hole, I cannot answer the question. Perhaps, Senator Pimentel can?”

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Unfortunately, I have not received any answer from the good senator. But fortunately, I got an email from the ponente, Justice Bernabe, now retired, referring me to her 2022 book, “Perlas-Bernabe On Law and Justice” in which she advised that less than a year after the 2013 Belgica decision was rendered, a petition was filed seeking to declare all lump-sum appropriations as unconstitutional per se.

REJECTING PETITIONER BELGICA’S CONTENTION, the Supreme Court—in Belgica v. Executive Secretary (Oct. 8, 2019)—clarified why and how some lump-sum appropriations were considered constitutional “as long as the lump-sum amount(s) (are) meant as a funding source for multiple programs, projects or activities that may all be clearly classified as falling under one singular appropriation purpose.”

“In this sense,” J Bernabe explained, “the ‘lump sum’ effectively functions as a ‘line-item’ that is compliant with the doctrine of singular correspondence … This singular purpose may be as general or specific as the legislative department deems it to be, provided that such generality or specificity does not negate the President’s proper exercise of his item veto power…

“[In contrast,] the lump-sum amount of P24.79 billion [in the 2013 Belgica decision] was treated as a funding source for multiple unrelated purposes such as … ‘scholarships, medical missions, assistance to indigents, preservation of historical materials, construction of roads, flood control, etc.’ Worse, these multiple unrelated purposes were all made to fall under the vague and amorphous term ‘Priority Development Assistance Fund,’ which ultimately allowed those who were to disburse the funds (i.e. individual legislators) to decide whatever public purpose they deemed as a ‘priority.’ As such, this created a budgeting set-up wherein there is no more discernible item left for the exercise of the President’s veto power and hence, constitutionally infirm.”

With that scholarly clarification by the lady justice, will the esteemed Senator Pimentel be able to reply to my query now?

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TAGS: 2023 national budget, confidential and intelligence funds, pork barrel funds, With Due Respect
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