SENATORS want the Supreme Court (SC) to resolve the issue on the constitutionality of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as soon as possible so that their projects will not be “hostaged” by the High Court’s order stopping the release of the “pork barrel” of lawmakers.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Francis Escudero voiced their concerns on the coverage of the temporary restraining order that the SC issued on Tuesday and the time the tribunal would take to resolve the petitions questioning the legality of the PDAF.
During the budget hearing yesterday by the Senate committee on finance, Drilon asked SC justices if they were able to find sufficient basis to declare the PDAF unconstitutional that prompted them to issue a TRO.
“The TRO speaks for itself. On the preliminary basis, that’s correct,” Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta said.
The magistrate however stressed that the High Court will make its final decision after the oral arguments which it set for October 8.
The Senate President appealed to the magistrates to resolve the case early because failure to do so would lead to several “complications” concerning the use of their PDAF.
Drilon said that a portion of his “pork barrel” was intended to fund livelihood and medical projects, as well as scholarship assistance that will lapse by December 31.
He said legislators will not be able to avail of the funds intended for soft projects even if the SC declares PDAF constitutional if the court failed to decide on the matter before December 31.
If this happens, Drilon said the High Court will be exercising the power to impound on an item in the budget which is an authority given only to the President.
Drilon said part of his PDAF goes to the National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI) and Philippine General Hospital that is why he wanted to know if these institutions can still use the funds for indigent patients in need of assistance.
But the magistrates who attended yesterday’s hearing refused to answer Drilon’s queries. They said he can file a motion to clarify in court.
“With all due respect perhaps it is better for us not to respond I’m sure we already have an answer to your question… but as of now we would like to give time for the comments to be filed as well as the memoranda in order to fully address the issue,” Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said.
Despite the TRO and the justices’ unsatisfactory answers to Drilon’s questions, the Senate approved the P18.4 billion proposed budget for the judiciary for next year.
Bulk of the budget (P16.4 billion) will go to the Supreme Court and the Lower Courts (SCPLC) while P1.87 billion will be for the Court of Appeals (CA), Court of Tax Appeals (CTA), Sandiganbayan and Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).
Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva of the SCPLC sought an additional P1.47 billion which will be used for the construction of additional courthouses and to hire additional researchers for judges.
Villanueva also informed the Senate panel the need to increase the judiciary’s budget for the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) for next year.
With a report from Deborah Dumlao