MALACAÑANG on Monday said it will ask Congress for a P14.6 billion “supplemental” budget to cover expenses for Yolanda relief efforts if the Supreme Court rules that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) is unconstitutional.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said that once the PDAF is declared illegal, there would be a need to request Congress for a replacement fund.
“[If the PDAF was declared unconstitutional,] the remedy [of the government for Yolanda relief and rehabilitation]is to request Congress to a supplementary budget covering the P14.6 2013 PDAF balance,” Abad told The Manila Times.
The Times reported on Monday that magistrates of the Supreme Court are inclined to rule that the PDAF is unconstitutional when it meets en banc today. The ruling also covers congressional insertions and the defunct Countrywide Development Fund.
After the remaining PDAF releases for 2013 were frozen in September, the Budget department considered tapping the funds for the relief and rehabilitation of cities and towns ravaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).
“[The request of budget will be for] this year but we’ll ask Congress to extend [budget]life approximately beyond 2013,” Abad said.
Last week, Abad told reporters that the P14.6-billion PDAF could be a potential source of funds for Yolanda victims, raising the government budget for typhoon relief to P40 billion. Abad said the potential P40-billion fund can be immediately utilized to provide food, shelter and livelihood assistance to affected residents.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said on Monday administration lawmakers were could muster the numbers to pass House Resolution 7, a move that will transfer the remaining P12 billion PDAF to the Calamity Fund so that the Aquino administration will have enough money to spend for typhoon aid.
“I would like to see how the Supreme Court deals with this because Judicial Development Fund is something like PDAF.
But should that happen [that the Supreme Court declares PDAF unconstitutional], it could go to the Executive as a General Fund, or to the National Treasury. In that case, we just have to pass a supplemental budget of the same amount to see to it that the amount gets to the destination we want: the Calamity Fund,” Belmonte told reporters.
“We have to see the quicker way to put the remaining PDAF to the Calamity Fund. We don’t have all the time in the world. We want to pass this resolution realigning the PDAF to Calamity Fund first. If we cannot do it for some technical reason, then we will immediately file a bill for a supplemental budget covering the same amount,” Belmonte pointed out.
Sources in the Supreme Court said many of the justices, including the appointees of President Aquino, are for declaring the PDAF as unconstitutional.
The Aquino appointees in the Court are Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal Sereno, Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Marvic Leonen and Estela Perlas-Bernabe, who was tasked to write the decision.
The sources said Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the Court’s most senior magistrate, has given his concurring opinion on the issue.
But Abad said the High Court may spare the Malampaya funds. ”I don’t think that the Malampaya fund will be declared illegal by itself because it was created in pursuance of a law,” he said. ”But I think the question will focus on that all encompassing phrase that gives the President so much latitude to use it as happened in the past,” Abad said.
He said if the PDAF is declared unconstitutional, “then the implication is that the appropriation that supports the PDAF can also be invalidated.”
If that happens, “even if the both chambers of Congress have decided to give up their PDAF and urge the President to declare it as savings and augment, for example, the relief and rehab operations, the President may not be able to do that, in which case our recourse is to ask for supplementary budget and perhaps certify it as urgent that it can be passed while Congress is still in session,” he said.