The Supreme Court declaration that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) is unconstitutional is much like Super Typhoon Yolanda—inevitable just as much it is damaging to people and properties.
This was how Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar—one of the provinces severely hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda—as well as the rest of his colleagues took the unanimous High Court decision of deeming PDAF or the congressional discretionary fund illegal via a 14-0 vote.
“It’s like Yolanda has returned with that decision…a big blow to our efforts to raise fund for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the areas affected by Yolanda. While all sectors of society, both locally and internationally, are scrambling to look for resources to support the typhoon victims, the Supreme Court appears to be insensitive to our situation,” Evardone said in a text message.
Evardone was referring to the earlier move of the House of adopting a Resolution which transfers the remaining P12 billion PDAF under the P2.006 trillion budget to the Calamity Fund in light of the wrath of Super Typhoon Yolanda that brought provinces in Visayas to Ground Zero, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol and Cebu and the Zamboanga siege led by the Misuari faction of Moro National Liberation Front.
“The decision of the SC on PDAF is so unfortunate especially so at this time that we are facing a major crisis brought about by the typhoon. The SC should have been more considerate. At the very least, it should have deferred its ruling. Congress should appeal this decision,” Evardone added.
Reps. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas and Romero Quimbo of Marikina, for their part, saw public opinion as the game changer, considering that plunder and graft-related charges have been filed vs. former and incumbent government officials before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the P10 billion PDAF scam—a scheme that allegedly funneled state coffers to bogus organizations owned by Janet Napoles.
“I have expected that [ruling]because of public protests and the pork barrel scam. These have actually affected the mindset of the Supreme Court justices. They saw only the bad side PDAF. Our
scholars and our sick constituents who benefits from our PDAF are now feeling the effects of PDAF’s abolition,” Barzaga said in a separate talk.
Quimbo could not agree more, immediately urging the Department of Budget and Management to fund the lawmakers’ scholars who were severely affected by Supreme Court decision.
“I alone have 6,850 scholars who I hope the DBM, through CHED or DepEd, can provide assistance to. They are unfortunately the innocent victims of the Napoles scam,” Quimbo argued, referring to the Commission on Higher Education and Department of Education.
“It is high time that Congress crafts a specific line item budgeting process that will ensure the needs of the indigent constituents in the different districts that have been the main beneficiaries of the PDAF, at least in my district. To deprive them of this assistance is another catastrophe that can be prevented,” Quimbo added.
But for Rep. Mel Senen of Western Samar, the Supreme Court is of no bearing because Congress already removed the PDAF item under the proposed P2.268 trillion budget.
“It’s moot since we removed PDAF in the 2014 budget and realigned PDAF for the response and recovery program for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, Bohol earthquake and the Zamboanga incident,” Sarmiento said.
Quimbo, however, invoked that it is hard to argue against a unanimous decision.
“I’ve been a practicing lawyer for quite some time and experience tells me that there is no sense appealing a unanimous en banc decision of the Supreme Court. It’s going to be a waste of time. While it has been shown that most members of the current congress has used the PDAF judiciously, we suffer from the ill practices of some of our colleagues,” Quimbo said.
“For the stability of democracy, Congress must now take the lead in respecting the decision of the Court,” Quimbo added.
LLANESCA T. PANTI