On Nov. 19, 2014, the Supreme Court of the Philippines showed remarkable independence and integrity and I should say, political wisdom. The high court declared unconstitutional the country’s pork barrel system.
Since 2000, pork barrel was known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). From 1990 to 2000, pork barrel was called the Community Development Fund (CDF). From 1994, Congress took over pork barrel and made it into a full time business – for themselves.
CDF or the PDAF is a scheme whereby senators and congressmen secure funds from the Executive for them to pursue personal or pet projects.
The projects are either “hard”, meaning roads or other infrastructure, or “soft” which means any project under some fancy category like education (think lousy textbooks), health (think overpriced medicines), livelihood, financial assistance to the poor (think vote buying), even fancier advocacies like peace and order (think of financing for communist and separatist rebels for them to buy firearms and fight the government), historical, arts and culture (a senator once donated his entire pork barrel, P200 million, to a major television network; think of bribing media).
Pork projects ineffective
Were the pork projects effective? No. The Philippines today has the worst infrastructure in Asia. The country today has the worst educational system in Asia. Half of Filipinos consider themselves poor and hungry.
Since 1990 when the pork barrel system became a full time racket, the number of poor in this country actually doubled. In the same period, the number of super rich congressmen and senators multiplied a thousand times.
Pork barrel was actually invented during the presidency of Corazon Aquino, in 1989, initially with the creation of the Mindanao Development Fund and the Visayas Development Fund with lump sum appropriation of P480 million and P240 million, respectively.
President Noynoy Aquino expanded the scope and reach of the pork barrel. It can now be used to bribe senators trying to impeach a sitting chief justice. It can now be used to bribe congressmen to railroad passage of a much disliked population control program
Today, pork barrel eats up P25 billion of taxpayers’ money every year. Like in the past, most of that money is stolen. No one had hollered “Thief! Thief!” to stop the senators and the congressmen.
Until this year. There was an outrage, just a decibel below Yolanda’s. The Supreme Court was awakened. It declared pork barrel illegal and unconstitutional—yesterday, today and tomorrow.
In many instances, as borne out by findings by the Commission on Audit and revelations by whistle blowers in the Janet Lim Napoles pork barrel scandal, the money went straight to the pockets of the senators and congressmen, with pitiful sums left as commissions for cooperative cabinet members, agency and government corporation heads, and brokers like Napoles. In many instances, zero funding went to the projects of the senators and congressmen.
This scheme has made our congressmen and senators the biggest thieves of the land. This has made Congress the country’s biggest criminal syndicate.
Congress members, who incidentally are addressed as “honorable”, steal taxpayers’ money to the tune of P200 million a year in the case of the senators and P70 million a year in the case of congressmen. Senators have a term of six years – so six years times P200 million is P1.2 billion. Congressmen have a term of three years; so three years times P70 million is P210 million.
Stolen and tax-free
Such huge sums of stolen money are tax-free. The Bureau of Internal Revenue never bothers to send these people inquiry letters. If the BIR does, surely its budget would be reduced to P1 a year.
Some of these people didn’t even go to college, or high school for that matter. Some—no, many—of them—haven’t run or operated any business or enterprise all their lives. Yet, with pork barrel, in a single term as a senator or a congressman, they amass more wealth than all the tycoons, outside of the 20 richest Filipinos (most of whom are Chinese-looking) do during three-year or six-year period.
The total pork barrel per year in each of the past two years – P25 billion. Most of the P25 billion goes to only about 300 Filipinos – in a country of 100 million Filipinos or 20 million families. In 2011, Jaime August Zobel de Ayala declared an income of P80 million. Of that, he paid P25.56 million in personal income tax, a tax rate of 32 percent.
In the Senate of up to 24 senators, only two did not dirty their hands with pork barrel money – Joker Arroyo, now retired, and Panfilo Lacson, now also an ex-senator.
In the House of Representatives, nearly all its 289 members got pork barrel money. On November 19, with the Supreme Court decision, they and the 22 of the 24 senators were found to have engaged in an illegal activity, in an unconstitutional activity.
At the very least, the Bureau of Internal Revenue should run after the senators and congressmen for back income taxes. A senator makes P200 million. So each senator owes the BIR P64 million per year or P384 million in six years.
Getting taxpayers’ money back?
Collecting taxes on the senators and congressmen is one way of getting back the stolen money. In theory, the Treasury should try to get a refund of 100 percent because the money is stolen, but that will be like squeezing blood out of turnips.
In its decision, the high court declared as unconstitutional:
(a) the entire 2013 PDAF Article;
(b) all legal provisions of past and present Congressional Pork Barrel Laws, such as the previous PDAF and CDF Articles and the various Congressional Insertions, which authorize/d legislators—whether individually or collectively organized into committees—to intervene, assume or participate in any of the various post enactment stages of the budget execution, such as but not limited to the areas of project identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release and/or fund realignment, unrelated to the power of congressional oversight;
(c) all legal provisions of past and present Congressional Pork Barrel laws, such as the previous PDAF and CDF Articles and the various Congressional Insertions, which confer/red personal, lump sum allocations to legislators from which they are able to fund specific projects which they themselves determine;
(d) all informal practices of similar import and effect, which the Court similarly deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of discretion; and
(e) the phrases (1) “and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President” under Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910 and (2) “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects” under Section 12 of PD 1869, as amended by PD 1993, for both failing the sufficient standard test in violation of the principle of non-delegability of legislative power.
Accordingly, the Court’s temporary injunction dated Sept. 10, 2013 against pork barrel releases was declared permanent.
Thus, the SC said: “The disbursement/release of the remaining PDAF Funds allocated for the year 2013, as well as for all previous years, and the Malampaya Funds under the phrase, “and for such other purposes as may hereafter be directed by the President” pursuant to Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910, which are, at the time this Decision is promulgated, not covered by Notice of Cash Allocations (NCA) but only by Special Allotment Release Orders, whether obligated or not, are hereby enjoined. In similar regard, the Court also enjoins the release of funds sourced from the Presidential Social Fund under the phrase, “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects” pursuant to Section 12 of Presidential Decree No. 1869, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1993. Said funds covered by this permanent injunction shall not be disbursed/released but instead returned to the general coffers of the government, except for the funds covered by the Malampaya funds and the Presidential Social Fund which shall remain therein to be utilized for their respective special purposes not otherwise declared unconstitutional.”
The Court concluded that the PDAF Article in the 2013 General Appropriations Act and all other similar provisions of law constituting the Pork Barrel System is unconstitutional because the system:
“allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget executions (thus violating) the principle of separation of powers; …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 (thus violating) the principle of non-delegability of legislative power; …created a system of budgeting wherein items are not textualized into the appropriations bill (thus) flout(ing) the prescribed power of presentment and, in the process, (denying) the President the power to veto items; …dilutes 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, (thus) impair(ing) public accountability; …authorizes legislators, who are national officers, to intervene in affairs of purely local nature, despite the existence of capable local institutions, (thus) subvert(ing) genuine local autonomy; and …confers (on) the President the power to appropriate funds intended by law for energy related purposes only to other purposes he may deem fit,…once more transgress(ing) the principle of non-delegability.”