MIXED reactions came from opposition and administration lawmakers over the Supreme Court’s declaration of the remaining 2013 Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as “unconstitutional.”
Minority Leader Rep. Ronaldo Zamora (San Juan) said they are not completely surprised as he lauded the SC’s decision as a “stepping stone to a transparent and accountable national budget.”
“We have said that lump sum appropriations have no place in the budget. We have said that the itemized appropriations are the way to go if you want to have a transparent and accountable budget,” Zamora said.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the decision was not because the PDAF was a lump sum fund but because of the principle of the separation of powers as the lawmakers should not be allowed to meddle with the approved budget.
“This in fact is a clarification,” Belmonte said. “It’s not the only thing that holds the coalition together. I think they can carry on with their jobs and adjust to the new guidelines.
While anti-pork lawmakers and anti-pork advocates are rejoicing, administration lawmakers are lamenting the SC decision. Samar First District Rep. Mel Sarmiento said that the verdict is a ‘huge blow’ to the relief and rehabilitation efforts of areas devastated by Super Typhoon YolaInda.
He likened the SC decision as the return of Yolanda. Sarmiento said: “while all the sectors of society are in a frenzied mood to look for resources to support the typhoon victims, the SC appears to be insensitive to our situation.”
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.
Minority and Makabayan bloc members Rep. Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers Party-list and Rep. Terry Ridon Kabataan Party-list welcomed the High Court’s decision and said that it is an “essential milestone” in the campaign against huge discretionary funds of the government.
“This is a defeat for Malacañang which has all the while argued for so-called ‘good pork.’ It soundly repudiates the argument put forward by President Aquino himself that PDAF is good and only its abuse is bad,” Tinio said.
Ridon was quite unhappy that the SC barely touched on the Malampaya funds and the Presidential Social Fund (PSF), those directly controlled by the president or what critics call the ‘presidential pork.’
“Just as what we noted previously, the president is the pork barrel king, and he has vast control on over P1 trillion in public funds,” Ridon said.
Like his colleagues from the Makabayan bloc, Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said that he is glad that the SC has put to a stop “a major source of corruption that has taken away much needed funds from the people.” He also hoped that the same would happen to the fate of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
The SC’s decision on PDAF is much like Super Typhoon Yolanda returning and wrecking havoc to people and properties.
Evardone was referring to the earlier move of the House of adopting a Resolution which transferring P12 billion PDAF under the P2.006 trillion budget to the Calamity Fund resulting from Yolanda that brought several provinces in the 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 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.
“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 SC\s decision is academic as 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.