THE Supreme Court on Tuesday stopped the release of the remaining Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel” of lawmakers for 2013 and the Malampaya gas funds.
During the en banc deliberations of the High Court yesterday, the magistrates unanimously voted to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the Department of Budget and Management, Malacañang, Senate and the House of Representatives from releasing any amount coming from the PDAF of senators and congressmen.
The restraining order had no time frame.
The High Tribunal also ordered Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to submit their respective answers to the ruling within a period of 10 days.
Oral arguments were set on October 8 at 2 p.m.
The Supreme Court also consolidated the three petitions filed by various persons questioning the legality of the PDAF and seeking its abolition.
The petitions were filed by lawyer Samson Alcantara of the Social Justice Society, former Manila councilor Greco Belgica and former Boac, Marinduque Mayor Pedrito Nepomuceno.
In his taxpayer’s suit, Alcantara asked the High Court to declare the pork barrel of lawmakers unconstitutional.The lawyer said that the integrity of government funds can be preserved if the Department of Budget will withhold the release of the lawmakers’ PDAF included in the 2013 national budget.
Unless the SC stops the release of the PDAF, Alcantara said that the people’s money will continue to be wasted.
Supreme Court Public Information Chief Theodore Te said that the TRO covers only the PDAF included in the General Appropriations Act this year and does not stop the inclusion of “pork barrel” in the national budget for next year.
The order also covers releases of Malampaya gas funds that falls under the phrase, “for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President” under Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910 but not for the purpose of “finance energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects of the government” under the same provisions.”
Malacañang said it respects the SC decision.
Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte told reports that President Benigno Aquino 3rd has stopped the release of the lawmakers’ pork barrel.
Belmonte however said that the House will fight for the release of the lawmakers’ PDAF for 2013 even if they agreed to drop the P25 billion PDAF allocation for 2014.
“We need to give them [people depending on PDAF]a complete answer to their needs but rest assured we will abide by the Supreme Court’s decision. We are hoping that the SC rules in our favor,” Belmonte told reporters.
“We also hope that the Supreme Court will expedite its decision on it [release of 2013 PDAF allocation]because a lot of people are relying on such allocation,” he said.
Rep. Romero Quimbo, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, also called for the release of their pork this year.
“That allocation is already obligated in the 2013 national budget and is waiting to be spent. It has been allocated to various hospitals. With the TRO, what would you tell those people whom you already issued guaranteed letters for the hospital assistance?” he said.
“The TRO is too extensive,” Quimbo added.
If the High Court will later on allow the release of the PDAF, Belmonte said that more stringent guidelines will be followed. Lawmakers will no longer be allowed to earmark any allocation to NGOs, local government units or beneficiaries outside of the lawmaker’s respective district or outside the party-list legislator’s sector.
New pork source
Now that their pork barrel had been withheld, lawmakers have found a new way to assist their constituents: by crafting projects to be funded by the private sector and foreign donors.
Party-list Representatives Francis Acedillo of Magdalo, Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol and Catalina Leonen-Pizzaro of ABS (Arts Business and Science Professionals) came up with the scheme which they said will fall under the Initiatives for Party-list Accountability and Transparency (i-PACT).
Under this system, lawmakers will come up with meritorious and feasible projects for their constituents and present them to government agencies in charge of social services to secure funding from the State. If the government agency rejects the projects, the lawmakers can take the alternate route by presenting their proposals to private firms or foreign donors and secure budget from them.
“The key provision here is the guarantee [for funding]is not there anymore. The system is merit-based and within the menu cited by the President. You [the lawmaker]will just be another project proponent competing for funding,” Acedillo pointed out during the Ugnayan sa Batasan news forum.
The PDAF system entitled each member of the House of Representatives P70 million in “pork” a year while each senator gets P200 million.
“We [lawmakers]are not going to decide on which program gets the funding to begin with. This will make sure that only those who spend the government funding judiciously will be the ones granted money,” Batocabe said.
In abolishing the PDAF system, Aquino prohibited the lawmakers from earmarking state funding to consumable soft projects (fertilizers, seeds, medicines, medical kits, dentures, funding for sports fests and training materials) and temporary infrastructure that includes dredging, desilting, regravelling, or asphalt-overlay projects. Likewise, the President banned non-government organizations and Government Owned and Controlled Corporations from securing funding from the state.
Unlike the PDAF system, the i-PACT scheme does not limit the funding that can be secured by a certain lawmaker for his or her particular project proposal.
“The national government will be the final arbiter on the limit for our project’s budget, should it be granted funding by government agencies. They can easily determine the limit because of the peculiar needs of every district or sector. Some need more attention than others. The important thing is that we don’t have the discretion on how much will be the funding this time,” Acedillo said.
“Besides, if a certain public official really has the propensity to take government money, he would always find a way to do that, regardless of the system,” he added.