With the Supreme Court declaring the pork barrel system as unconstitutional, we should expect Congress to shape up.
Without the pork barrel funds that distract senators and congressmen from the task of crafting laws, they are presented an opportunity to redeem themselves from brickbats brought on by reports of abuses in disbursing public funds for personal or partisan benefit.
The Supreme Court’s Nov. 19 decision on the controversial pork barrel issue makes the 2016 elections an exciting event to watch for.
We should no longer see project billboards with the names and faces of politicians littering major roads, many times blocking legitimate road signs. Those billboards that make it appear that the politicians use their personal money to build roads, bridges, school buildings, slaughterhouses, and what have you.
But the High Court’s decision should not mean we will no longer have new roads and bridges and other infrastructure projects. These should still be provided for in the annual budget of the national government, but no longer under the care of individual lawmakers.
Funding for infrastructure development belongs to Congress, but implementing these belongs to the executive branch. The Supreme Court decision has drawn that line clearly in line with the constitutional principle on separation of powers.
The Supreme Court defined the pork barrel system as “the collective body of rules and practices that govern the manner by which lump-sum, discretionary funds, primarily intended for local projects, are utilized through the respective participations of the Legislative and Executive branches of government, including its members.”
It also clipped the discretion of the President to use lump-sum funds to either buy the loyalty of members of Congress, local executives, non-government organizations, and other beneficiaries, or to keep those who are already on his side.
The decision made a distinction between congressional pork barrel and presidential pork barrel.
Congressional pork barrel, the Supreme Court said, is “the kind of lump-sum, discretionary fund wherein legislators, either individually or collectively organized into committees, are able to effectively control certain aspects of the fund’s utilization through various post-enactment measures and/or practices.”
On the other hand, it defined the presidential pork barrel as “kind of lump-sum, discretionary fund which allows the President to determine the manner of its utilization.” Examples of the presidential pork barrel are the Presidential Social Fund (PSF) which comes from off-budget revenues from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp.), among others, and the Malampaya Funds that run into hundreds of billions of pesos every year over which the President exercises discretionary powers in disbursing.
The proposed P2.268-trillion budget for 2014 includes a P450-billion lump-sum in Presidential Social Fund.
The pork barrel funds, earlier known as Countrywide Development Funds (CDF), had increased from P12.5 million for every congressman and P18 million for each of the senators in 1990 to P70 million for each congressman and P200 million for every senator since it became known as Priority Development Assistance Fund in 2000.
The CDF started with P2.3 billion and steadily increased over time until it reached P24.8 billion this year, and P25.2 billion was proposed for 2014.
The Supreme Court decision reversed three separate cases in 1994 (GR 113105), 2001 (GR 125680 and 126313), and 2012 (GR 164987), owing largely to various reports of blatant abuses, most notably the transactions involving the bogus non-government organizations and private foundations associated with Janet Lim-Napoles.
The court said its November 19 ruling that declared the pork barrel system as unconstitutional serves “to rectify an error which has persisted in the chronicles of our history” in view of “the inherent defects in the rules within which it operates.”
Part of the decision dwelt on the usurpation of Congress on the power of local executives to implement local projects, a practice that subverts local autonomy.
Considering that Congress is still in the process of formulating the 2014 budget, it should exercise extreme caution in crafting its provisions in view of the Supreme Court decision.
The SC has given them a fair warning. “For as long as this nation adheres to the rule of law, any of the multifarious unconstitutional methods and mechanisms the Court has herein pointed out should never again be adopted in any system of governance, by any name or form, by any semblance or similarity, by any influence or effect.”
That simply means the pork barrel system should no longer be revived in any shape and form.
“Disconcerting as it is to think that a system so constitutionally unsound has monumentally endured, the Court urges the people and its co-stewards in government to look forward with the optimism of change and the awareness of the past. At a time of great civic unrest and vociferous public debate, the Court fervently hopes that its Decision today, while it may not purge all the wrongs of society nor bring back what has been lost, guides this nation to the path forged by the Constitution so that no one may heretofore detract from its cause nor stray from its course,” the decision stated.