The Supreme Court is hard pressed to declare the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel as unlawful because of its two previous rulings declaring PDAF as constitutional, the House opposition bloc said.
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan City and House Deputy Minority Leader Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list made the comments in light of the High Court’s decision to freeze the release of the lawmakers’ PDAF allocation for 2013 via a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) based on the petition filed by Social Justice System. Likewise the High Court tasked Congress to file a comment justifying the legality of PDAF.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd and the House of Representatives have already removed the P25 billion PDAF allocation under the proposed P2.2.68 trillion budget in light of the government probe on the alleged P10 billion PDAF scam that benefited fake non-government organizations ran by Janet Lim-Napoles.
“I think it is going to be difficult for the Supreme Court to get away from its previous two rulings that PDAF is constitutional. It is just a question of determining whether PDAF can be used for the purposes that it was originally intended,” Zamora, a bar topnotcher, told reporters.
Zamora was referring to the 1994 case of Philconsa vs. Enriquez in 1994 wherein the PDAF was still called the Countrywide Development Fund.
“The legality of congressional and presidential pork is not really the main question. This goes beyond legality. PDAF is more political rather than a legal or constitutional question. We are at a point where the public is demanding the abolition of PDAF and the Presidential discretionary funds,” Tinio added.
The Supreme Court, Tinio said, can score a breakthrough concerning the Malampaya fund—a Presidential discretionary fund sourced from the payments of oil companies Caltex and Shell to the Philippine government for extracting natural gas in Malampaya near Palawan province.
The TRO issued by the High Court on PDAF releases for 2013 also covered the Malampaya fund—an allocation not included in the General Appropriations Act and as such, is beyond Congressional scrutiny and approval.
Under the law, the Malampaya budget should only be spent for initiatives that would develop the country’s energy capability and lower the cost of electricity.
“What is important here is the inclusion of the Malampaya fund, which as we have seen has been spent for non-energy development-related activities in the past. Our position is that the off-budget sources of funding such as the Malampaya should be nitpicked by Congress instead of being it a discretionary fund for the President,” Tinio pointed out.
The government has collected a total of P173 billion worth of Malampaya fund since 2002. Of this amount, P900 million went to the Department of Agrarian Reform, P5.8 billion for the Department of Agriculture, P7.09 billion to the Department of Public Works and Highways, P745 billion to the Department of Health, P1 billion for the Armed Forced Modernization Fund and P2.14 billion for the Philippine National Police.
Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list, a neophyte, backstopped Tinio’s claims by noting that this marks the first time that the Supreme Court dipped its hands on the Malampaya fund.
“I see the Supreme Court advancing a new jurisprudence here, particularly in defense of Congress’ power of the purse. They [High Court] consolidated PDAF and Malampaya in one case, so you can sense that the Supreme Court is not too keen on discretionary funding that is beyond Congress’ scrutiny,” Ridon, a lawyer, argued.
“That is why we welcome the TRO and I hope that this will advance with a new ruling concerning these public funds,” Ridon added. LLANESCA T. PANTI