Last week Budget Secretary Florencio Abad got a mild “stoning” from a group of students at the University of the Philippines. It was not quite the biblical stoning which the scribes and Pharisees had failed to give the woman caught in adultery in the New Testament, but the objective seemed more or less the same.
Abad’s crime had nothing to do with adultery but rather with the massive diversion of public funds through the pork barrel system. This is technically known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, both of which the Supreme Court, by a unanimous vote, has declared unconstitutional.
Whether or not Abad has become the most delinquent, unpunished member of the ruling syndicate, as some people seem to believe, is still subject to debate. But clearly the level of public anger against the man, and the dangerous company he keeps, is rising to volcanic proportions.
It is most unusual that the incident happened at the University of the Philippines. Far from being the hotbed of political activism that it used to be in the seventies, the university has morphed into a visibly pro-establishment institution. UP, unlike some other Manila universities today, is said to be among the friendliest to Malacañang. It shouldn’t have happened there.
In Marcos’s time the First Quarter Storm roared out of the Diliman campus to smash the very gates of Malacañang. But we never heard of anything similar to the Abad incident. As information minister at the time, I had to face the most radical anti-Marcos critics and crowds, but on the day I accepted an invitation to speak to the students at the famous UP Malcolm Hall, I got a rousing ovation rather than the expected jeers and catcalls.
What happened to Abad bodes ill for the Aquino administration. Things are bound to get much worse, just on the pork barrel issue alone, where we have not heard the last word. Greco Belgica, the winning lead petitioner against the pork barrel system, points out that the Executive and the Legislative Departments have not only failed to comply with the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, which declared the entire pork barrel system unconstitutional, but have, to the contrary, illegally resurrected vast lumpsums that have been voided by the Court in the 2014 General Appropriations Act as well as in the proposed GAA for 2015.
Belgica believes this is criminal conduct by both the Executive Department and Congress, which deserves the filing of charges against the entire membership of both Departments. That could leave the entire government vacant as the present office holders are made to join Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr in temporary detention even before trial and conviction.
Under the ruling penned by Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe, an Aquino appointee, the Court, by a vote of 14 to 1 (abstention), has declared the following 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 (Congressional Development Fund) 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 jurisdiction; 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 Presidential Decree No. 1869, as amended by PD No. 1993, for both failing the sufficient standard test in violation of the principle of non-delegability of legislative power.
Not only has the Court declared its temporary injunction dated Sept. 10, 2013 permanent. It has also enjoined the disbursement/release of the remaining PDAF funds allocated for the year 2013, as well as for all previous previous years, and the funds sourced from
(1) The Malampaya Funds under the phrase—and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President pursuant to Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910— and
(2) 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 PD No. 1993, which are, at the time this Decision is promulgated, not covered by the Notice of Cash Allocations (NCAs) but only by Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs), whether obligated or not.
The Court has ruled that the remaining PDAF funds covered by the permanent injunction shall not be disbursed/released but instead reverted to the unappropriated surplus of the General Fund, while the funds under the Malampaya Funds and the Presidential Social Fund shall remain therein to be utilized for their respective special purpose not otherwise declared unconstitutional.
Finally, the Court has directed “all prosecutorial organs of the government to, within the bounds of reasonable dispatch, investigate and accordingly prosecute all government officials and/or private individuals for possible criminal offenses related to the irregular, improper and/or unlawful disbursement/utilization of all funds under the Pork Barrel System.”
Despite the clear language of the Court, Malacañang and Congress have packed the 2014 GAA and the 2015 proposed GAA with various prohibited lump sums. Thus, for the current year, the Unprogrammed Funds amount to P139.9 billion, while the Special Purpose Funds amount to P282.6 billion. For 2015, in the election budget which Congress is expected to pass before December, the Unprogrammed amount is down to P123.1 billion, but the Special Purpose Funds allotment goes up to P378.6 billion. According to a previous report, the congressmen who were receiving P70 million each before the PDAF was outlawed, would now receive P108 million per.
You will notice that the DAP, which is Abad’s real brainchild, and which has produced a much bigger political earthquake than the PDAF, is only mentioned here in passing. Thanks to the evasive tactics employed by both the Department of Budget and Management and the Commission on Audit, we do not yet know the exact amount involved in the DAP. Were the public properly informed of the full extent of the unconstitutional DAP manipulation, Abad might have gotten not just a mild “stoning.”
But at this point, the onus is no longer on those who deserve to be prosecuted alone but principally on those whose duty it is to initiate and conduct the prosecution. This refers to the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice. Sadly, they have simply ignored the Court directive “to investigate and accordingly prosecute all government officials and/or private individuals for possible criminal offenses related to the irregular, improper and/or unlawful disbursement/utilization of all funds under the Pork Barrel System.”
Prosecution has been limited to the three opposition senators who are in jail on plunder charges, which could very well be applied to all the other pork barrel recipients in Congress, and to the effort to destroy the presidential aspirations of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay through the Senate blue ribbon committee’s shameful inquiry “in aid of legislation” by senators who could very well be equally charged with plunder.
Despite all this, anyone passing by Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City will notice a big Ateneo University sign announcing that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has been chosen to receive some important award as some kind of graft-buster, together with some rather worthy awardees. This is one cruel joke that does not leave us laughing. Whatever her real merits, she has wittingly or unwittingly made the Ombudsman’s office an instrument of selective political persecution.
Let us not talk anymore about all those who have received P50 million or more to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona at his Senate impeachment trial. Or those involved in bogus projects that went through the 82 or so Janet Napoles-type foundations. Let us simply talk about the members or former members of the Commission on Elections who have been charged before the Ombudsman with rigging the 2010 and the 2013 automated elections. Can Ombudsman Carpio Rosales tell us why, in Heaven’s name, these complaints have not moved at all?
For all the hype to the contrary, no one in this government has distinguished himself or herself fighting syndicated political corruption. More and more people are saying that between President B. S. Aquino 3rd and the leaders of the present Congress, we now have one big criminal syndicate masquerading as a government.