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Home Op-Ed Columns Opinion on Page One Pork-free budget with Cayetano as House speaker is science fiction

Pork-free budget with Cayetano as House speaker is science fiction

 

YEN MAKABENTA

First word
The two ideas — (1) passing an appropriations law with no “pork barrel” provisions, and (2) a House of Representatives led by its term-sharing speaker Alan Peter Cayetano — do not mix. They are like oil and water. Their natural bent is to separate from each other.

When oil is poured into water, it tries to keep itself deprecated or separated from the water. Similarly, the water will not be hospitable to the oil; it will shun it.


In the hypothetical case of a porkless budget and a House led by Cayetano, it is fantasy to imagine that the two ideas could form a union.

The goal of a pork-free national budget naturally contradicts and opposes the ardent desire of the House to produce pork projects for its members and their constituents through the national budget.

The House is loath to accept an appropriations act that will eliminate altogether appropriations for the pork projects of its legislator members. Based on his record, Cayetano, both as senator and congressman, has always been at the forefront in fighting for the rights of legislators to their pork barrel.

The two ideas will not mix.

Lacson’s allegations
Despite Cayetano’s avowals that the House is bent on passing a budget version that would be free of pork, Sen. Panfilo Lacson has come out charging that House leaders have made last-minute insertions in the P4.1 trillion 2020 national budget that are nothing but thinly disguised pork.

If Senator Lacson can prove his allegation, the objective of a pork-free budget will be compromised and the prospect of a presidential veto becomes imminent.

The Palace says that President Duterte will veto the insertions, because the President’s policy is unchanging. He will veto “provisions in the budget that run counter to the Constitution.”

Mr. Duterte vetoed P95 billion in the 2019 budget for being inconsistent with his administration’s priority programs.

Lacson says the Senate will submit to the President the list of projects allegedly inserted in the budget at the last minute, and which he considered questionable for vagueness or lack of details.

Clear SC decision on pork
The Supreme Court (SC) ruling, issued on Nov. 21, 2013, which struck down the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly known as the “pork barrel,” as unconstitutional, has made it easier to identify pork and its disguises in the budget.

The text of the landmark decision is instructive and memorable for both the Congress and the public. Yet, since 2014, the decision has been successfully bypassed through the machinations of certain operators in the Congress.

The 72-page ruling, penned by Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, said the court seeks to “rectify an error which has persisted in the chronicles of our history.”

The high court cited the following reasons for striking down the pork barrel system:

– The system violated the principle of separation of powers in allowing legislators “to wield non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget execution.”

– The system violated the principle of non-delegability of legislative power by giving lawmakers personal, discretionary funds from which they are able to fund specific projects they determine.

– The PDAF denied the President veto power in creating a system of budgeting where items are not “textualized,” or introduced as line items into the budget bill.

– The system impaired public accountability in giving legislators “a stake in the affairs of budget execution” when they should exercise congressional oversight.

– The system subverted local autonomy in authorizing legislators to intervene in local affairs.

– The system violated the principle of non-delegability of legislative power in allowing the President to appropriate the Malampaya Fund for purposes other than energy-related activities and the PSF for purposes under the broad classification of “priority infrastructure development projects.”

The court said the practices it specified should “never again be adopted in any system of governance, by any name or 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,” it said.

“At a time of great civic unrest and vociferous public debate, the Court fervently hopes that its decision, 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. After all, this is the Court’s bounden duty and no other’s.”

Upon release of the decision, most observers hailed the ruling as historic and a step toward ending political patronage in the Philippines.

The high court handed down its ruling following national outrage over the pork barrel scandal, wherein lawmakers were accused of allegedly channeling their PDAF to fake nongovernment organizations in return for kickbacks.

Cayetano’s leadership of the House raises skepticism because he has been a key leader in the efforts of Congress to circumvent the clear provisions of the Supreme Court ruling banning the pork barrel system.

When the Senate in 2013 invented the budget insertion as its principal weapon to restore pork in the budget, the then Senator Cayetano was a principal strategist.

The late senator and columnist Ernesto Maceda, wrting in his column in the Philippine Star on Jan. 11, 2014, exposed the senators’ plot to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling. He wrote:

“Despite the Supreme Court ruling declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional and despite President [Benigno] Aquino [3rd]’s declaration that it is time to abolish the PDAF, nine senators have retained their P200 million pork barrel in the 2014 budget by realigning them to different departments in the General Appropriations Act.

“The nine senators are Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes 4th, Lito Lapid, Ralph Recto, Miriam D. Santiago, JV Ejercito, Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada.

“Congressmen are complaining why they have not been allowed the same privilege.

“The President did not veto the senators’ insertions, thus allowing this form of pork barrel to remain.”

The dates of the promulgation of the Supreme Court decision and Maceda’s exposé are significant. They show that within weeks of the high court’s ruling, senators were already plotting to preserve and protect their illegal pork entitlements.

To the lasting shame of the Senate, which Senator Lacson glosses over, senators invented the the brazen stratagem of using insertions in the budget to neutralize and bypass the emphatic Supreme Court 2013 decision which ruled the PDAF or pork barrel to be unconstitutional.

After the evidently successful insertions maneuver with the 2014 budget, pork in the form of insertions and budget realignments became a regular part of the national budget process.

It is no surprise now that insertions are once again being used to subvert the objective of a pork-free budget. One of its alleged inventors is now Speaker of the House, if only temporarily.

yenobserver@gmail.com

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Today’s Front Page February 27, 2020

Today’s Front Page February 27, 2020