At the end of the day it all comes down to two powerful branches of government (the Executive and Legislature) versus the Judiciary, the supposed-to-be independent and non-partisan judicial entity of the State.
Under a strict Republican system, the three co-equal branches of government possess– and must never share– well-defined, delimited constitutional powers according to their nature and specific functions.
To preserve the balance of power, the three governmental branches cannot form a political alliance to control political power, or to introduce or perpetuate a political practice that is deemed inimical to the interest and rights of the people. For instance, the Executive and the Legislature cannot forge an arbitrary political collusion, and conspire to abuse or misuse public coffers in the name of the poor or the greater good.
Classical Republican tradition states that the “power of the purse”– that is, the authority to tax and to spend public money from the national treasury– belongs only to Congress. Although the Philippines is a Republican-Democratic state, this taxing and spending power is exercised by Congress through its power to make and pass appropriation bills.
A bicameral system makes it harder for any political party to control, or misuse, public money. All appropriation bills must exclusively originate from the House of Representatives, and the only role of the Senate is to propose changes or concur with amendments.
“All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills, shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.”
Since the sole authority to make and pass a budget rests with Congress (Lower House), it also has the power to partially or totally defund unnecessary, unessential programs or projects of the national government. This is what the Republican- or opposition-controlled House of Representatives did when they passed a budget bill defunding President Barack Obama’s healthcare project, popularly known as ObamaCare. The Democrats-controlled Senate, however, rejected the bill, and the White House, which refused to negotiate, ordered all federal agencies and unessential government services to shutdown.
Clearly in the Philippines and under the 1987 Charter, since the power of the purse belongs to Congress, pork barrel must have been plotted and originated in the Lower House. Recent Philippine history has it that pork barrel disbursement officially started in 1989 following the creation of the Mindanao Development Fund and Visayas Development Fund, which were given pork appropriations of P480-million and P280-million, respectively.
The difference is that the lump sum appropriations in 1989 sought to fund two specific projects, the MDF and VDF. Today under the abolished-in-name-only PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), each congressman is allotted P70 million per year and each senator, P200 million. Indeed this pork practice was intended by lawmakers to reward themselves with multimillion public money.
This practice was first challenged in the Supreme Court in 1994, or during the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos. The SC was asked to nullify the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) inserted in the budget bill for 1994 on the ground that it was an encroachment by Congress on the powers of the Executive. This is almost the same as the ongoing petition brought before the high court questioning the legality of PDAF in the 2013 General Appropriations Act (GAA),
The petitioners argued that although the “power of the purse” belongs to Congress, the power to spend or use public money belongs to the Executive department. The high court ruled in favor of the CDF, saying the law only allowed lawmakers to recommend projects and it was the president who had the power to implement them.
What a weird way of saying, ‘congressmen merely gave themselves public money by recommending projects, but it was actually the president who would implement them’!
The Supreme Court said:
“The Constitution is a framework of a workable government and its interpretation must take into account the complexities, realities and politics attendant to the operation of the political branches of government. Prior to the GAA of 1991, there was an uneven allocation of appropriations for the constituents of the members of Congress, with the members close to the Congressional leadership or who hold cards for ‘horse-trading,’ getting more than their less favored colleagues. The members of Congress also had to reckon with an unsympathetic President, who could exercise his veto power to cancel from the appropriation bill a pet project of a Representative or Senator.
“The Countrywide Development Fund attempts to make equal the unequal. It is also a recognition that individual members of Congress, far more than the President and their congressional colleagues are likely to be knowledgeable about the needs of their respective constituents and the priority to be given each project.”
Really? To make “equal the unequal”? So, how did the CDF and its successor, PDAF, legislate inequality? How would the court justices compare the Napoleses of the world and their corrupt co-conspirators in the government (lawmakers and Implementing Agencies) with the intended recipients of livelihood projects, scholarships, and financial assistance to indigent patients who received only three to six percent (only P3 billion) of the total PDAF released from 2010 to 2013, according to this PCIJ report?
Now the SC used the following statement to justify the constitutionality of pork barrel or CDF: “In short, the proposals and identifications made by the members of Congress are merely recommendatory.” What the Court was saying is that congressmen are merely authorized to recommend “pork” projects, whereas the president is empowered to implement them. Also, what the justices were saying is that the P70 million that is currently allocated to each congressman and 200 million to each senator constitute what they call “recommendatory” when they have the power and option to pick their projects and spend the money any way they want.
That practice is exactly what I call an unholy political alliance between the Legislature and the Executive department.
Instead of empowering the poor and the intended beneficiaries of pork barrel, this immoral, extra-constitutional system only empowers the Executive branch or Malacanang to control political power. By legitimizing pork barrel politics, which allowed the Executive office to bribe lawmakers in the two chambers of Congress, the Judiciary made itself utterly vulnerable to political bullying and impeachment threat.
Pork barrel can be easily used and abused by any sitting president to organize, assemble and position political power in the Legislature. And as embattled Senator Jinggoy Estrada revealed in his privilege speech, President B.S. Aquino used “pork” money to bribe senators to convict ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Obviously, the SC could have abolished pork barrel a long, long time ago. The problem is, its members were blinded by the mediocre notion that the government, or the lawmakers, had the magical power to legislate inequality by simply empowering politicians to spend and redistribute public money in the name of the greater good. Yet very recent history tells us today that instead of using “pork barrel” funds to combat inequality and poverty, corrupt lawmakers merely used them to enrich themselves and their collaborators.
Now it’s high time for the SC justices to correct the judicial mistakes committed by their predecessors. Only the high court has the power to destroy the seemingly all-powerful political “monster” it created in 1994.
Every Filipino citizen with a brain today knows pork barrel did not “make equal the unequal”, and that members of Congress are absolutely NOT “likely to be knowledgeable about the needs of their respective constituents”.
The Judiciary is duty-bound to stop this “pork” madness and defend judicial independence as well as the remaining vestiges of our mongrel Republican principles!
Furthermore, it is in the interest of Supreme Court justices to act properly and wisely–e.i., by declaring pork barrel illegal and unconstitutional in order to downsize or limit the over-bloated authority of the Presidency. Again, anyone with a brain and who properly understands Philippine politics knows that pork barrel was abused– and is being used– by the President to influence, or gain the political support of, members of the Legislative department.
The impeachment and conviction of Corona should have sent a strong political message to SC Justices. IT can happen to any “stubborn old men” in the high court. This means that they have to act swiftly and strategically. That is, our justices have to limit the powers of the President by totally abolishing any form of pork barrel!
The ongoing political friction between the Judiciary and the united Executive-Legislature may precipitate a political deadlock, which may result in our own version of partial government shutdown. Federal government shutdown in the United States was caused by legislative budget gridlock (between Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate) over President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. In the Philippines, a partial shutdown may be triggered by the Court’s possible nullification of B.S. Aquino’s pork barrel, a situation that might render the president’s pet projects and our lawmakers’ deep pockets totally UNFUNDED.
The Court’s possible decision to declare the President’s pork barrel in the budget law unconstitutional may not only affect the ruling party’s programs and political ambitions; it may also ignite a bitter political friction between the SC and the administration.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Palace wasn’t bothered by the comments of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Tuesday during oral arguments in the Supreme Court that the provisions on PDAF in the 2013 General Appropriations Act (GAA) were “riddled with unconstitutionalities.”
“You know, the President has already announced that the PDAF has been abolished. So that has been abolished,” Lacierda told reporters in a briefing, giving a hint on how the Solicitor General will present the government side on the PDAF at the resumption of the high tribunal’s hearing on Thursday.
“They want to declare it unconstitutional. And so they want to make sure that it will no longer be enacted in some other time,” Lacierda said. “But, as far as the executive branch is concerned, the President has already stated that we have abolished the PDAF.”
A PCIJ review of data disclosed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) shows that under the Aquino administration, P60.4 billion of PDAF had been released for 85,534 pork-funded projects of 21 senators and 284 congressmen of the 15th Congress, from July 2010 to June 2013.
The review also shows that the same problems that the Commission on Audit (COA) had raised in its special audit of pork disbursed from 2007 to 2009 under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo linger still under Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid” government.