The Supreme Court has made its presence felt by shaking up the balance of power with its politically explosive decision nullifying both presidential and congressional pork barrel. Apparently, the high court’s verdict was powerful enough– more powerful than Yolanda’s wrath– to prompt President B.S. Aquino to fly back to Manila, cutting short his visit to the super-typhoon-battered Tacloban City.
In my humble opinion, the historic abolition of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) constitutes what they call in the United States ‘partial government shutdown’.
In American politics, the federal government enters a shutdown, upon order of the Executive Office, when the Congress fails to pass a budget or causes a funding gap that might render certain government programs or agencies unfunded. This year, U.S. President Barack Obama had ordered some government agencies to close after the Democrats-controlled Senate rejected the budget bill passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives that defunded the president’s pet project the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. Those affected by the partial shutdown were deemed “non-essential” services.
In the Philippines, the Supreme Court’s nullification of the provisions on PDAF in the 2013 General Appropriations Act (GAA), thus reversing itself after thrice upholding the constitutionality of pork barrel, will necessarily force a funding gap affecting only presidential and congressional pet projects, which I consider non-essential. Which means that the budget department will no longer allot P200 million yearly for senators and P70 million for congressmen, a political privilege lawmakers enjoyed for more than a decade.
The only difference between Philippine’s partial shutdown and that of the United States is that the country’s first shutdown was ordered by the high court, not the Executive branch.
After Yolanda shut down the entire city of Tacloban and other areas in the Eastern Visayas region, B.S. Aquino responded with a State of National Calamity order and his politics of blame avoidance, blaming local officials, his predecessor Gloria Arroyo, developed countries, global warming and almost everyone else except himself. Now it looks like the SC-forced shutdown of his and the lawmakers’ pork barrel is something the President was unprepared to handle.
The question is: Can the President and lawmakers live without pork? Well, they have/need to. The court’s final verdict is now part of the law of the land.
The high court also invalidated “all legal provisions of past and present Congressional Pork Barrel laws, such as the previous PDAF and Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) 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.” It also ordered that all unused PDAF should be returned to government coffers.
Perhaps apart from correcting itself after it thrice upheld the constitutionality of pork barrel in the past, the high court also seeks to send a strong political message to the Legislature and the Executive office. Since the passage and ratification of the New Constitution in 1986, the equilibrium of power shifted heavily toward the presidency, perhaps because that is exactly how the country’s political framework was designed.
I can almost imagine the following postscript to the court’s decision:
“The Judiciary remains the third branch– a co-equal branch– of government. It is the bulwark of people’s rights and liberty and property under the Constitution.”
Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Paper # 78, clearly understood that the judiciary is ” beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power”. However, it has one indispensable and very special power: the protection of people’s rights against unconstitutional and extra-constitutional encroachment by the Legislature and the Executive branch.
Hamilton wrote that “so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive”, “the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter.”
For I agree, that “there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.”2 And it proves, in the last place, that as liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have every thing to fear from its union with either of the other departments; that as all the effects of such a union must ensue from a dependence of the former on the latter, notwithstanding a nominal and apparent separation; that as, from the natural feebleness of the judiciary, it is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches; and that as nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office, this quality may therefore be justly regarded as an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure, as the citadel of the public justice and the public security.
In limiting the powers of the president, the framers of the 1987 thought it was enough to omit certain presidential powers and privileges present in the past charters (1973 and 1935), negating the fact that dictator Ferdinand Marcos established his power base with the help of his rubber-stamp congress and the politically controlled judiciary– and by replacing our mongrel ‘presidential’ framework of government with parliamentary system.
Today we all know that a president can expand his/her political power by bribing the lawmakers with public money. That is, by creating a pork barrel system that allows them to allegedly finance their pet projects and secure their electability.
In 1994, the court defended lawmakers’ pork barrel using the “complexities” theory of government. Saying interpretation of the New Charter “must take into account the complexities, realities and politics attendant to the operation of the political branches of government”, the high court in the past declared pork barrel legal and constitutional.
“Countrywide Development Fund [which was replaced with PDAF] attempts to make equal the unequal,” the court said.
But we all know that kind of reasoning is just… BULLSHIT! How many times did the highly schooled SC justices use this “complexities” theory to justify the expansion of our government?
In fact they can even use it to justify the constitutionality of every intrusive, punitive regulation and edict passed by Congress and signed by the President (e.g., the Reproductive Health law and the Cybercrime law).
This “complexities” theory or doctrine shows nothing but the complex nature of the court’s judicial decisionmaking. It’s one of the many anti-justice, irrational concepts brought about by the Judiciary’s Judicial Activism. And so far the worst anti-justice, anti-law doctrine created by the court’s judicial activism is the Puno Court’s “Writ of Kalikasan” that exposes some of our justices’ judicial ignorance and mediocrity.
It’s time for the Judiciary to throw away its fanatical Judicial Activism– that helps expand our already over-bloated Welfare State and legitimizes the unconstitutional/extra-constitutional powers and privileges of both the Legislature and the Presidency– and return to its Republican principles and sacrosanct role of being the protector of the ” general liberty of the people”— or, to borrow Hamilton’s words– “the citadel of the public justice and the public security”.
UPDATE: And the shutdown begins!
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad warned that thousand of students, patients and welfare recipients will lose government support due to the high court’s ruling.
GMA Network reports:
In a radio interview, Abad said some 300,000 students studying in state universities and colleges (SUCs) will lose their government scholarships due to the SC ruling on the PDAF, commonly known as “pork barrel.”
“Eto ‘yung isang magiging sakit ng ulo ng mga congressman at to some extent senators kasi marami kasing mga bata na naka-enroll sa mga SUCs. Ang epekto nitong desisyon na ito is to also invalidate the appropriations for that. ‘Yung pondo, ibinalik ng SC sa Treasury,” the Cabinet official said over Radyo Inquirer.
Patients relying on government support to undergo treatment in government hospitals will also be affected by the striking down of the PDAF, Abad added.
What’s their remedy now?
Well, Abad reveals they may still continue to fund their pet projects through presidential passage of supplementary budget to Congress. Which means that they can create a new pork system that we may call “supplementary pork barrel”. Under this proposed new scheme, the Executive Office might collude with the Legislature for the continued funding of their own pet projects. The result: an Executive-Legislature pork barrel partnership system.
Abad further said that the executive branch may submit a supplementary budget to Congress to continue the financial support of government scholars and patients despite the SC ruling.
“Puwede tugunan ang problema ng mga estudyante at may sakit na nakaasa rito sa PDAF,” Abad said.
In a separate interview, Senate President Franklin Drilon said the chamber accepts the decision of the high court despite possible repercussions on their constituents.
“Tanggap na natin ‘yan. Ganun ang decision ng Korte Suprema dahil ‘yun ang hinihiling ng taumbayan,” Drilon said over GMA News TV’s “News To Go.”
Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., who was involved in the pork barrel scam, said the abolished PDAF could have helped Yolanda victims.
Revilla regrets the Supreme Court (SC) decision declaring the pork barrel unconstitutional. He said more people in disaster situations could be assisted had the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) been on hand.
“Well kung meron tayong PDAF, mas marami sana tayong matutulungan sa mga naapektuhan ng bagyo. Maidadagdag yan sa calamity fund, sa mga healthcare, maraming matutulungan,” he said.
Revilla would rather not comment on criticisms against the administration’s handling of the typhoon aftermath, saying this is not the time for political bickering.
“Ito yung panahon ngayon ng bayanihan, pagtutulungan, dapat i-set aside ang pulitika, alitan. Ang mahalaga ngayon, tayo ay magtulungan para sa bayan, gamutin ang sugat ng puso ng mamamayan. Hindi tayo dapat magturuan. Tumulong na lamang. Walang oposisyon, walang administrasyon ngayon. Ang galaw ng bawat isa’y mahalaga, at yan ang kailangan ng ating mga kababayan,” he said.