Moving in the midst of a growing public outrage against an alleged P10-billion swindle, the Supreme Court on Tuesday gave due course to a petition questioning the constitutionality of lump sum allocations of state funds and stopped their releases for the rest of the year from the congressional pork barrel and the Malampaya gas field.
The TRO is effective immediately until further orders from the tribunal, said Theodore Te, court spokesman. It stopped the Department of Budget and Management, national treasurer and executive secretary from releasing the remaining PDAF allocated to members of Congress under the General Appropriations Act of 2013.
Malacañang and members of the Senate and the House of Representatives said they would respect the court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) in response to three petitions to declare unconstitutional not only lump sum allocations under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) but also the Presidential Special Funds (PSF).
Also covered by the TRO are releases from the Malampaya Fund under the phrase “for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President” in Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910 but not for the purposes of “financ[ing] energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects of the government.”
PD 910 created the Energy Development Board in 1976 to regulate all activities relative to the exploration, exploitation, development and extraction of fossil and nuclear fuels and geothermal resources. The law created a special fund from the royalties collected by the board as the government’s share in the contracted projects.
Doesn’t affect budget
Asked if the issuance of the TRO stopped the current GAA and violated the constitutional prerogatives of Congress, particularly the lawmakers’ power of the purse, Te replied: “The act restrained the release of PDAF … it does not affect the GAA because it does not annul any provision of the GAA. [A] TRO cannot do that.”
“The TRO only maintains the status quo until the determination can be made as to PDAF legality,” he added.
The directive was issued in response to the three separate petitions filed by groups led by former senatorial candidates Greco Belgica and Samson Alcantara, and former Marinduque Board Member Pedrito Nepomuceno. Oral arguments for the case was set at 2 p.m. on Oct. 8.
The respondents in the cases, including Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, were also given 10 days to give their comments.
All the justices voted in favor of the TRO, except for Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. who earlier inhibited himself because his wife is a party-list representative and a PDAF beneficiary.
P12.27-billion PDAF unreleased
The directive was handed down on the eve of a protest against the pork barrel triggered by revelations that businessman Janet Lim-Napoles had engineered a P10-billion scam the past decade using funds from PDAF and Malampaya and channeling them into ghost projects and kickbacks of up to 70 percent to lawmakers.
Reacting to the court order, Abad said that P12.27 billion of the PDAF for the second semester of this year had not been released in accordance with the statement of President Aquino before the Aug. 26 Million People March against the pork barrel system.
“The President’s action was official, in fact, publicly announced. The question to ask is: Will this TRO presage a doctrinal shift on the part of the SC? It’s an interesting policy issue between the judiciary and legislature. We in the executive branch can only wait and watch,” he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said the House would abide by the court order. However, he told reporters, “To abolish it 100 percent, to reform it, to do anything with it, it is my position that it’s a political question which under our system of government belongs to Congress.”
Expedite case resolution
He also called on the court to expedite the resolution of the case, noting that many lawmakers’ constituents were relying on the PDAF and that they should be able to give them a concrete answer soon.
Drilon told reporters, “We will submit to the sound discretion of the court as to how to decide this issue on the basis of the allegations in the petition and jurisprudence.”
Sen. Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate committee on finance, said the subject of the TRO had been rendered “moot and academic.”
“Since the announcement of the President and the Senate President as well, we have not been processing nor endorsing any PDAF release request for the second semester. In fact, even the balance left for the first semester won’t be released anymore,” he said.
Voice of the people
Belgica and Alcantara hailed the court move.
“We thank the Supreme Court for listening to the voice of the people. We await the comment of the respondents and look forward to the oral arguments,” Alcantara told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
In a post on his Facebook account, Belgica said: “We thank the justices for giving the Filipinos justice, saving and protecting them from this justified theft system of the pork barrel. Public funds should be held by the people not by the government.”
In his petition, Belgica asked the high court to declare as unconstitutional the pork barrel system, including the President’s lump sum, discretionary funds except the calamity fund and the contingency fund.
He also asked the court to strike down for being unconstitutional a portion of Section 8, of PD 910 on the Malampaya Fund, which stated it could be used “for such other purposes” directed by the President.”
Belgica claimed Malacañang took advantage of this provision to insist that the proceeds of the Malampaya Fund could be used to finance any project of the President. He stressed that the fund could only be used “to finance energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects of the government.”
Perversion of taxation
“The pork barrel system allows the perversion of taxation by providing opportunities for the members thereof to gorge themselves in funds collected pursuant to tax legislation they have enacted purportedly for the public good,” said Alcantara, of the Social Justice Society.
He said that the pork barrel system was a “mockery” of the constitutional mandate on accountability, honesty and integrity of public officers.
He added that the system also allowed the President to have control over lawmakers in violation of the constitutional separation of powers.—With reports from TJ Burgonio, Leila B. Salaverria and Norman Bordadora; Jamie Elona and Kristine Angeli Sabillo, INQUIRER.net
Originally posted: 1:20 pm | Tuesday, September 10th, 2013