MANILA, Philippines—Senate President Franklin Drilon on Wednesday asserted his role as the leader of the chamber to interrogate two high court justices on the nature of the temporary restraining order (TRO) that the Supreme Court issued on the congressional pork barrel, or the priority development assistance fund (PDAF).
“You come before us to ask for your budget and therefore we have the right to ask questions on policies not on the way you decide your cases,” Drilon told Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen who appeared before a Senate finance committee hearing on the judiciary’s proposed P18.6-billion budget for 2014.
Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta confirmed that the TRO issued by the high tribunal stopping pork barrel releases for the rest of the year meant “a prima facie but preliminary finding” that the PDAF was unconstitutional.
The high court on Tuesday gave due course to three separate petitions filed before it questioning the constitutionality of the lump sum allocations in national budget, stopping immediately fund releases from the PDAF and the Malampaya gas funds.
Congressional leaders have been ordered to appear before the Supreme Court to explain their views on the constitutionality of the congressional pork barrel at the oral arguments on the petition set for Oct. 8.
Drilon said that the Senate will comply with whatever decision that the Supreme Court will render on the constitutionality of the PDAF.
“If I will appear before the Court, that’s also what I will say,” he said.
After much prodding from Drilon, Peralta agreed that the TRO was only “on a preliminary basis.”
“As to whether or not we will declare (the pork barrel allocations) unconstitutional, that will be determined after the arguments,” he said.
Things got a little heated at the hearing, however, when Drilon insisted on getting “guidance” from the magistrates on how the high court’s TRO on the PDAF should be implemented.
Drilon wanted to get the sense of the tribunal, through the two justices, if it will be a violation of the TRO if PDAF already released the funds to such programs such as those for medical assistance for indigents in hospitals.
Leonen said a motion to clarify, if the Senate needed one, would have to be filed before the Supreme Court.
“No, I’m asking for a clarification. This is a budget hearing. I have the right to ask for a clarification,” Drilon insisted.
“We accept that you have the right, your honor, to ask for clarification but I hope that you understand that we can only move as a court,” Leonen answered.
The Senate has suspended the release of PDAF for the second half of the year but some of the releases from the first semester have yet to be fully spent by the implementing agencies like the government hospitals.
“As we talk now, there are patients lining up at the kidney institute [National Kidney and Transplant Institute]. Each one is expecting P2,000 for dialysis from the PDAF lodged with the NKTI,” Drilon said.
Drilon wanted to know if the dialysis of patients using his PDAF entitlement with the NKTI could continue availing of the services.
Leonen said the TRO enjoins the Department of Budget and Management, the national treasurer, the executive secretary or any person acting on their authority from releasing the remaining PDAF.