MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is “in sync” with the Supreme Court’s decision removing presidential discretion over the Malampaya fund, according to Palace officials.
But President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, could not say the same with the landmark ruling declaring congressional pork barrel laws, then and now, as unconstitutional.
“We are in sync with the Supreme Court, in so far as the Malampaya Fund is concerned, considering that the President has not utilized the Malampaya Fund other than [for] energy and energy-related projects,” he said in a press briefing.
“We have no problem with the removal of that provision,” he added, referring to the provision in Presidential Decree No. 910 that Malampaya proceeds to be spent “for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President.”
But Lacierda was generally tight-lipped on the bigger decision on the pork barrel, saying the Palace has not seen a copy of the decision and that the next course of action would depend on the Office of the Solicitor General.
“We have to move forward,” he replied when asked by the Philippine Daily Inquirer if the Palace would at least “welcome” the high court’s decision on the pork barrel.
Under intense public pressure, President Aquino announced in August that it was time to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the latest reincarnation of the graft-ridden congressional pork barrel.
But the President, a former congressman, later sent mixed signals, defending the system of allowing lawmakers to identify projects funded by pork barrel.
Justifying what amounted to a “pork” component in his controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), he earlier argued that politicians were generally remembered on Election Day by “those that you have managed to help find work, those that you have educated, those that you have helped gain medical attention.”
“You’re a politician. You’d want to be reelected. Your work, therefore, has to devolve to constituency work,” he had said.
Taking Mr. Aquino’s cue, his allies at the House of Representatives later deleted PDAF in the 2014 budget, but realigned P25.4 billion to six agencies. A portion of this amount (P9.954 billion) was to be spent by the Department of Public Works and Highways for projects to be identified by lawmakers.
Lacierda rejected that idea that without the pork barrel, Aquino would lose his influence over legislators and might even be reduced to a “lame duck” President.
“It’s non sequitur,” he said. “That kind of reasoning is not a one-is-to-one correspondence.”
He added: “We believe that the Congress has the interest of the Filipinos in mind, and the priorities of this government will be supported by the House and Senate, because our concern is the concern of all Filipinos.”
On whether the Supreme Court decision against congressional pork barrel would eventually eliminate political patronage, Lacierda said: “Supreme Court decisions take time for [them] to become inculturated into the political atmosphere.”