‘Congress should abolish ‘pork’ before SC declares it unconstitutional’
MANILA, Philippines—Citing Congress’ constitutional power of the purse, the chair of the Senate committee on finance said on Wednesday that he’d prefer Congress to abolish the pork barrel rather than have the Supreme Court declare the priority development assistance fund unconstitutional.
Sen. Francis Escudero made the remark a day after the most senior magistrate of the Supreme Court cast doubt on the constitutionality of the provisions of the 2013 General Appropriations Act regarding the congressional lump sum lawmakers use to fund their choice projects.
“Congress, under the Constitution, has the power of the purse. In fact, the Constitution provides that no money shall be paid out of the national treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation provided for by law,” Escudero told reporters.
Escudero said the authority given to the executive branch to disburse public funds “is merely a delegated power granted to it by Congress.”
“I admit that there have been abuses committed by some lawmakers and, because of this, I agree with calls to abolish the pork barrel in order to regain the people’s trust in our institutions,” Escudero said.
“However, Congress should be the one, by law, that should abolish it or, at the very least, establish strict guidelines on use and transparency; not declaring it unconstitutional,” Escudero added.
Escudero, nonetheless, said that the Supreme Court can do so through its decision on the petitions against the PDAF.
“Congressional action, people’s initiative or SC decision. All these three are legal options to abolish the pork barrel,” Escudero said.
“Although they are not mutually exclusive, I of course prefer the first option as a member of Congress and in order to show and prove that, hopefully, Congress can rise to the challenge and start the process of restoring our people’s faith in our institution,” Escudero added.
Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the discussion in the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the PDAF was a welcome development as “it will define the powers of the legislative branch and the executive branch.”
“So this is healthy for all of us,” Recto said.
Asked if this means lawmakers will wait for the Supreme Court ruling on the PDAF before deciding in Congress the fate of the pork barrel, Recto said, “No, we are not saying that.”
“We are a co-equal branch of government. We can act on our own but what I’m saying is I welcome this personally, I think it should be welcomed by the entire nation that there is this discussion in the Supreme Court. It will define the powers of Congress and the executive,” Recto said.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, for her part, said the Supreme Court can decide on the constitutionality of the PDAF despite the “political question doctrine” being raised by supposed “pork barrel advocates” to keep the tribunal from the deciding on the petitions against the PDAF.
Under the political questions doctrine, “a court should refuse to decide an issue involving the exercise of discretionary power by the executive or legislative branch of government.”
“Constitutional scholars are united in the view that under the present Constitution, the Supreme Court is no longer inhibited from deciding political questions,” Santiago said.
“The Constitution now provides that judicial power includes the duty of the court to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government, even in cases involving political questions,” Santiago added.
Santiago, a constitutional law expert and former regional trial court judge, said the cases questioning the constitutionality of pork barrel funds “present a question of whether the political branches of government, meaning the executive and the legislative branches, have committed grave abuse of discretion in spending the people’s money.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.