Hallelujah! This was my reaction when I learned about the Supreme Court decision declaring the pork barrel as unconstitutional.
At long last, the pork barrel system through the Priority Development Assistance Fund, the Malampaya Funds, and the Presidential Social Funds, institutional forms of plunder of the country’s coffers, has been declared illegal. It does not matter if a particular legislator is honest or not. The fact is, where a member of Congress, including PNoy who was both Congressman and Senator in the past, received his PDAF, he/she is guilty of taking part in an institutional form of corruption. Perhaps some can say they did not benefit pecuniarily from the pork barrel. The reality though is with the recent decision of the Court, every single member of Congress who partook of the funds participated in a systematic and unconstitutional expenditure of public funds.
How did the Court re-open an issue that has been settled in the two prior cases of LAMP and Enriquez?
The court in effect said that there was a fundamental change of circumstance. This was the fact that while these two earlier cases upheld the constitutionality of the pork barrel because the power of legislators to identify projects were merely recommendatory, recent events, including the Napoles plunder of the PDAF and the Malampaya funds, indicated that PDAF, as implemented today, went beyond recommending projects.
So why did the Court declare pork barrel unconstitutional?
First, the court said that because of the principle of separation of powers, legislators, as soon as they pass the annual budget law, should no longer have any participation in the implementation of the law. This is because implementation is the realm of the executive. Citing the earlier case of Abakada Guro: “from the moment the law becomes effective, any provision of law that empowers Congress or any of its members to play any role in the implementation or enforcement of the law violates the principle of separation of powers and is thus unconstitutional.”
Second, the court said that the power to provide the annual appropriations law cannot be delegated to the individual members of Congress. The Court said that the practice of allowing a legislator to identify projects for implementation, after the budget law had been passed, is tantamount to a delegation by Congress to its individual members a power which should be exercised by it as an institution: “the power of appropriation involves (a) the setting apart by law of a certain sum from the public revenue for (b) a specified purpose. Essentially, under the 2013 PDAF Article, individual legislators are given a personal lump-sum fund from which they are able to dictate (a) how much from such fund would go to (b) a specific project or beneficiary that they themselves also determine. As these two (2) acts comprise the exercise of the power of appropriation as described in Bengzon, and given that the 2013 PDAF Article authorizes individual legislators to perform the same, undoubtedly, said legislators have been conferred the power to legislate which the Constitution does not, however, allow”.
Third, the Court said that the pork barrel violates the system of check and balances since it deprives the President the power to veto line items in the annual appropriation law: “This setup connotes that the appropriation law leaves the actual amounts and purposes of the appropriation for further determination and, therefore, does not readily indicate a discernible item which may be subject to the President’s power of item veto.”
The Court also said that as a tool to level the playing field for politicians, the pork barrel system violates the constitutional principle of granting local autonomy to local governments. This is because instead of allowing local officials to identify projects in their local governmental units, members of Congress, simply because of their title, are granted also the power to identify infrastructure projects for their district.
Quite frankly, I did not expect to see the Court rule in this manner during my lifetime. But on closer scrutiny, perhaps it was public indignation that emboldened the Court to assert its judicial power against the more powerful political branches of government. In the final analysis, it was the people, through the million people march and their outrage in social media- that emboldened the Court to defend the Constitution against the stronger branches of government.
Kudos should hence go to both the Court and the people!
(Published in Manila Standard Today on Nov. 28, 2013)