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Supreme Court declares PDAF unconstitutional

(Updated 6:46 p.m.) The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared as unconstitutional the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or more commonly known as the pork barrel.

SC spokesperson Theodore Te said the high court voted 14-0-1 against the PDAF, the multimillion peso discretionary fund received by lawmakers every year.

The court also declared as illegal the portion of Presidential Decree 910 that allows the Malampaya fund to be used "for such other purposes" as determined by the President.

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. abstained from the voting because his son is an incumbent congressman. The decision was penned by Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, an appointee of President Benigno Aquino III.

Petitioners have challenged the constitutionality of the PDAF before the high court following reports of its widespread and systematic misuse by some members of Congress in cahoots with private individuals.

Three incumbent senators and several former members of the House of Representatives have been named respondents in a plunder complaint filed with the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam.

The scam, allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, involved the funneling of pork barrel funds to bogus non-government organizations. Public outrage over the anomaly has resulted in the largest protest gathering under the three-year-old Aquino administration.

SC decision

In a briefing, Te, quoting the decision, said the high court declared the PDAF Article in 2013 General Approriations Act and all similar provisions on the pork barrel system as illegal because it “allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradiations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget executions (thus violating) the principle of separation of powers.”

The SC said the pork barrel system creates a system of budgeting in which items are not “textualized into appropriations bill.” It also said this “flouts the prescribed power of presentment and in the process denies the President the power to veto items."

Apart from the "entire 2013 PDAF Article," also declared unconstitutional were all legal provisions contained in previous and current "pork barrel" laws, including those on the PDAF and its predecessor, the Community Development Fund, as well as various "congressional insertions."

According to the SC, these insertions authorized lawmakers, individually or through committees, to intervene, assume or participate in any of the various post-enactment stages of the budget execution, such as project identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release, and/or fund realignment.

Also declared unconstitutional were:

  • all legal provisions of past and present Congressional Pork Barrel laws, such as the previous PDAF and CDF Articles and the various Congressional Insertions, which confer/red personal, lump-sum allocations to legislators from which they are able to fund specific projects which they themselves determine;
  • all informal practices of similar import and effect, which the Court similarly deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of discretion; and
  • the phrases (1) “and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President” under Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910 and (2) “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects” under Section 12 of PD 1869, as amended by PD 1993, for both failing the sufficient standard test in violation of the principle of non-delegability of legislative power.

Request denied

Meanwhile, the high court denied the petitioners' request that Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa and the Department of Budget and Management provide the public and the Commission on Audit complete lists and schedules or detailed reports related to the availment and utilization of the controversial funds.

The court also denied the petitioners' request that the contested funds be included in budgetary deliberations of Congress.

"The Court hereby directs all prosecutorial organs of government to, within the bounds of reasonable dispatch, investigate and accordingly prosecute all government officials and/or private individuals for possible criminal offenses related to the irregular, improper and/or unlawful disbursement/utilization of all funds under the Pork Barrel System," the SC said.

The court said the decision was immediately executory but prospective in effect.

Senators can get up to P200 million each in PDAF every year, while members of the House of Representatives are entitled to P70 million each.

A senior official said Malacañang will not issue a comment for now, saying it would like to read the ruling first.
"Hihintayin po ng ating Tanggapan ng Pangulo ang desisyon na yan para pag-aralan kung ano ang implikasyon," Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) head Herminio Coloma Jr. said during a press conference.

Meanwhile, one of the organizers of the anti-pork barrel rally Million People March expressed elation over the high court's decision, but quickly added that this is just the first step and the people still need to be vigilant against any fund misuse.
“It's still sinking in. [I] am personally still overwhelmed at the news. I see it as a victory but this is just the first step. The SC decision gives us hope again in our democratic process. Kelangan pa rin na tumutok at hindi tayo bumitiw lalo pa ngayon,” Peachy Bretaña said in a text message to GMA News Online.

Actress Mae Paner, also known as Juana Change, called the SC decision as a victory of the people.

"Tagumpay ng taumbayan yan. People's vigilance helped add pressure to the SC. We in the scrap pork network are cautiously, critically, conditionally victorious! Aabangan at babantayan ang next na magaganap,” she said in a separate text message.

On August 26, thousands from different sectors gathered at the first anti-pork barrel rally held at the Luneta Park in Manila. It was branded as a "pocket picnic" for taxpayers who demand that the pork barrel be scrapped. It was also the first and so far the largest mass action in the Aquino administration.

Oral arguments

During the oral arguments at the high court last month, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, in defense of the PDAF, asked the court to lift the temporary restraining order it imposed on the release of the funds.

He reasoned that the scholars and indigent patients that were subsidized through PDAF funds were the ones suffering from the TRO.

But Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio suggested that the President’s Social Fund, the discretionary fund of the President, can instead be tapped for indigent patients and augment scholarship programs. — with Kimberly Jane Tan and Amita Legaspi/KBK/RSJ, GMA News