SolGen says Aquino has no power to scrap PDAF
The top government lawyer admitted Thursday that the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel has not been abolished, contrary to President Benigno Aquino III’s announcement, but merely suspended.
Defending the constitutionality of the fund, which has been challenged before the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the process of abolishing pork barrel has just started, and that the President merely suspended releases from the fund to lawmakers.
Asked if the President had the power to abolish PDAF, Jardeleza said no, he could only stop the releases.
Pork barrel defender. Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza notes down last minute thoughts as he prepared to defend the Aquino administration’s pork barrel system before the Supreme Court on Thursday. Oral arguments were not completed and will continue on Oct. 17. DANNY PATA
“The process started and the TRO (temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court) came,” Jardeleza said, noting that President Aquino had suspended only the pork barrel for soft projects.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda earlier announced at the Palace that “the President has already stated that we have abolished the PDAF,” in response to questions about the fund’s constitutionality.
But Carpio reminded Jadeleza that PDAF could only be abolished through a law passed by Congress or a ruling handed down by the Court.
“If there are anomalies, the President has the power to stop and investigate, but just suspend it temporarily. At most, he can suspend [it],” Carpio said.
Earlier in the oral arguments, Jardeleza said the Court should no longer rule on the legality of pork barrel because the political branches of government have begun plugging the loopholes in the system.
He said that Congress was set to replace PDAF with a “line-by-line budget that will be allocated to five line agencies.”
Jardeleza also said that “flaws in the implementation of PDAF are better resolved through policy changes.”
But Carpio told Jardeleza that the Court needs to resolve the case since serious constitutional questions have been raised in the petitions.
“It is our duty to apply the Constitution. You are asking us to defer our solemn duty. I think you ask too much of this Court,” he said.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno asked Jardeleza if it would be “wiser” for the Court to reach a decision so as to “clarify the constitutional problems.”
“What is of concern to me is to imagine Congress embroiled in a debate trying to draw constitutional lines blurred in 22 years of practice,” Sereno said, after detailing provisions of the General Appropriations Act on pork barrel year-by-year since 1992.
Jardeleza argued that the precedents set by two cases – Philconsa v. Enriquez in 1994 and LAMP v. DBM in 2012 – were applicable to the current petitions questioning PDAF.
But Carpio told him: “You cannot use Philconsa [or] LAMP because the law we used there is a different law, vastly different... If you are relying on Philconsa, then you are way off the mark, counsel.”
Carpio also reiterated his stand from the previous hearing that PDAF is unconstitutional.
“PDAF takes away the President’s power of line item veto because it provides for lump sum amounts,” he said.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Carpio agreed with the petitioners that the congressional discretion over the funds violated several provisions of the Constitution.
Carpio specifically cited provisions in the 2013 national budget covering PDAF, which require legislative concurrence on the President’s appropriations of the funds, allow Cabinet secretaries and congressional committees to realign funds and give lawmakers the privilege of identifying projects under the funds.
He said these provisions violate the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches and the system of checks and balances between the two.
The Court will continue to hear oral arguments on Oct. 17.