Sets to realign Senate pork ahead of SC ruling on legality
House leaders and legal experts on Sunday warned Senate President Franklin Drilon against defying the Supreme Court by channeling some P2.4 billion in pork barrel allocations to President Benigno Aquino III’s calamity fund.
Pork barrel, officially known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, is the subject of a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court, which has barred the Palace from disbursing the funds until its constitutionality has been resolved.
Protest. Members of various urban-poor groups chop a poster with the face of Pork Pnoy to protest against pork barrel appropriations at the University of the Philippines. Manny Palmero
In an interview over radio dzBB, Drilon declared that the Senate reached a consensus during its all-member caucus last Wednesday that the Senate will pass a resolution to let President Aquino use the last half of their pork allotments worth P2.4 billion to rehabilitate the quake stricken provinces of Bohol and Cebu.
But House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora and University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque warned Drilon that it was illegal for the Senate to tamper with the General Appropriations Act of 2013 and that the move would be in defiance of the Court’s order.
They added that a mere Senate resolution could not supersede a law, the General Appropriations Act of 2013.
“That is a violation of the Constitution. That is the worst thing to do. The Senate needs the concurrence of the House considering that all appropriations, just like tax revenue measures, must first emanate from the House. A mere Senate resolution, or even a House and Senate joint resolution, for that matter, definitely cannot supersede a law,” Zamora told the Manila Standard.
But Drilon was confident in asserting that the Senate will leave the House on its own to decide on its PDAF, saying it was the right of the Senate to realign its pork barrel where they saw it fit, including leaving it at the sole discretion of the President.
Drilon said he saw nothing illegal about converting PDAF into “savings” that the President could use.
“If we move it into the calamity fund, I don’t think that’s bad in terms of law and policy,” Drilon said.
“During our caucus Wednesday, one of the matters taken up was the passage of a resolution that would carry the sense of the Senate resolution, which will allow whatever remains in the PDAF, to be used by the President for his calamity fund,” Drilon said.
The calamity fund is disbursed at the sole discretion of the President.
“As far as I am concerned, even if PDAF is being questioned in court it can be used to augment the calamity fund,” Drilon said.
“Even if the Supreme Court declares that it is unconstitutional, it can be transferred as savngs because this realignment is allowed by the Constitution,” he added.
“Regardless of how the Supreme Court will rule, in my experience as a lawyer and as the former chairman of the Senate committee on finance, PDAF can be realigned and transferred to the calamity fund,” he said.
Drilon added that there was even no need for the Senate to authorize the Palace to use their allocations, because the realignment of funds was the prerogative of the Executive.
“Senate President Drilon and the Senate cannot do that,” countered Zamora, who is also a lawyer. “It is illegal to do that, whatever their noble reasons are.”
Roque added: “The Senate President can only realign items from savings in the Senate’s own budget. He can’t do that to budget of Executive and vice versa,” Roque pointed out.
Besides, Roque said, the calamity funds were more susceptible to graft, particularly in the light of recent revelations of how pork barrel had been misappropriated.
Belmonte and Zamora said it would be better for Congress to refrain from antagonizing a co-equal branch and await instead the decision of the Supreme Court on the issue of constitutionality of PDAF.
“The 2013 PDAF is pending with the Supreme Court. It is hard to speculate on the outcome. We certainly would like to contribute to Bohol and Cebu, if our case is won, but we cannot give everything
because, unlike senators, we have obligations to specific constituencies. Even from our salaries, we contributed to Zamboanga, what more from PDAF. But we must wait for the Supreme Court’s decision,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.