Power to realign funds can’t be delegated to Cabinet—Justice Carpio
A Justice of the Supreme Court on Tuesday said the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel was “on its face unconstitutional,” as were parts of the 2013 national budget that sought to justify its disbursement and the realignment of funds.
“Can the power to realign [funds] be delegated to the Cabinet? That power cannot be delegated. This power to realign is unconstitutional,” said Associate Justice Antonio Carpio during oral arguments on a consolidated petition to stop the pork barrel system.
Oral arguments. Petitioners Eduardo Bringas, Alfredo Molo III, Aldrich Fitz Dy, Samson Alcantara and Raymond Fortun, who are questioning the constitutionality of the pork barrel system, check their notes before the oral arguments for and against the subject at the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Inset shows the defenders of the pork barrel system led by Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza (rightmost). Danny Pata
“When the Constitution says all appropriation shall emanate from the House, it has to be acting as a body, it cannot be one legislator or a committee. A legislator or a House committee is not Congress,” Carpio said.
Carpio said provisions in the 2013 General Appropriations Act that give the President and Cabinet secretaries the power to realign funds, and those that give lawmakers the privilege of identify projects to be funded by PDAF all have no basis in the Constitution.
The senior magistrate also said the Commission on Audit report on PDAF disbursements by the legislators was unnecessary since the 2013 provisions on pork barrel in the GAA were “riddled with unconstitutionality.”
Besides, Carpio said, since the power to use the funds lies solely with the President, “any sharing [of this power] is unconstitutional.”
“The Constitution says the President can realign savings, it cannot be delegated to Cabinet secretaries,” Carpio added.
He said PDAF has become institutionalized, even though it is illegal.
“It looks like DBM (Department of Budget and Management) just put into law their practice before 2013. It accumulated. They were cognizant that legislators can’t execute the GAA,” he said.
Carpio also said the same was true of the Malampaya funds, the use of which is also being questioned by the petitioners.
Carpio said that Presidential Decree No. 910, which allows the President to use the Malampaya funds for “any other purposes,” was issued during the time of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, when the executive also had a legislative power.
However, with the enactment of the 1987 Constitution, Carpio said, the President was stripped of that legislative power.
He further said that such power given to the President was an “abdication of Congress of power to appropriate.”
“So, PD 910 is now facially unconstitutionally. You do not need a COA report on that,” he said.
Associate Justice Teresita de Castro, for her part, lamented the seeming ineptitude of the Commission on Audit to effectively check the alleged misuse of PDAF for a long time.
“Considering that the alleged misused of PDAF has been on going for some time, where has COA been all along?” she asked.
COA chairman Grace Pulido Tan, who served as a friend of the court Tuesday, said she could not answer Castro’s question since she only headed the agency in 2011.
However, De Castro said that state auditing agency was “not bound by the regulations” of the Department of Budget and Management.
“You have your own constitutional mandate to do your work… You cannot just put the blame on past COA officials. There should be institutional continuity in the agency,” De Castro said.
Tan admitted that the COA was not bound by DBM rules but explained that she was not blaming her predecessors. “I did not mean to put the blame on my predecessor. I am sorry I cannot explain,” she said.
Arguing for the petitioners, lawyer Aldrich Dy opposed the partial lifting of the the Court’s temporary restraining order on further pork releases, after the Palace asked the justices to allow funding to state scholars to continue.
The lawyer said Congress and local governments can take other measures to address this problem. The solution, he added, did not lie in lifting the TRO.
While the petitioners sympathized with the students and beneficiaries of the PDAF, Dy said, this should not be resolved through unconstitutional means.
“It is time that our country breaks away from this s ystem of dependency. At this point, there is nothing more pressing that the abolition of this [PDAF],” Dy said.
The session was adjourned in the afternoon and was set to resume Oct. 10.
Outside the Supreme Court, the Kilusang Mayo Uno said the oral arguments would further expose President Benigno Aquino III as the “Pork Barrel King.”
KMU secretary general Roger Soluta said he expected lawyers representing the Aquino administration to argue in favor of pork barrel despite the public outcry to abolish the system.
But an Aquino ally in the House appealed to the justices not to succumb to public pressure.
“We hope they will not succumb to public pressure ... and see what is legal and constitutional,” Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said in a press conference ahead of the scheduled oral arguments.
Quimbo said close to 500,000 scholars of 148 congressmen have already suffered because the Court put a temporary halt to pork barrel disbursements for the rest of the year.
“The overriding public sentiment has entirely obfuscated all possible intelligent debate on the issue,” Quimbo said. With Fred Villareal and Maricel V. Cruz