And it’s not something that we haven’t been properly forewarned of. Ever since the introduction of the concept of the Pork Barrel into the Philippine legislature in the year 1989, there hasn’t been a lack of vigilant citizens who timely raised questions affecting its constitutionality. In the case of Philiconsa vs. Enriquez, G.R. No. 113105, August 19, 1994, and related cases, the provisions in the General Appropriations Act of 1994 that comprise the so-called Pork Barrels underwent the rigid constitutional test. With only a few dissents, the Supreme Court majority upheld the constitutionality of the questioned measures.
Even so, and at least to this blogger, the separate opinion penned by then Associate Justice Jose C. Vitug, provides a valuable insight on the subject, viz:
“I concur on the points so well expounded by a most respected colleague, Mr. Justice Camilo D. Quiason. I should like to highlight a bit, however, that part of the ponencia dealing on the Countrywide Development Fund or, so commonly referred to as, the infamous “pork barrel”.
I agree that it lies with Congress to determine in an appropriation act the activities and the projects that are desirable and may thus be funded. Once, however, such identification and the corresponding appropriation therefore is done, the legislative act is completed and it ends there. Thereafter, the Executive is behooved, with exclusive responsibility and authority, to see to it that the legislative will is properly carried out. I cannot subscribe to another theory invoked by some quarters that, in so implementing the law, the Executive does so only by way of delegation. Congress neither may delegate what it does not have nor may encroach on the powers of a co-equal, independent and coordinate branch.
Within its own sphere, Congress acts as a body, not as the individuals that comprise it, in any action or decision that can bind it, or be said to have been done by it, under its constitutional authority. Even assuming that overseeing the laws it enacts continues to be a legislative process, one that I find difficult to accept, it is Congress itself, not any of its members, that must exercise that function.
I cannot debate the fact that the members of Congress, more than the President and his colleagues, would have the best feel on the needs of their own respective constituents. I see no legal obstacle, however, in their making, just like anyone else, the proper recommendations to, albeit not necessarily conclusive on, the President for the purpose. Neither would it be objectionable for Congress, by law, to appropriate funds for such specific projects as it may be minded; to give that authority, however, to the individual members of Congress in whatever guise, I am afraid, would be constitutionally impermissible.”
That was the era of the Countrywide Development Fund [CDF]. In years that followed, however, the same “pork barrel” found its way into the government’s annual appropriations act, albeit under a new style, Priority Development Assistance Fund [PDAF]. Undaunted by the previous setback in 1994, a group of concerned lawyer who call themselves Lawyers Against Monopoly and Poverty [LAMP], who intervened in the earlier Philconsa case, once more put to question the PDAF provisions in the GAA on constitutional grounds. However, in G.R. No. 164987, April 24, 2012, the Supreme Court En Banc, voting unanimously, yet again upheld the well-known if not much-criticized pork barrel as constitutional, taking from the previous ruling in Philconsa, which described the measure as an imaginative and innovative process or mechanism of implementing priority programs/projects specified in the law. an imaginative and innovative process or mechanism of implementing priority programs/projects specified in the law.
Further, the Supreme Court declared that “no convincing proof was presented showing that, indeed, there were direct releases of funds to the Members of Congress, who actually spend them according to their sole discretion. Not even a documentation of the disbursement of funds by the DBM in favor of the Members of Congress was presented by the petitioner to convince the Court to probe into the truth of their claims. Devoid of any pertinent evidentiary support that illegal misuse of PDAF in the form of kickbacks has become a common exercise of unscrupulous Members of Congress, the Court cannot indulge the petitioner’s request for rejection of a law which is outwardly legal and capable of lawful enforcement. In a case like this, the Court’s hands are tied in deference to the presumption of constitutionality lest the Court commits unpardonable judicial legislation. The Court is not endowed with the power of clairvoyance to divine from scanty allegations in pleadings where justice and truth lie.”
Perhaps, all that LAMP needed was a hand on the COA Report on PDAF utilizations for CY’s 2007 to 2009, to change the view of the Highest Tribunal of the land. Through this report, what is now known as the P10B “Pork Barrel Scam” was brought to bear, rousing widespread outcry, with the general public demanding that heads roll. Literally. As new developments unfold, huge personalities in the Philippine political scene emerge one after another as having participated [and by implication, benefited] in what could be the biggest plunder of public funds in Philippine history. This may be just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Considering the period of time that pork barrels were the favorite congressional dish, and the fact that the COA report covered only a small percentage of the aggregate pork barrels appropriated and spent, the actual and total amount embezzled, as well as number of public officials with the nature of the offices they hold and who are involved in this grand conspiracy, could proud beyond one’s capacity to comprehend and accept. And how far the rabbit hole goes for this fiasco could remain a mystery to the millions of Juan De La Cruzes who marched to the streets crying justice for this unbelievable criminal feat.
On the subject of the million marchers, which estimates place the actual number of participants at a much higher number, it was interesting to note the presence of Mr. Renato C. Corona as part of the said mass action. He said in an interview by Matikas Santos of inquirer.net: “We are here to be one with the anger of the people because of the abuses being done to the fund of the nation,”. “The money and taxes of the people are being taken from them every month thinking that it would be used properly, but turns out it would end up in anomalies instead,”. However, reports were consistent in showing that Mr. Corona was booed and heckled at the said people’s gathering. One wonders if that was the kind of attitude the people can accord the former chief magistrate of the republic. Nonetheless, the reasons for it could be as many as there were participants in the march. But for this writer, the reason for the discourtesy could be this: that his participation in the million march for the abolition of the pork barrel, or in any other mass action for the same purpose for that matter, is a bit out of sync if not too late an action for Mr. Corona. As such it may only be seen as utilizing the unfortunate event of the pork barrel scandal as an opportunity to get back at the members of congress who brought him down in the latest impeachment trial of the country, and who are now facing the risk of being implicated in the PDAF scam. If his heart was true and if it is really for the abolition of the pork barrel, cognizant of the corrupt practices of public officials that is associated with the fund itself, he could have done something when he had the chance to put an end to that nefarious pork once and for all. As then Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, it was within his power to change or influence the manner that the Highest Tribunal decided LAMP petition in 2012 [G.R. No. 164987]. Instead, he was one with unanimous vote of the Court that characterized PDAF as an imaginative and innovative process or mechanism of implementing priority programs/projects specified in the law. But as they say, no saint is without a history, and no sinner is without a future. So I will give it to Mr. Corona, with the hope that this time he can do more than raising a clenched fist to end the days of pork barrel.
On the legal front, one can only hope that the Supreme Court will finally recognize the evils sought to be prevented by the two previous petitions of Philconsa and LAMP for the abolition of the pork barrel, as it tackles once more on a similar petition recently filed by another concerned individual, and promptly act on it so that no one will ever again awaken to yet another pork barrel nightmare.
[with credits to YF Garrido]