SC struck down practices of lawmakers, not the pork barrel
MANY people think the “pork bar rel” is prohibited as if it were contraband that must be seized and condemned on sight. The same people think it is illegal for a congressman or congresswoman or senator to work for the inclusion in the national budget projects for his district or constituents.
The Supreme Court decision struck down: (a) provisions of the entire Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) article of 2013, which granted lump sums for members of Congress, as well as all past laws authorizing similar arrangements, and (b) provisions in two laws that allowed the President to use the Malampaya fund and his social fund for unauthorized purposes.
Media reports of the Nov. 19, 2013 decision of the high court might have focused more on the looting: how and why. The acts that enabled the thievery might have been obscured. ‘Post-enactment’ stages
“Pork barrel” or the use of money for local infrastructure and other projects to please constituents is not prohibited. What the SC declared unlawful was the way the funds were appropriated, the purpose identified, and the money spent.
The SC called the outlawed activities as “post-enactment” stages of passing the budget. Once the budget is approved, House members and senators cannot:
nIdentify or modify or revise the identification;
* Have anything to do with fund release or fund realignment, unrelated to congressional oversight;
* Have lump sum appropriations from which they fund projects that they themselves determine.
Lump sum, discretion
In sum, what the SC deems illegal is the discretion given to the legislator on choice of project and use of the money after the budget law is passed.
That clout given to legislators enabled at least five senators and 23 House members (the ones charged though many more profited) to allegedly funnel government funds estimated at P10 billion in collusion with government agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Budget and Management, contractors and middle persons.
Now Sen. Ping Lacson has exploded the bombshell that two House leaders – possibly Speaker Gloria Arroyo and her majority floor leader Rolando Andaya – were able to tuck into the budget as “last-minute insertions” P1.5 billion and P1.6 billion for their respective districts. Earlier, Arroyo announced that each House member would get P60 million and each senator P200 million.
Lacson appears to be more agitated over the huge sums the districts of two House members are getting than the bulk amounts for each member of Congress.
Could be illegal
Are those funds pork barrel? Being meant for the constituents of lawmakers, they surely are. Are they illegal? That depends, using the SC framework, on how they were included into the general appropriation bill and what the discretion of the House member or senator will be after passage.
If they are lump sums, necessarily the legislator for whose district each P60 million or P200 million is allotted will have to pick the project or projects later on. Or are the projects already identified and included in the General Appropriations Act list? System needed
Apparently, there is a need for a system of identifying local projects funded by national government. Should it depend solely on the congressman or congresswoman and maybe some senators? Must it be left to the Office of the President, through the DBM and the national agencies that implement the project?
The limits defined by the SC are clear enough: lump sum appropriations controlled by lawmakers violate rules on separation of powers, delegation of authority and local autonomy.
Pork barrel, the largesse from the central government, is a necessary part of governance. They can change the name or the form but it will be there. Political patronage goes with the system. But the stealing can be reduced with improved practices that make it tough to steal and the punishment swift.