SC struck down prac­tices of law­mak­ers, not the pork bar­rel

Sun.Star Pampanga - - STORIES! -

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.

Lac­son’s beef

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.

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