THE 1935 CONSTITUTION DID NOT ‘LEGITIMIZE’ PORK BARREL
In his front-age commentary in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, titled, SC decision restores normal constitutional order (PDI, 11/20/13), Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ, wrote: “Prior to the approval of the 1994 General Appropriations Act (GAA), pork barrel, which was recognized by the 1935 Constitution as a legitimate institution, had not received much attention.”
After reading this, I read anew the 1935 Constitution and found no justification for Father Bernas’s conclusiuon that the 1935 charter had “recognized the pork barrel as a legitimate institution.” Bernas also did not cite any provision of the 1935 Charter which would appear to legitimize the “pork barrel”.
Neither did the 1987 Constitution – in which Fr. Bernas participated in making as member of the Constitutional Commission – authorize the pork barrel as the Supreme Court wisely ruled.
To say that the pork barrel was “legitimized” by the 1935 Constitution is to insult the elected members of the 1934 constitutional convention which was presided by the widely acknowledged statesman Senator Claro M. Recto, and included respected leaders like Senators Jose P. Laurel, Manuel Roxas, Manuel Briones and Miguel Cuaderno.
Neither did the U.S. Constitution (from which many of our charter provisions were copied) authorize the “pork barrel”. According to Wikipedia, pork barrel “usually refers to spending which is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support.” In the current Philippine context, the bulk of these pork barrel funds are pocketed by the politicians and their accomplices in government and in the private sector, like the nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
The Supreme Court in its November 19 decision defined “congressional pork barrel laws” as those “which authorized legislators – whether individuals or collectively organized into committees – to intervene, assume or participate in any of the various postenactment identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release and/or fund realignment, unrelated to the power of congressional oversight.” (PDI, 11/10/13)
In other words, any law which authorized legislators, whether individually or in committees, to intervene in the spending of public funds already appropriated by Congress and approved by the President is unconstitutional. This is because the President under the Constitution has the sole authority to spend funds in accordance with the guidelines fixed by the budget as approved by both Houses of Congress.
This is not to say that the President is not complicit in the enactment of the “pork barrel laws.” After all, he and Congress must sign the annual GAA before it can be implemented. The President also initiates these pork barrel laws through the Department of Budget and Management which prepares the budget for submission to Congress. Under the DBM’s budget proposal, the Presidents gets the power to withhold or allocate the pork barrel funds to compel legislators to do his bidding.
The practice was introduced by President Marcos after he declared martial law, and abolished both Congress and the 1935 Constitution, and ruled by decree. One of these decrees was PD 1177, known as the Budget Reform Decree of 1977, which was intended to boost the dictator’s “New Society” government. The decree provided for lump sum appropriations which the president could release or suspend in his discretion. The “sin” of successive presidents after Marcos is that they continued the practice because it enhanced their powers at the expense of Congress.
PD 1177 was not declared unconstitutional because it was not raised as an issue. The SC merely concentrated on those provisions of the GAA of 2013 that violated the Constitution, like the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for legislators, and the president’s discretionary funds from the Malampaya gas project under PD 910, and the Pagcor Gaming Coporation under PD 1993.
The ground was that there was an “undue delegation of legislative powers” to the President, because these funds were to be spent solely on the discretion of the President without any limitations made by Congress.
The Supreme Court’s Nov. 19 decision, reversing its previous decisions supporting the “pork barrel laws”, was a triumph of public opinion expressed in the street through public rallies, the traditional media of press and broadcast, and the social media of the Internet.