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SC TROs ‘pork’ barrel

In 15-0 Vote, Court Bars Gov’t From Disbursing PDAF, Malampaya Fund

PDAF, TRO, Pork BarrelIn a unanimous vote of 15 justices, the Supreme Court (SC) issued yesterday a temporary restraining order (TRO) that stopped the government from further disbursing the remaining Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), known as pork barrel, allocated to members of Congress in the 2013 national budget.

In the same TRO, the SC also stopped the government from disbursing the Malampaya Fund for non-energy related projects under the phrase “for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President” under Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 910 issued in 1976.

The TRO is effective immediately “until further orders from the SC,” Spokesman Theodore Te said in a press briefing.

The TRO, however, does not cover the disbursement of Malampaya Fund for the purpose of “financing energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects of the government,” also provided for under Section 8 of PD 910.

In a full court resolution after yesterday’s full court session, the SC directed the government to comment in 10 days on the two other petitions. The Court also decided to conduct oral arguments on the cases against PDAF and Malampaya funds on October 8.

Ordered by the SC to implement the TRO were the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the National Treasurer, and the Office of the Executive Secretary “or any persons acting on their authority.”

The three cases filed so far were ordered consolidated into one case.

In issuing the TRO, the SC acted on the petitions filed by the group of Greco Antonious Beda B. Belgica, a former Manila city councilor, and Pedrito M. Nepomuceno, former mayor of Boac, Marinduque.

The SC had earlier required both Houses of Congress to comment in 10 days on an earlier petition against PDAF filed by lawyer Samson Alcantara, president of the Social Justice System (SJS).

In the petition of Belgica’s group, the SC was asked to declare unconstitutional a portion of the last sentence of Section 8 of PD 910 which states: “and for such other purposes as may hereafter directed by the President.”

PD 910 was issued on March 22, 1976 and mandates the use and disposition of Malampaya Fund and other funds of a similar nature.

According to Belgica, Malampaya Fund and other similar funds can only be used “to finance energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects of the government.”

But he said the Executive Department had taken advantage of the said portion of the last sentence in Section 8 to insist that the proceeds of the Malampaya Fund can be used to finance any project of the President.

“The Executive Branch’s interpretation of ‘such other purpose’ to mean virtually anything the President desires renders Section 9 of PD 910 without a discernible standard since it does not provide ‘adequate guidelines or limitations’ to map out the ‘boundaries of the delegate’s authority,’’ he said.

He pointed out that “PD 910 regulates presidential discretion by the standard that the Malampaya Fund be used only for energy-related projects, such standard is rendered useless by the said phrase.”

His groups cited in the petition the ongoing Senate investigation in connection with the pork barrel scam, which reveals the allocation of around P900 million in Malampaya Fund for the benefit of fake non-governmental organizations that were supposed to serve agrarian reform beneficiaries.

The group cited Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes who reportedly confirmed that indeed that P900 million has been siphoned from the Malampaya Fund for purposes unrelated to energy development.

It also pointed out the alleged admission of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in the ongoing probe by the National Bureau of Investigation on the reported misuse of Malampaya Fund by allotting it for the benefit of “typhoon recovery efforts.”

Earlier, Belgica’s group, Change Agents, and other groups identified as Citizens Crime Watch, Movement Against Dynasty, and the Bible Mode had asked the SC to abolish the pork barrel system of both the Executive and the Legislative Departments.

In its petition, SJS told the SC that the “pork barrel” system is unconstitutional because of the “mockery” of the constitutional mandate on accountability, honesty, and integrity of public officers.

It asked the SC to stop the Senate and the House of Representatives from appropriating funds for “pork barrel in whatever form and by whatever name it may be called.”

The PDAF is an annual allocation in the national budget for members of Congress to cover expenditures for projects identified by senators and congressmen.

Alcantara said that in the 2014 budget, the amount proposed for PDAF is about P25.2 billion.

The petition was filed in the midst of the controversy involving some P10 billion in PDAF that was reportedly funneled to allegedly fake non-government organizations (NGOs) in the country.

Related developments:

*Malacanang said it respects the SC decision to issue a TRO on the release of the remaining PDAF for the remainder of the year.

*Lawmakers branded as a “temporary setback” the Supreme Court’s issuance of a TRO stopping the government from disbursing the remaining congressional pork barrel under the 2013 national budget. Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. assured that the SC ruling would be honored and respected by the Lower Chamber. (With reports from Madel Sabater–Namit and Charissa M. Luci)