Core
Business World, 19 November 2013

 

Are members of the House of Representatives pulling one over the Supreme Court by announcing that they are waiving their right to the remaining P12-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) provided that it would be used to bolster the Presidents’s Calamity Fund?

The last time I checked, the Supreme Court had issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the PDAF after a number of groups questioned its constitutionality.

First of all, legislators are behaving as if they truly own the PDAF.

The House filed House Resolution No. 7. It reads: “In view of the Supreme Court Temporary Restraining Order, waiver of some members of Congress to use their allocations, and present impoundment of the remaining 2013 PDAF, the latter is now effectively converted into savings; hence, the President may realign the same for repair, improvement and renovation of government buildings and infrastructure and other capital assets damaged by natural calamities.”

The members of Congress don’t get it. A great majority of Filipinos hated the pork barrel. They’re angry and flabbergasted that their representatives have abused and misused the taxpayers’ monies. They want the pork barrel system scrapped.

Now, in the guise of helping victims of natural calamities, the members of Congress want their “pork” restored. The sudden burst of magnanimity on the part of the legislators is overwhelming. Genuine or fake, the people’s representatives are doing it the wrong way.

This scheming behavior leads to a number of questions. Aren’t members of Congress being disrespectful of a legal order by a co-equal branch of government, the Supreme Court?

CAN A JOINT RESOLUTION AMEND A BUDGET LAW?

Joint Resolution No. 7 itself amends the 2013 General Appropriations Act. It proposes to transfer part of the Special Purpose Fund which is “controlled” by legislators into the President’s Calamity Fund. Can that be legally done through a joint resolution? More directly, can Congress, on its own, amend the General Appropriations Act after it has been signed into law by the President? Obviously not.

Doesn’t Joint Resolution No. 7 constitutes a transfer of appropriations, which is prohibited by law? “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations,” says Section 25, paragraph 5 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

Worse, Joint Resolution No. 7 blurs the assignment of responsibilities embodied in the Constitution: the President proposes, Congress authorizes, and the President implements the budget. But Joint Resolution was a congressional initiative; the proposed realignment of appropriations didn’t even come from the President.

A quarter of a century after the 1987 Constitution was passed, our legislators still don’t know what’s legal and what’s illegal. Or are they just pretending not to know?

This kind of ad hoc, loose ways of legislating is the reason why political institutions have failed to develop robustly. Political leaders continue to break or circumvent the law, secure in the thought that such behavior is all right for as long as no individuals or groups question them.

As a result, we have become a palusot (lame excuse) and lakad (fix-it) society. We can’t continue this pattern of behavior and expect the international community to rate high and respect our legal system. This has to change if we want the Philippines to move forward and join its more developed Asian neighbors.

THE ISSUE IS EFFECTIVE DELIVERY OF SERVICES — NOT FINANCING

The needs of the typhoon victims and the cost of repairs of public infrastructure for the next six weeks, that is, until the end of December, are amply provided for, according to President Aquino. This is not counting the overwhelming support of the private sector and foreign donors. Thus, there is absolutely no need for Joint Resolution No. 7.

What the members of Congress should focus on is the approval of the 2014 President’s budget sans the pork. Scrap the P25.2 billion PDAF proposed in the 2014 budget and then use the appropriations to augment the President’s Calamity Fund. Congress has enough time to effect this change.

And should the President decide that the additional amount for the Calamity Fund is not enough to carry out the rebuilding program, then he may propose a special appropriations budget. But the initiative has to come from the President, not Congress.

But in order to justify the supplemental budget, the President has to submit a concrete plan of action which should include the various projects and activities that would be funded. Again, there is a reason why the proposal has to come from the President. Because he is the Chief Executive and he has the resources and manpower to prepare a comprehensive rebuilding plan.

The role of Congress is to authorize the appropriations — no more, no less. It would be tempting to propose a new agency to oversee the rehabilitation effort. That, I would argue, is absolutely unnecessary and wasteful of the people’s money.