Constitutionality of the pork barrel-A A +A
By Kelvin Lee
Question of Law
Thursday, August 29, 2013
AMID the furor over the pork barrel and its supposed misuse by the members of Congress (or what is now known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund [PDAF]), it is interesting to observe that the Supreme Court has actually ruled on the constitutionality of the pork barrel system a number of times.
In Philconsa v. Enriquez, G.R. No. 113888, August 19, 1994, the Supreme Court described the pork barrel system, then known as the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) "as an imaginative and innovative process or mechanism of implementing priority programs/projects specified in the law."
The choice of words by the Supreme Court, i.e. “innovative” and "imaginative," is certainly impressive. It tends to make one think that the pork barrel system is a good thing. And indeed it may have been, though many would now say otherwise. In any case, Philconsa v. Enriquez was a major decision of the Supreme Court that rationalized and ratified the pork barrel system in the country.
In a more recent case, Lawyers Against Monopoly and Poverty (Lamp) v. the Secretary of Budget and Management et al, G.R. No. 164987, April 24, 2012, the constitutionality of the pork barrel system, now known as the PDAF, was assailed again.
In the Lamp case, the petitioners asserted that the General Appropriations Act of 2004 failed to specifically allocate and identify funds for particular projects by congressmen, and as a result, "[t]he silence in the law of direct or even indirect participation by members of Congress betrays a deliberate intent on the part of the Executive and the Congress to scrap and do away with the ‘pork barrel’ system.:
Hence, Lamp is of the conclusion that “the pork barrel has become legally defunct under the present state of GAA 2004.” (Lamp, supra).
Lamp also argued that, “this situation runs afoul against the principle of separation of powers because in receiving and, thereafter, spending funds for their chosen projects, the Members of Congress in effect intrude into an executive function. In other words, they cannot directly spend the funds, the appropriation for which was made by them.
In their individual capacities, the Members of Congress cannot “virtually tell or dictate upon the Executive Department how to spend taxpayer's money. Further, the authority to propose and select projects does not pertain to legislation. "It is, in fact, a non-legislative function devoid of constitutional sanction,” and, therefore, impermissible and must be considered nothing less than malfeasance." (Lamp, supra)
You will note that many of these arguments are the very same arguments now being brought out by civil society (i.e. the spending of taxpayer’s money by way of projects is an executive, and not legislative function).
However, the Supreme Court ruled against Lamp, upheld the constitutionality of PDAF and thus further rationalized the pork barrel system. The Supreme Court explained that there is a strong presumption in favor of the constitutionality of a statute, such as a General Appropriations Act subject of the case.
The Court also reasoned that "No convincing proof was presented showing that, indeed, there were direct releases of funds to the Members of Congress, who actually spend them according to their sole discretion." (Lamp, supra).
The Court then explained that: "So long as there is no showing of a direct participation of legislators in the actual spending of the budget, the constitutional boundaries between the Executive and the Legislative in the budgetary process remain intact. While the Court is not unaware of the yoke caused by graft and corruption, the evils propagated by a piece of valid legislation cannot be used as a tool to overstep constitutional limits and arbitrarily annul acts of Congress. Again, all presumptions are indulged in favor of constitutionality." (Lamp, supra)
In short, the Supreme Court was aware of the possibility that the pork barrel system could be abused. However, this was not sufficient reason to declare a law unconstitutional.
From a legal standpoint, the decision of the Supreme Court is sound. However, whether or not this decision was right from other perspectives, remain to be seen.
In any case, we wait with bated breath as to what will happen next in the Philippines.
The opinions expressed herein are solely of Atty. Lee. This column does not constitute legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship with any party. You can reach Kelvin at email@example.com
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 29, 2013.