POSTSCRIPT / November 21, 2013 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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With PDAF’s voiding, is PNoy’s DAP next?

DAP IS NEXT?: With the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which is in the national budget, having been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, will the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of Malacañang that is not even in the budget suffer the same fate?

After declaring as illegal the PDAF, known as congressional pork, the High Court proceeded to hear similar petitions questioning this time the constitutionality of DAP, which has emerged as a form of presidential pork.

The wide-ranging effects of the SC ruling can be felt in its being applied even to budgets of prior years and its also striking down as illegal the use of the Malampaya gas fund – amounting to P132 billion as of June 30 — for projects that are not energy-related.

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REFORMIST MOOD: Reversing previous decisions upholding the pork barrel system, the High Court appears to be in a reformist mood as it fell back on the Constitution as the bedrock while pushing aside political or extra-legal considerations.

The tribunal did not listen to state lawyers pleading that the pork barrel and similar discretionary funds available to President Noynoy Aquino were urgently needed for addressing calamities requiring massive funding.

Associate Justice Estela Bernabe wrote the ruling that was carried by a vote of 14-0-1. The solitary abstention was by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., who explained that his son was a congressman.

That is a lame excuse. The nation is entitled to know Velasco’s stand, regardless of his family member’s political interests. Instead of being evasive, Velasco should have registered his conscience vote.

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PALACE SHAKEN: The Supreme Court shook the rafters of Malacañang when it made permanent its earlier order stopping all pork barrel disbursements and ordered the filing of charges against all persons who had illegally used or authorized the use of PDAF.

Immediately, President Noynoy Aquino – already a lame duck just waiting for 2016 to step down — has been deprived of the war chest that he, as did former presidents, uses as his carrot and stick control mechanism over the Congress.

If, for instance, any impeachment complaint is filed against him next year, he would not have the usual millions to persuade congressmen not to give the charge due course.

If DAP is declared unconstitutional, placing the President possibly in violation, evidence will have to be produced that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad created DAP on orders of the President. Absent that piece of paper, Abad may have to take the fall.

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PAGCOR FUNDS: The high court also struck down the discretionary powers granted the Chief Executive over the Presidential Social Fund, which is the government share of revenues of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

Since PAGCOR is a wholly-owned state firm, its earnings are public funds that should go to the national treasury and not to the President. Their use should be subject to the budgetary process and not dependent on presidential discretion. In the first nine months of this year, PAGCOR remitted to Malacañang P2 billion of its earnings.

There is a principle running through the SC decision against lump sum discretionary funds being used outside the budget or congressional oversight.

In declaring unconstitutional the PDAF of 2013 as well as the older Countryside Development Fund, the tribunal held that “all legal provisions of past and present congressional pork barrel laws … which authorized legislators—whether individually or collectively organized into committees — to intervene, assume or participate in any of the various post-enactment identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release and/or fund realignment, unrelated to the power of congressional oversight.”

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PALAWAN TOLL: Even as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported yesterday that a total of 4,011 people have been killed, 18,557 injured, and 1,602 missing in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda, civic groups pleaded for quicker assistance for Palawan.

Northern Palawan victims counted yesterday were: 19 persons killed, six missing, 91,766 affected, 5,427 dwellings totally damaged, and 9,213 partly damaged. While displaced persons had been given shelter in 38 evacuation centers, survivors are pleading for more relief.

More than half of the 4,011 casualties reported by the NDRRMC were from Leyte, including 1,060 unidentified bodies from Palo town, 694 from Tacloban City, and 675 from Tolosa and Dulag towns. The 9.9 million people affected are about a tenth of the national population.

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AMPATUAN: Lest we forget, on Nov. 23 four years ago 58 people, including 32 journalists, were slaughtered by a powerful clan in Maguindanao in what has come to be called the Ampatuan massacre. The victims’ bodies have been recovered and the perpetrators identified — but no one has been made to pay for the heinous crime.

In memoriam, the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) issued last night this statement:

“Let us join hands in solidarity and prayer as we recall the Ampatuan massacre. But even as we cry for justice and express our collective grief with another candle-lighting and human chain, we ask: What have we done to end the culture of impunity that had caused that mass murder?

“It has been four long years since, but not one has been convicted as in all other cases of media assassination in the country. What is worse, the culture of impunity continues to reign in our hapless land even as the people reel from the devastation of killer typhoon Yolanda and the Napoles plunder.

“Enough of government neglect, politicking, lawlessness, continuing hunger in devastated areas, indifference, disinformation, the pork barrel and DAP abuses that feed the culture of impunity.

“We call on the Supreme Court to assign a special court exclusively for the Ampatuan massacre to conduct daily hearings and allow full media coverage. Let us observe due process, but at the same time fast-track the case.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 21, 2013)

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