MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the constitutionality of Congress' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) commonly called "pork barrel" in 2004, as provided for in Republic Act (RA) No. 9206 or the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2004.
In a 17-page unanimous en banc decision dated April 24 penned by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza, the high court junked the petition for certiorari filed by Lawyers Against Monopoly (LAMP) in Sept. 2004. Petitioners include former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. and his son, incumbent Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III.
Petitioners alleged that the PDAF was illegally disbursed on the said year as the PDAF-funded projects were not properly identified and allocated for, unlike in previous GAAs. Petitioners claimed lawmakers were made to identify the projects, allocate the funding, and perform the actual spending of the fund.
This practice of direct allocation "betrays a deliberate intent on the part of the Executive and Congress to scrap and do away with the 'pork barrel system'" and that the pork barrel "has become legally defunct" under the GAA 2004, LAMP said.
LAMP alleged that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) "illegally made and directly released allocations" out of the PDAF to individual members of Congress.
"[T]hey (congressmen) cannot directly spend the funds, the appropriation for which was made by them... Further, the authority to propose and select projects does not pertain to legislation," LAMP argued.
LAMP further stressed that the power of appropriation granted to Congress as a collegial body, "does not include the power of the Members thereof to individually propose, select and identify which projects are to be actually implemented and funded -- a function which essentially and exclusively pertains to the Executive Department."
Presumption of validity, no convincing proof
LAMP, however, failed to convince the high court.
In its decision, the high court held that it "does not lose sight of the presumption of validity" in determining whether a law is unconstitutional.
The high court said petitioners failed to present evidence that the funds were directly released to the lawmakers and that they may have misused the funds.
"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... Devoid of any pertinent evidentiary support that illegal misuse of the PDAF in the form of kickbacks has become a common exercise of unscrupulous members of Congress, the Court cannot indulge the petitioner's request for rejection of a law which is outwardly legal and capable of lawful enforcement," the decision read.
"Hence, absent a clear showing that an offense to the principle of separation of powers was committed, much less tolerated by both the Legislative and Executive, the Court is constrained to hold that a lawful and regular government budgeting and appropriation process ensued during the enactment and all throughout the implementation of the GAA of 2004," the decision read.
The high court stressed that while it 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."
The high court also held that there was no clear showing that the separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative departments was breached.