Senators poised to abolish pork barrel
MANILA - The Senate is now poised to totally abolish the pork barrel system following reports of abuse of the discretionary funds, Senate President Pro-Tempore Sen. Ralph Recto said Wednesday.
"That seems to be the sentiment of the majority of the Senate," Recto said in an interview.
The senator said the abolition of the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) at the Senate level is set to be formalized in a caucus that will be held next week. "Malalaman natin sa caucus yan sa isang linggo. Malapit na," he said.
The announcement came at the height of the upper chamber's deliberations on the 2014 budget, and the Supreme Court deliberations on the constitutionality of the PDAF.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Francis Escudero, who has been pushing for the abolition of PDAF, admitted that the PDAF has been abused by some lawmakers.
"I admit that there have been abuses committed by some lawmakers and, because of this, I agree with calls to abolish the pork barrel in order to regain the people's trust in our Institutions," Escudero said in a text message sent to media.
He, however, disagreed with the reported opinion of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio that the PDAF is unconstitutional.
"The opinion of one justice, unless it is shared by a majority of the court, does not make it right and part of the law of the land," he said in a statement.
Escudero explained that under the Constitution, Congress has the "power of the purse." He said the Constitution provides that "no money shall be paid out of the national treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation provided for by law", and the authority given to the Executive to disburse public funds is merely a delegated power granted to it by Congress.
Escudero believes that Congress should be the one, by law, to abolish PDAF, or at the very least, establish strict guidelines on use and transparency, and not by declaring it unconstitutional.
Recto said it is premature for one Supreme Court justice to issue such declaration against the PDAF.
"It's too early. There will still be a series of deliberation," he said.
While the Senate can decide on its own whether or not to scrap the pork barrel system, Recto said he welcomes such opinions as these will help enlightenment the controversial issue.
"We can act on our own, but I welcome this personally, it will define the powers of Congress and the Executive" Recto said.
He said he hopes the high court will make its decision the soonest possible time before they approve the 2014 budget since it may have implications on the way they will deliberate the national budget on the floor.
Sen. Vicente "Tito" Sotto III has also decided to give up his pork.
In a statement, Sotto said: "I've given up mine to rid myself of the concerns."
Like Escudero and Recto, Sotto also does not quite agree with the early pronouncements of Justice Carpio. "They have completely forgotten that Congress holds the power of the purse," he said.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, however, seems to disagree with her fellow senators.
In a statement, Santiago said that under the Constitution, the Supreme Court is no longer bound by the so-called "political-question doctrine," under which a court should refuse to decide an issue involving the exercise of discretionary power by the executive or legislative branch of government. "
She said constitutional scholars are united in the view that under the present Constitution, the Supreme Court is no longer inhibited from deciding political questions.
"The Constitution now provides that judicial power includes the duty of the court to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government, even in cases involving political questions," she said.
Neophyte solon Sen. Grace Poe said it would be best to wait for the final ruling of the SC body on the issue.
"I think that we should let the SC decide as a collegial body on the merits of these arguments and issues such being their constitutional mandate to interpret laws and the Constitution," Poe said in a statement.