Lawyer: Jinggoy’s Manila ‘pork’ defies SC ruling
MANILA, Philippines – Did Senator Jinggoy Estrada violate the Supreme Court ruling striking down the pork barrel?
For election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, Estrada’s decision to realign his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to Manila is a “clear and open defiance” of the ruling, and reverts to “the evil” it sought to prevent.
Macalintal issued a statement on Monday, January 13, criticizing Estrada’s realignment as unconstitutional. The lawyer was reacting to the revelation that the senator realigned P100 million from his PDAF to Manila, where his father, former President Joseph Estrada, is mayor.
“Estrada’s act of realigning his ‘re-inserted PDAF’ is tantamount to ‘playing a role’ in the implementation of the budget, which, as the SC decision declares, is violative of the principle of separation of powers and therefore unconstitutional,” Macalintal said.
Estrada also realigned P50 million from his PDAF to Caloocan City, and another P50 million to the municipality of Lla-lo in Cagayan. He is allied with Caloocan Mayor Oscar Malapitan in the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) while his mentor Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile is from Cagayan.
Estrada drew criticism of conflict of interest, with Senator Antonio Trillanes IV calling his realignment “shameless.”
Estrada and Senate finance committee chairman Francis Escudero have defended the realignment, saying the Court only prohibited the intervention of lawmakers after the passage of the budget.
Yet Macalintal argued that Estrada’s realignment is a so-called post-enactment action because it is not related to his congressional oversight function “but an intervention and/or assumption of duties that probably belong to the sphere of budget execution.”
“To sanction such ‘re-insertion’ of their PDAF in the budget and allow them to realign or re-assign the funds to whatever or whomsoever they desire, is to circumvent the ruling of the SC that the legislators should not be accorded ‘post-enactment authority’ in the areas of ‘project identification, fund release, or fund realignment,’” the lawyer said.
Estrada is the only lawmaker who chose to realign his PDAF to local government units. Yet 8 other senators and the House of Representatives chose to realign their PDAF to the calamity fund, and to line agencies. Fifteen senators opted to delete their PDAF from the 2014 budget.
In a landmark decision in November 2013, the High Court struck down the PDAF as unconstitutional, but Estrada’s realignment sparked criticism that the pork barrel lives on in other forms.
The Court declared the PDAF illegal following the pork barrel scam, where Estrada is implicated. Estrada faces a plunder complaint for allegedly funneling his PDAF to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for over P183 million in kickbacks.
‘Making PDAF personal funds’
Estrada and Escudero have said that the realignment was not an insertion but an “amendment” because it was “done with transparency.” Escudero said the amendment was made after the Senate passed the budget on 3rd reading. Estrada’s realignment was then approved in the bicameral conference committee.
Macalintal though called the realignment a “re-insertion” that undermines the Supreme Court decision by allowing lawmakers “to re-assign funds to whatever or whomever they desire.”
“To allow our legislators to circumvent the SC ruling by mere ‘re-insertion’ of their PDAF during a bicameral conference, is to revert to the evil sought to be prevented by the SC decision, that of ultimately or once again allowing the PDAF ‘to become personal funds under the effective control of each [legislator] and given unto them on the sole account of their office,” he said.
Macalintal added that the “re-insertion of budgetary items” during the bicameral conference committee violates the “exclusive original jurisdiction of the House of Representatives on appropriation measures.”
“Estrada’s act of assigning his PDAF likewise violates the SC ruling that ‘national officers,’ like senators and representatives, cannot be allowed ‘to substitute their judgments in utilizing public funds for local development.’”
Last week, Estrada and Escudero said the realignment complied with the SC ruling.
Estrada said, “The chief executive of that particular LGU, it’s up to him how to spend it, wala na ako doon (I’m not involved there). That’s in accordance with the SC ruling. No senator can intervene after the approval of the budget.”
Escudero said the realignment did not even violate the “spirit” of the Court’s decision.
“Their basis was separation of powers. So when you removed post-enactment intervention, we are not allowed to recommend projects. A barangay captain, mayor can write a secretary, senators and congressmen cannot under the SC decision …. We even quoted the decision in the 2014 budget,” Escudero said.
“There is nothing irregular, illegal, unconstitutional with regard to budget we approved,” Escudero said. – Ayee Macaraig/Rappler.com