Are our lawmakers so untrustworthy?

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - December 10, 2018 - 12:00am

Disgust with lawmakers is expected. Food prices are soaring yet they’re again raising inflationary fuel taxes. Those taxes only end up in their dirty pockets. And when indicted, they’re acquitted.

Filipino Christmastime is crummy. Every Dec. the following year’s national budget that lawmakers craft must be inspected for pork barrels. Those multibillion-peso self-entitlements are illegal, yet inserted anyway. The Congress is the people’s mansion to which lawmakers are selected as guests. But they abuse the people’s hospitality. Untrustworthy, they need to be frisked for whatever they’re sneaking out.

“Misplaced generosity” is the alibi of House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya for his and Speaker Gloria Arroyo’s P4.3-billion pork. Supposedly the House appropriations committee had given them such stupendous sum – Arroyo, P2.4 billion; Andaya, P1.9 billion – without their asking for it. Supposedly too, the Public Works directors in Central Luzon and Bicol and their congressional district engineers had asked for Arroyo and Andaya’s pork insertions.

The implication is that they do not deserve the misplaced generosity. If so, the right thing to do is for Arroyo and Andaya to return the money. More so since the appropriations committee chairwoman disavows knowledge of the insertions. More so too since the DPWH directors and engineers have no power to approve projects higher than P100 million.

“Exposed” is the proper term for it. In Arroyo’s congressional district, four planned farm-to-market roads bloated to 69 during the eight weeks from approval by the House plenary to transmittal to the Senate. Had not Sen. Panfilo Lacson been alert – he alone is left holding the line against pork barrels – the anomaly would have stayed hidden.

To think that Arroyo has announced to ride into the sunset by term’s end in June 2019. She has seen it all – as undersecretary, senator, Vice President, President, congresswoman and Speaker. What is the P2.4-billion pork for? One cannot but liken it to the “pabaon” (going-away present) handed to her succession of chiefs of staff from 2001-2010. Those multibillion-peso similar “misplaced generosity” had starved foot soldiers of proper combat boots, ammunition, and housing stipends, as a Congress inquiry revealed. Eight years hence it is still around in another form – in the hands of lawmakers.

Arroyo has a going-away present of her own: a draft revised Constitution. It purports to federalize the country, but in truth only lifts term limits and retains political dynasties. That will not pass the present Senate. But with Lacson termed out by June 2019 and with more pliant senators taking over, Congress can then sneak in a new Charter. In the process lawmakers can insert a proviso legalizing pork barrels. Under the new rules past Presidents can run. While waiting for all this to unfold, somebody can park herself at the Dept. of Finance. So there.

Andaya further claims that a hundred or so other congressmen have pork bigger than Arroyo’s P2.4-billion slab. One even has P8 billion, he says, hinting at the former highest House leader and cronies. Presumably the rest were granted the P60 million each that Andaya announced weeks ago. As well, he adds, the senators except for Lacson purportedly requested the Dept. of Budget for their own share totaling P8 billion.

Adding up all that, there’s at least P272 billion in pork in the 2019 national budget. That’s more than ten times the P25.24-billion pork in 2013, the year the Supreme Court outlawed it. (Breakdown: P200 million for each of 24 senators, or P4.8 billion; plus P70 million for each of 292 congressmen, or P20.44 billion.)

Spreading the guilt around does not exculpate Andaya. He must tell all his fellow-lawmakers to return the P272-billion loot.

The lawmakers claim to not violate the SC definitions of pork. That is, (a) lump sums that are allocated to (b) projects proposed by lawmakers post-enactment of the budget. Supposedly the projects in the 2019 budget have been identified pre-enactment.

They conveniently omit two other definitions in the SC’s G.R. No. 208566, Nov. 19, 2013. Those include:

(c) “All legal provisions of past and present Congressional Pork Barrel Laws, such as the previous PDAF and CDF Articles, and the various Congressional Insertions, which conferred personal, lump-sum allocations to legislators from which they are able to fund specific projects which they themselves determine”; and

(d) “All informal practices of similar import and effect, which the Court similarly deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”

Arroyo’s P2.4 billion, Andaya’s P1.9 billion, one congressman’s P8 billion, a hundred others’ P2.4 billion each, the remaining 194 congressmen’s P60 million each, and the senators’ P8 billion fall under the latter two definitions – and thus are equally illegal.

The executive agencies did not participate when the lawmakers cooked up the total P272-billion pork. Thus those agencies will be unable to implement the projects alien to them. That’s where the lawmakers will come in to implement those themselves – and draw kickbacks in the process.

It would be a pipe dream for the lawmakers to return the pork. In the past eleven years that Lacson has been uncovering the rotten pork, the congressmen and senators had managed to retain slabs through the bicameral conference committee. The same could happen anew, as the Senate rushes to pass its budget version by Jan. to avert a reenacted 2018 budget.

The last remaining hope is with President Rodrigo Duterte. With the help of Secretaries Carlos Dominguez of Finance, Benjamin Diokno of Budget, and Ernesto Pernia of Economic Planning, he can pinpoint and selectively veto the pork provisos. The trio had fought the pork barrel during Arroyo’s presidency.

*      *      *

Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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