Recidivist lawmakers defeated by budget veto
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - April 22, 2019 - 12:00am

Lawmakers couldn’t help themselves. Congressional pork barrels had been outlawed five years ago. Yet in this 2019 national budget they again granted themselves slabs of people’s money. It’s as if the Supreme Court never voted 14-0 to end their crookedness. As if none of them was indicted thereafter for plunder, corruption, or malversation. Incorrigibly they lapsed back into crime. They even expanded their pork barrels four times over. The President had to stop them in their tracks.

Rodrigo Duterte’s veto of the P95.3-billion congressional pork is momentous. Weeks earlier he had told lawmakers he’d scratch out any illegal item in the budget bill. Anti-pork senator Panfilo Lacson had exposed congressmen’s illegal fund insertions for their districts. Senate President Vicente Sotto III had refused to certify the House of Reps’ printed bill due to illegal alterations of the ratified details. Those were fair warnings to Congress leaders that they’d been caught. The story already was in the papers. They were being given a chance to correct themselves, to undo the exposed illegalities, to resurrect themselves for posterity. They did not. They preferred damnation.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya, Majority Leader Ferdenil Castro, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez. They continue to justify their insertions, and mumble that Duterte’s veto was wrong.

No way could the P95.3-billion pork have been acceptable. A good part of it, P72 billion, was taken from Malacañang’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure works for 2019. The congressmen realigned that as district pork allocations, Sotto and Lacson discovered. The rest was taken from 62 faction mates of the former Speaker, and divvied up among followers of the incumbent.

Duterte minced no words in his 13-page veto message: “Consistent with the foregoing aspirations and in the faithful exercise of my office and due fidelity to my oath, I will not tolerate attempts to circumvent the Constitution or any other action that will prejudice the Filipino people whom I serve... Any provision introduced in this budget which does not relate to a particular appropriation or those which seek to amend the Constitution and existing laws have no place in the General Appropriation Act as these are considered ‘rider’ provisions and therefore must be subject to direct veto... Allow me to take this opportunity to emphasize that the hard-earned money of our people must be used to improve the condition of our country and their overall welfare. I have said this before and I will say it again – I will not tolerate corruption in my administration... Our positions should never be used for personal gain; otherwise, we are not worthy of the offices we hold.”

Lucky for the porky congressmen they were not identified. Impliedly, however, they represent the intolerable corruption, not worthy of public office. For the first time, the President signed a budget law without inviting the heads of Congress and the appropriations committees.

The SC ruling of Nov. 2013 (G.R. No. 208566) was as historic. In illegalizing the Priority Development Assistance Fund, it defined congressional pork as: (1) lump sum allocations to districts or personal projects, (2) identified only post-enactment.

This 2019 the Congress leaders tried to circumvent those by detailing the district loots after the ratification of the reconciled Senate and House versions. That was when the 62 congressmen decried the transfer of their allocations to the others.

That transfer fell under the third and oft-ignored SC definition of pork, that is, “All informal practices of similar import and effect, deem(ed) to be acts of grave abuse of discretion.”

That third definition showed the SC justices to be thorough in their repudiation of congressional pork. They deserve praise: ponente Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Justices Antonio T. Carpio, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo D. Brion, Diosdado M. Peralta, Lucas P. Bersamin, Mariano C. del Castillo, Roberto A. Abad, Martin S. Villarama Jr., Jose Portugal Perez, Jose Catral Mendoza, Bienvenido L. Reyes, Mario Victor Marvic F. Leonen.

From lawmakers’ own accusations against each other, pork is their source of kickbacks. From projects ranging from indeterminate river dredgings to farm-to-(pocket) market roads, they derived up to 50-percent cuts of the funds. Oftentimes only 35 percent of the budget is left for labor and materials, so the roads melt from rains.

In 2013, when the SC banned any more pork, the uncovered insertions totaled P24.8 billion. Five years after the recidivists had multiplied it fourfold. Reports are that congressmen already had received fat advances of commissions from contractors. Let that be a lesson to all.

Lacson hailed Duterte’s veto: “I hope Malacañang has just started a new pattern of cleansing the annual budget measure until pork allocations become extinct in accordance with the 2013 SC ruling.”

Criminal charges are in order, so that the frustrated pork conspirators of 2019 shall be put away forever.

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

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