CASE DIGEST: Belgica v. Executive Secretary

G.R. No. 208566 November 19, 2013

GRECO ANTONIOUS BEDA B. BELGICA JOSE M. VILLEGAS JR. JOSE L. GONZALEZ REUBEN M. ABANTE and QUINTIN PAREDES SAN DIEGO,Petitioners,v. HONORABLE EXECUTIVE SECRETARY PAQUITO N. OCHOA JR. SECRETARY OF BUDGET AND MANAGEMENT FLORENCIO B. ABAD, NATIONAL TREASURER ROSALIA V. DE LEON SENATE OF THE PHILIPPINES represented by FRANKLIN M. DRILON m his capacity as SENATE PRESIDENT and HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES represented by FELICIANO S. BELMONTE, JR. in his capacity as SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE, Respondents.

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:


FACTS:

History of Pork Barrel in the Philippines

Act 3044, or the Public Works Act of 1922, is consideredas the earliest form of "Congressional Pork Barrel" in the Philippines since the utilization of the funds appropriated therein were subjected to post-enactment legislator approval. In 1950, the mechanics of the public works act was modified to the extent that the discretion of choosing projects was transferred from the Secretary of Commerce and Communications to legislators.

By 1982, the Batasang Pambansa had already introduced a new item in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) called the" Support for Local Development Projects" (SLDP) under the article on "National Aid to Local Government Units". Based on reports, it was under the SLDP that the practice of giving lump-sum allocations to individual legislators began, with each assemblyman receivingP500,000.00.

After the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986 and the restoration of Philippine democracy, "Congressional Pork Barrel" was revived in the form of the "Mindanao Development Fund" and the "Visayas Development Fund". The clamor raised by the Senators and the Luzon legislators for a similar funding prompted the creation of the "Countrywide Development Fund" (CDF) which was integrated into the 1990 GAAwith an initial funding ofP2.3 Billion to cover "small local infrastructure and other priority community projects."

It has been reportedthat by 1992, Representatives were receivingP12.5 Million each in CDF funds, while Senators were receivingP18 Million each, without any limitation or qualification, and that they could identify any kind of project, from hard or infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, and buildings to "soft projects" such as textbooks, medicines, and scholarships.

In 1993, under the administration of President Ramos,the GAA explicitly stated that the release of CDF funds was to be made upon the submission of the list of projects and activities identified by, among others, individual legislators. For the first time, the 1993 CDF Article included an allocation for the Vice-President. As such, Representatives were allocatedP12.5 Million each in CDF funds, Senators,P18 Million each, and the Vice-President,P20 Million.

It was under President Estradas administration where Priority Development Assistance Fund" (PDAF) appeared in the GAA. The requirement of "prior consultation with the respective Representative of the District" before PDAF funds were directly released to the implementing agency concerned was explicitly stated in the 2000 PDAF Article. Moreover, realignment of funds to any expense category was expressly allowed, with the sole condition that no amount shall be used to fund personal services and other personnel benefits.

In 2005,the PDAF Article provided that the PDAF shall be used "to fund priority programs and projects under the ten point agenda of the national government and shall be released directly to the implementing agencies." Textually, the PDAF Articles from 2002 to 2010 were silent with respect to the specific amounts allocated for the individual legislators, as well as their participation in the proposal and identification of PDAF projects to be funded.

Significantly, it was during this era that provisions which allowed formal participation of non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the implementation of government projects were introduced. In the Supplemental Budget for 2006, with respect to the appropriation for school buildings, NGOs were, by law, encouraged to participate.

Under the present administration, 2012and 2013PDAF Articles states that the "identification of projects and/or designation of beneficiaries shall conform to priority list requirement. However, as practiced, it would still be the individual legislator who would choose and identify the project from the said priority list.

Provisions on legislator allocations as well as fund realignmentwere included in the 2012 and 2013 PDAF Articles; but the allocation for the Vice-President, which was pegged atP200 Million in the 2011 GAA, had been deleted. In addition, the 2013 PDAF Article now allowed LGUs to be identified as implementing agencies if they have the technical capability to implement the projects. Legislators were also allowed to identify programs/projects, except for assistance to indigent patients and scholarships, outside of his legislative district provided that he secures the written concurrence of the legislator of the intended outside-district, endorsed by the Speaker of the House

History of Presidential Pork Barrel in the Philippines.

The term "Pork Barrel" has been typically associated with lump-sum, discretionary funds of Members of Congress, the present cases and the recent controversies on the matter have, however, shown that the terms usage has expanded to include certain funds of the President such as the Malampaya Funds and the Presidential Social Fund.

Malampaya Funds was created as a special fund under Section 8of Presidential Decree No. (PD) 910,issued by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos (Marcos) on March 22, 1976. In enacting the said law, Marcos recognized the need to set up a special fund to help intensify, strengthen, and consolidate government efforts relating to the exploration, exploitation, and development of indigenous energy resources vital to economic growth.

The Presidential Social Fund has been described as a special funding facility managed and administered by the Presidential Management Staff through which the President provides direct assistance to priority programs and projects not funded under the regular budget. It is sourced from the share of the government in the aggregate gross earnings of PAGCOR.

Controversies in the Philippines

In 2004, several concerned citizens sought the nullification of the PDAF as enacted in the 2004 GAA for being unconstitutional. Unfortunately, for lack of "any pertinent evidentiary support that illegal misuse of PDAF in the form of kickbacks has become a common exercise of unscrupulous Members of Congress," the petition was dismissed.

Recently, or in July of the present year, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) began its probe into allegations that "the government has been defrauded of someP10 Billion over the past 10 years by a syndicate using funds from the pork barrel of lawmakers and various government agencies for scores of ghost projects."The investigation was spawned by sworn affidavits of six (6) whistle-blowers who declared that JLN Corporation "JLN" standing for Janet Lim Napoles (Napoles) had swindled billions of pesos from the public coffers for "ghost projects" using no fewer than 20 dummy NGOs for an entire decade.

After its investigation, criminal complaints were filed before the Ombudsman charging several public officers and NGO presidents with Graft and Corruption, Bribery and Malversation.

Spurred in large part by the findings contained in the CoA Report and the Napoles controversy, several petitions were lodged before the Court similarly seeking that the "Pork Barrel System" be declared unconstitutional. These cases were consolidated by the Court.

ISSUE: Whether or not the Pork Barrel System is unconstitutional.

HELD: Yes.

Political Law - Legal requisites for Judicial Inquiry

Actual case or controversy


The questions in these consolidated cases are ripe for adjudication since the challenged funds and the provisions allowing for their utilization such as the 2013 GAA for the PDAF, PD 910 for the Malampaya Funds and PD 1869, as amended by PD 1993, for the Presidential Social Fund are currently existing and operational; hence, there exists an immediate or threatened injury to petitioners as a result of the unconstitutional use of these public funds.

Respondents submit that the "the political branches are in the best position not only to perform budget-related reforms but also to do them in response to the specific demands of their constituents" and, as such, "urge the Court not to impose a solution at this stage."

The Court must deny respondents submission. To a great degree, the 1987 Constitution has narrowed the reach of the political question doctrine when it expanded the power of judicial review of this court not only to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable but also 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 government. With the new provision, however, courts are given a greater prerogative to determine what it can do to prevent grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government. Clearly, the new provision did not just grant the Court power of doing nothing

Locus Standi

Clearly, as taxpayers, they possess the requisite standing to question the validity of theexisting "Pork Barrel System" under which the taxes they pay have been and continue to be utilized. It is undeniable that petitioners, as taxpayers, are bound to suffer from the unconstitutional usage of public funds, if the Court so rules. Moreover, as citizens, petitioners have equally fulfilled the standing requirement given that the issues they have raised may be classified as matters "of transcendental importance, of overreaching significance to society, or of paramount public interest.

Political Law - Separations of Powers

The enforcement of the national budget, as primarily contained in the GAA, is indisputably a function both constitutionally assigned and properly entrusted to the Executive branch of government. Thus, unless the Constitution provides otherwise, the Executive department should exclusively exercise all roles and prerogatives which go into the implementation of the national budget as provided under the GAA as well as any other appropriation law.

Clearly, these post-enactment measures which govern the areas of project identification, fund release and fund realignment are not related to functions of congressional oversight and, hence, allow legislators to intervene and/or assume duties that properly belong to the sphere of budget execution. Indeed, by virtue of the foregoing, legislators have been, in one form or another, authorized to participate in as Guingona, Jr. puts it "the various operational aspects of budgeting," including "the evaluation of work and financial plans for individual activities" and the "regulation and release of funds" in violation of the separation of powers principle.

Political Law - Non- delegability of Legislative Power

In the cases at bar, the Court observes that the 2013 PDAF Article, insofar as it confers post-enactment identification authority to individual legislators, violates the principle of non-delegability since said legislators are effectively allowed to individually exercise the power of appropriation, which as settled in Philconsa is lodged in Congress.

Essentially, under the 2013 PDAF Article, individual legislators are given a personal lump-sum fund from which they are able to dictate (a) how much from such fund would go to (b) a specific project or beneficiary that they themselves also determine. As these two (2) acts comprise the exercise of the power of appropriation as described in Bengzon, and given that the 2013 PDAF Article authorizes individual legislators to perform the same, undoubtedly, said legislators have been conferred the power to legislate which the Constitution does not, however, allow. Thus, keeping with the principle of non-delegability of legislative power, the Court hereby declares the 2013 PDAF Article, as well as all other forms of Congressional Pork Barrel which contain the similar legislative identification feature as herein discussed, as unconstitutional.

Political Law - Checks and Balances

Under the 2013 PDAF Article, the amount ofP24.79 Billion only appears as a collective allocation limit since the said amount would be further divided among individual legislators who would then receive personal lump-sum allocations and could, after the GAA is passed, effectively appropriate PDAF funds based on their own discretion. As these intermediate appropriations are made by legislators only after the GAA is passed and hence, outside of the law, it necessarily means that the actual items of PDAF appropriation would not have been written into the General Appropriations Bill and thus effectuated without veto consideration. This kind of lump-sum/post-enactment legislative identification budgeting system fosters the creation of a budget within a budget" which subverts the prescribed procedure of presentment and consequently impairs the Presidents power of item veto.

Political Law - Accountability

The Court agrees with petitioners that certain features embedded in some forms of Congressional Pork Barrel, among others the 2013 PDAF Article, has an effect on congressional oversight. The fact that individual legislators are given post-enactment roles in the implementation of the budget makes it difficult for them to become disinterested "observers" when scrutinizing, investigating or monitoring the implementation of the appropriation law. To a certain extent, the conduct of oversight would be tainted as said legislators, who are vested with post-enactment authority, would, in effect, be checking on activities in which they themselves participate.

Political Law - Local Autonomy

In the cases at bar, petitioners contend that the Congressional Pork Barrel goes against the constitutional principles on local autonomy since it allows district representatives, who are national officers, to substitute their judgments in utilizing public funds for local development.

This concept of legislator control underlying the CDF and PDAF conflicts with the functions of the various Local Development Councils (LDCs) which are already legally mandated to "assist the corresponding sanggunian in setting the direction of economic and social development, and coordinating development efforts within its territorial jurisdiction. Considering that LDCs are instrumentalities whose functions are essentially geared towards managing local affairs,their programs, policies and resolutions should not be overridden nor duplicated by individual legislators, who are national officers that have no law-making authority except only when acting as a body.

With PDAF, a Congressman can simply bypass the local development council and initiate projects on his own, and even take sole credit for its execution. Indeed, this type of personality-driven project identification has not only contributed little to the overall development of the district, but has even contributed to "further weakening infrastructure planning and coordination efforts of the government."

Thus, insofar as individual legislators are authorized to intervene in purely local matters and thereby subvert genuine local autonomy, the 2013 PDAF Article as well as all other similar forms of Congressional Pork Barrel is deemed unconstitutional.

Presidential Pork Barrel

Political Law - validity of appropriation

Petitioners preliminarily assail Section 8 of PD 910 and Section 12 of PD1869 (now, amended by PD 1993), which respectively provide for the Malampaya Funds and the Presidential Social Fund, as invalid appropriations laws since they do not have the "primary and specific" purpose of authorizing the release of public funds from the National Treasury.

The Court cannot sustain the argument that the appropriation must be the "primary and specific" purpose of the law in order for a valid appropriation law to exist. To reiterate, if a legal provision designates a determinate or determinable amount of money and allocates the same for a particular public purpose, then the legislative intent to appropriate becomes apparent and, hence, already sufficient to satisfy the requirement of an "appropriation made by law" under contemplation of the Constitution.

Political Law - Undue Delegation

Petitioners contend that Section 8 of PD 910 constitutes an undue delegation of legislative power since the phrase "and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President" gives the President "unbridled discretion to determine for what purpose the funds will be used."

The Court agrees with petitioners that the phrase "and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President" under Section 8 of PD 910 constitutes an undue delegation of legislative power insofar as it does not lay down a sufficient standard to adequately determine the limits of the Presidents authority with respect to the purpose for which the Malampaya Funds may be used.

First, the phrase "energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects of the government" states a singular and general class and hence, cannot be treated as a statutory reference of specific things from which the general phrase "for such other purposes" may be limited; second, the said phrase also exhausts the class it represents, namely energy development programs of the government;and, third, the Executive department has, in fact, used the Malampaya Funds for non-energy related purposes under the subject phrase, thereby contradicting respondents own position that it is limited only to "energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects of the government."

Conclusion

In the final analysis, the Court must strike down the Pork Barrel System as unconstitutional in view of the inherent defects in the rules within which it operates. It has allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget execution, the system has violated the principle of separation of powers; insofar as it has conferred unto legislators the power of appropriation by giving them personal, discretionary funds from which they are able to fund specific projects which they themselves determine, it has similarly violated the principle of non-delegability of legislative power ; insofar as it has created a system of budgeting wherein items are not textualized into the appropriations bill, it has flouted the prescribed procedure of presentment and, in the process, denied the President the power to veto items ; insofar as it has diluted the effectiveness of congressional oversight by giving legislators a stake in the affairs of budget execution, an aspect of governance which they may be called to monitor and scrutinize, the system has equally impaired public accountability ; insofar as it has authorized legislators, who are national officers, to intervene in affairs of purely local nature, despite the existence of capable local institutions, it has likewise subverted genuine local autonomy ; and again, insofar as it has conferred to the President the power to appropriate funds intended by law for energy-related purposes only to other purposes he may deem fit as well as other public funds under the broad classification of "priority infrastructure development projects," it has once more transgressed the principle of non-delegability.

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