CASE DIGEST: Belgica v. Executive Secretary (G.R. Nos. 208566, 208493 and 209251, 2013)

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I. SPECIAL PROVISIONS OF THE 2013 PDAF ARTICLE

2. Project Identification. Identification of projects and/or designation of beneficiaries shall conform to the priority list, standard or design prepared by each implementing agency: PROVIDED, That preference shall be given to projects located in the 4th to 6th class municipalities or indigents identified under the MHTS-PR by the DSWD. For this purpose, the implementing agency shall submit to Congress said priority list, standard or design within ninety (90) days from effectivity of this Act.

All programs/projects, except for assistance to indigent patients and scholarships, identified by a member of the House of Representatives outside of his/her legislative district shall have the written concurrence of the member of the House of Representatives of the recipient or beneficiary legislative district, endorsed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

3. Legislator’s Allocation. The Total amount of projects to be identified by legislators shall be as follows:

a. For Congressional District or Party-List Representative: Thirty Million Pesos (P30,000,000) for soft programs and projects listed under Item A and Forty Million Pesos (P40,000,000) for infrastructure projects listed under Item B, the purposes of which are in the project menu of Special Provision No. 1; and

b. For Senators: One Hundred Million Pesos (P100,000,000) for soft programs and projects listed under Item A and One Hundred Million Pesos (P100,000,000) for infrastructure projects listed under Item B, the purposes of which are in the project menu of Special Provision No. 1.

Subject to the approved fiscal program for the year and applicable Special Provisions on the use and release of fund, only fifty percent (50%) of the foregoing amounts may be released in the first semester and the remaining fifty percent (50%) may be released in the second semester.

4. Realignment of Funds. Realignment under this Fund may only be allowed once. The Secretaries of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Interior and Local Government, Labor and Employment, Public Works and Highways, Social Welfare and Development and Trade and Industry are also authorized to approve realignment from one project/scope to another within the allotment received from this Fund, subject to the following: (i) for infrastructure projects, realignment is within the same implementing unit and same project category as the original project; (ii) allotment released has not yet been obligated for the original project/scope of work; and (iii) request is with the concurrence of the legislator concerned. The DBM must be informed in writing of any realignment within five (5) calendar days from approval thereof: PROVIDED, That any realignment under this Fund shall be limited within the same classification of soft or hard programs/projects listed under Special Provision 1 hereof: PROVIDED, FURTHER, That in case of realignments, modifications and revisions of projects to be implemented by LGUs, the LGU concerned shall certify that the cash has not yet been disbursed and the funds have been deposited back to the BTr.

Any realignment, modification and revision of the project identification shall be submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Committee on Finance, for favorable endorsement to the DBM or the implementing agency, as the case may be.

5. Release of Funds. All request for release of funds shall be supported by the documents prescribed under Special Provision No. 1 and favorably endorsed by the House Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Committee on Finance, as the case may be. Funds shall be released to the implementing agencies subject to the conditions under Special Provision No. 1 and the limits prescribed under Special Provision No. 3.

II. SUBSTANTIVE ISSUES, HELD AND RATIO

A. Congressional Pork Barrel

WON the 2013 PDAF Article and all other Congressional Pork Barrel Laws similar to it are unconstitutional considering that they violate the principles of/constitutional provisions on…

1.) …separation of powers

YES. At its core, legislators have been consistently accorded post-enactment authority (a) to identify the projects they desire to be funded through various Congressional Pork Barrel allocations; (b) and in the areas of fund release and realignment. Thus, legislators have been, in one form or another, authorized to participate in “the various operational aspects of budgeting,” violating the separation of powers principle. That the said authority is treated as merely recommendatory in nature does not alter its unconstitutional tenor since the prohibition covers any role in the implementation or enforcement of the law. Informal practices, through which legislators have effectively intruded into the proper phases of budget execution, must be deemed as acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction and, hence, accorded the same unconstitutional treatment.

2.) …non-delegability of legislative power

YES. The 2013 PDAF Article violates the principle of non-delegability since legislators are effectively allowed to individually exercise the power of appropriation, which, as settled in Philconsa, is lodged in Congress.

3.) …checks and balances

YES. Under the 2013 PDAF Article, the amount of P24.79 Billion only appears as a collective allocation limit. Legislators make intermediate appropriations of the PDAF only after the GAA is passed and hence, outside of the law. Thus, actual items of PDAF appropriation would not have been written into the General Appropriations Bill and are thus put into effect 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 President’s power of item veto. As petitioners aptly point out, the President is forced to decide between (a) accepting the entire P24. 79 Billion PDAF allocation without knowing the specific projects of the legislators, which may or may not be consistent with his national agenda and (b) rejecting the whole PDAF to the detriment of all other legislators with legitimate projects.

Even without its post-enactment legislative identification feature, the 2013 PDAF Article would remain constitutionally flawed since the lump-sum amount of P24.79 Billion would be treated as a mere funding source allotted for multiple purposes of spending (i.e. scholarships, medical missions, assistance to indigents, preservation of historical materials, construction of roads, flood control, etc). This setup connotes that the appropriation law leaves the actual amounts and purposes of the appropriation for further determination and, therefore, does not readily indicate a discernible item which may be subject to the President’s power of item veto.

4.) …accountability

YES. 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. Also, this very same concept of post-enactment authorization runs afoul of Section 14, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution which provides that: “…[A Senator or Member of the House of Representatives] shall not intervene in any matter before any office of the Government for his pecuniary benefit or where he may be called upon to act on account of his office.” Allowing legislators to intervene in the various phases of project implementation renders them susceptible to taking undue advantage of their own office.

However, the same post-enactment authority and/or the individual legislator’s control of his PDAF per se would allow him to perpetrate himself in office. This is a matter which must be analyzed based on particular facts and on a case-to-case basis.

Also, while it is possible that the close operational proximity between legislators and the Executive department, through the former’s post-enactment participation, may affect the process of  impeachment, this matter largely borders on the domain of politics and does not strictly concern the Pork Barrel System’s intrinsic constitutionality. As such, it is an improper subject of judicial assessment.

5.) …political dynasties

NO. Section 26, Article II of the 1987 Constitution is considered as not self-executing due to the qualifying phrase “as may be defined by law.” Therefore, since there appears to be no standing law which crystallizes the policy on political dynasties for enforcement, the Court must defer from ruling on this issue. In any event, the above-stated argument on this score is largely speculative since it has not been properly demonstrated how the Pork Barrel System would be able to propagate political dynasties.

6.) …local autonomy

YES.  The Court, however, finds an inherent defect in the system which actually belies the avowed intention of “making equal the unequal.” The gauge of PDAF and CDF allocation/division is based solely on the fact of office, without taking into account the specific interests and peculiarities of the district the legislator represents. As a result, a district representative of a highly-urbanized metropolis gets the same amount of funding as a district representative of a far-flung rural province which would be relatively “underdeveloped” compared to the former. To add, what rouses graver scrutiny is that even Senators and Party-List Representatives – and in some years, even the Vice-President – who do not represent any locality, receive funding from the Congressional Pork Barrel as well.

The Court also observes that this concept of legislator control underlying the CDF and PDAF conflicts with the functions of the various Local Development Councils (LDCs), instrumentalities whose functions are essentially geared towards managing local affairs. The programs, policies and resolutions of LDCs 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.

B. Substantive Issues on the “Presidential Pork Barrel”

WON the following phrases are unconstitutional insofar as they constitute undue delegations of legislative power:

(a) “and for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President” under Section 8 of PD 910 relating to the Malampaya Funds, and

YES. Regarding the Malampaya Fund: 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 as it does not lay down a sufficient standard to adequately determine the limits of the President’s authority with respect to the purpose for which the Malampaya Funds may be used. As it reads, the said phrase gives the President wide latitude to use the Malampaya Funds for any other purpose he may direct and, in effect, allows him to unilaterally appropriate public funds beyond the purview of the law.

(b) “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects and to finance the restoration of damaged or destroyed facilities due to calamities, as may be directed and authorized by the Office of the President of the Philippines” under Section 12 of PD 1869, as amended by PD 1993, relating to the Presidential Social Fund

Regarding the Presidential Social FundSection 12 of PD 1869, as amended by PD 1993, indicates that the Presidential Social Fund may be used “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects”. This gives him carte blanche authority to use the same fund for any infrastructure project he may so determine as a “priority”. The law does not supply a definition of “priority infrastructure development projects” and hence, leaves the President without any guideline to construe the same. To note, the delimitation of a project as one of “infrastructure” is too broad of a classification since the said term could pertain to any kind of facility. Thus, the phrase “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects” must be stricken down as unconstitutional since – similar to Section 8 of PD 910 – it lies independently unfettered by any sufficient standard of the delegating law.

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