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Answer 'pork' raps, SC orders gov't.

The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday ordered the Executive and the Legislative branches of government to answer in 10 days the petition filed by the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) that challenged as unconstitutional the lump sum and discretionary fund provisions in the 2015 national budget.

Ordered to file their answers to the petition were Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, and the ranking officials of Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA).

The SC issued the directive during its full court session, presided by Acting Chief Justice Arturo D. Brion

In its petition, Philconsa said the lump sum and discretionary funds resurrected the already outlawed Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the voided practices under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

EMBEDDED 'PORK'

It pointed out that an examination of the 2015 budget showed "scandalous and unconscionable freight" of lump sum appropriations amounting to P424,144,763,000 "cleverly embedded" in nine strategic departments and two agencies of the executive department, which the group said were "highly vulnerable to the whirligig of transactional, rent-seeking and patronage politics."

It asked the SC to stop the government from implementing Sections 65, 70, and 73 of the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and special provisions for special purpose funds (SPF).

Philconsa, led by its president and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, also asked the SC to compel COA to issue notice of disallowance to all disbursements and releases out of the challenged GAA provisions.

Aside from Romualdez, the other petitioners are former Sen. Francisco "Kit" Tatad, former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, and Catholic Archbishops Ramon Arguelles, Fernando Capalla, and Romulo de la Cruz.

'FLAGRANT DISOBEDIENCE'

Philconsa said that a show cause order should be issued against Secretary Abad for his "flagrant disobedience, resistance, and disregard of the decisions of the Supreme Court in the PDAF and DAP cases."

Under the 2015 GAA, Section 65 provides for lump sum appropriations; Section 70 defines savings as portions or balances of any unreleased appropriations in the GAA that were not obligated; and Section 73 contains rules in the realignment of allotment classes and reprioritization of items of appropriations.

"Realignment of allotment classes and reprioritization of items of appropriations are species and varieties of transfer and augmentation prohibited under Section 25 (5), Article IV of the Constitution," Philconsa said.

It stressed that while it is only three months left before the year ends, "it is not yet too late for the SC to act."

"This case is the golden and historic occasion for the Supreme Court to establish an impregnable wall to block the genre of conscienceless politicians and politics to politicize, pollute, and desecrate the Constitution in the preparation and implementation of the General Appropriations Act," it said.

The first petition against certain provisions in the 2015 budget was filed by several anti-corruption groups, led by former national treasurer Leonor Briones, who is now with Social Watch Philippines.

Sought to be declared unconstitutional in the Briones-led petition were Sections 70 and 73 of the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA), including National Budget Circular No. 559 (NBC 559) and some provisions under the Special Purpose Fund.

"Petitioners call on this Honorable Court to prevent the Legislative and the Executive from making the Constitution or the ruling in the Belgica or Araullo illusory. Whether it is through deceptive or creative schemes, the Executive and the Legislative branches should be prevented from doing indirectly what they cannot legally do directly," the petition stated.

The Belgica and Araullo decisions pertain to the declaration of unconstitutionality of PDAF and certain practices under the DAP, respectively.

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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Oct 7, 2015
Words:603
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