SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Road narrows ahead

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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/09 Oct.) – National television last week reported on a road project in Luzon funded under the Priority Development Assistance Fund. The road was apparently overpriced given its length and substandard quality – its concrete pavement collapsed a few years after its completion.

That project was one glaring example of how the PDAF, popularly called the pork barrel, has been misused and abused by lawmakers and their cohorts in and out of government.

The same thing may be said too of President Benigno Aquino III’s “daang matuwid” program. It is crumbling apart ironically because he is building it in a manner that is anything but straight. Either he often gets bad advice or he thinks his approval rating allows him to squander his political capital every now and then. This may explain his obstinacy to retain the pork under a new guise.

Note that when the House of Representatives approved the 2014 budget on second reading, it deleted the PDAF but parceled out P25.4 billion among six government agencies. However, the honorable lawmakers may “recommend” five public works projects at most.

In exchange, the House members kept their hands off the P450-billion Special Purpose Fund, the President’s own pork barrel. Since this is a discretionary fund the Palace can dictate its terms on the lawmakers who would be salivating for allocations for projects from which they could pocket fat kickbacks.

Only a few may have noticed it, but the executive branch has effectively usurped the legislature’s power of the purse through such setup, and made the latter hostage of its agenda. This the Palace has accomplished by playing down the notion that the discretionary funds of the President are also pork. It has tried to contain public outrage and discourse within the PDAF issue, to keep Aquino’s image as a serious graft buster untarnished.

But alas, Senator Jinggoy Estrada exposed the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which like the PDAF has evolved into something that now threatens to blow in the face of this administration. Like the PDAF too, the constitutionality of the DAP has been questioned before the Supreme Court.

Questions on the constitutionality of the PDAF and DAP would be resolved mainly on technical grounds. The Supreme Court will simply examine if their existence has not violated the limits on the powers of each branch of government based on the principle of separation of powers. Can the lawmakers identify projects? Can the President realign funds for items which are not specified in the approved national budget? These are some of the questions that the Court will have to settle.

For the public at large, however, the bigger issues behind the PDAF and DAP are not only legal and technical but also moral and political. Aside from the legal issues, the discovery of questionable PDAF disbursements that have implicated lawmakers and private personalities like Janet Lim-Napoles, and Estrada’s claim that the President dangled DAP allocations to secure the conviction of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in the impeachment trial are among the reasons for those series of protests and the petitions now being heard by the High Tribunal.

It’s unfortunate that the Palace would hear nothing of the legal questions. With regard to the DAP in particular, Palace spokespersons have stuck to the argument that the issue should focus on whether the funds for it were properly used. In effect, they are saying that there is no crime even if the DAP is illegal as long as the money for it has been spent as intended. The end justifies the means.

The Palace is now saying the executive may flout the law on the use of public funds if the intentions are good. It’s a dangerous proposition. If legal funds can be abused and misused, it should worry us more if allocations go out of the public coffers through dubious means even if the avowed purpose is to build cloudless happiness for us all.

Maybe “daang matuwid” actually means taking legal shortcuts.

(MindaViews is the opinion sections of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])

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