A Weakened Presidency

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By Elcid Benedicto

WHILE many perceive the ruling of the Supreme Court, declaring the lawmakers’ pork barrel funds as unconstitutional as a setback for senators and congressmen, what others fail to recognize is the more serious consequence of the decision: a weakened presidency.

The pork barrel scam which unraveled before the eyes of the public the ills behind the manner in which some lawmakers make use of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), it also paved for the disclosure of the fact that the pork barrel is often used as a tool by the President to wield influence among Congress members in deciding on certain crucial issues.

A case in point, was the Corona impeachment trial where allegedly, President Aquino, through his minions, swayed some senators to vote for the conviction of ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in the 2012 proceedings and on the issues as well on the enactment of the reproductive health (RH) law and sin tax, supposedly.

Sans PDAF

What will become now of the senators sans the PDAF? Senate insiders said it has now rendered an impossible task for some “enterprising” senators and some of their well-trusted staff the matter of yielding “commissions” from their “soft” and “hard” projects.

“There’s no more scholarship programs for them or projects that they can identify themselves. That’s the practical and immediate impact. In theory though, if there are some congressional districts or congressmen or local government officials that they would want to lend assistance, the (Senate) finance committee chair could opt to tell them to identify the projects early on and have it included in the budget. But there’s no more lump sum appropriations,” Senate sources said.

The possibility of availing of government funds is still there, by having to specify in the proposed national budget, during deliberations period, but it will no longer require the senator’s signature for certification or endorsement.

“Mas malinis na although technically can be viewed as another form of congressional insertions,” was how sources described it.
The scenario being given is that, in the entire budget process, lawmakers can still make some “congressional insertions” while the proposed national expenditure program for the following fiscal year is still in the stage of “budget call.”

New Scheme?

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issues the national budget call at the start of the budget preparation year to all agencies and contains the parameters set by the Development Budget Coordination Committee as well as policy guidelines and procedures in the preparation and submission of agency budget proposals.

“What will happen now? It will be a weakened presidency. If before, the Executive can dangle before the senators the release of their PDAF, what other option is available? A threat?” a Senate insider pointed out.

“The major effect (of the SC ruling) is on him and not on the senators, unless absolutely PNoy (President Aquino) will no longer consult them on what projects to pursue which they (Executive) can if they would opt to have it included in the budget call.

“It’s a weakened presidency because tinanggalan sya ng pambili (he cannot wield influence on senators and congressmen),” Senate insiders explained.
The power of the President allows him to make use of the issue of the release of the PDAF in the middle of the year which will be a different case in the year ahead.

“Ano na ang pambili nya ng boto on important issues, issues crucial to him ngayon na wala ng PDAF? Hindi na magagamit ang PDAF,” they said.

It’s possible that the Executive would create a new scheme, give PDAF a new name in the succeeding general appropriations bill (GAB) considering the fact that “what has been declared as illegal PDAF is those allocated for this year,” sources said.

Although technically, lawmakers are rendered to with only recommendatory powers which was “mandatory” under the pork barrel fund system, senators and congressmen could still pursue projects by requesting the availability of funds or appropriation before the proposed President’s budget is submitted before Congress, they explained.

Long-time and high-rank cited the possibility of such scenario, the matter of PDAF taking a different label, in the future by having items being requested by lawmakers in the national expenditure program (NEP).

Patronage System

The Executive could propose lump sum appropriations which members of the House of Representatives and the Senate can tap in identifying their programs.

“Unless doon pa lang sa budget call kasama na yung mga senador, pwede rin yun. But there’s no more discretionary powers for them because they can only recommend in the sense as to where some of these funds should be allocated. And when they do so, they can no longer change that, which means that those LGUs and other sectors seeking assistance or intervention from them on funding requirements after the budget bill is passed is no longer possible,” they explained.

Can the President resort to so-called party system? Will it strengthen the party system?

“Let’s see. Sometimes they dangle dangle the party chairmanship or other positions for prestige or honor. But one thing is for sure, they will have to be more creative now as to how to enrich themselves. In that sense, this one stops commission-basis. It lessened the patronage system,” they said.

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