TACLOBAN SITUATION BETTER: NOY LEAVES FOR MANILA

Although President Benigno Simeon Aquino III promised to stay here “until the situation is already okay,” he left for Manila Tuesday afternoon after learning that the Supreme Court had declared the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional.

ALSO: GOVT LOSES PORK BARREL (PDAF)

Voting 14-0, SC declares system unconstitutional. The Court also declared illegal all provisions of past and present congressional pork barrel laws such those covering the PDAF and Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) that gave legislators lump-sum allocations and the authority to intervene and participate in identifying projects to be funded through PDAF.

ALSO: Palace scrambles for add-on budget after defeat

With the Supreme Court ruling, the impounded PDAF will remain unused and will not carry over to the next fiscal year, due to the one-year limit on the validity of appropriations.

TACLOBAN SITUATION BETTER: NOY LEAVES FOR MANILA


Damage assessment. Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez meets with Vice President Jejomar Binay and his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay Jr., at the Tacloban City Airport . The vice president and Romualdez later flew in a helicopter to look at the houses damaged by super typhoon Yolanda in Leyte.

TACLOBAN, NOVEMBER 20, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Ronald Reyes —Although President Benigno Simeon Aquino III promised to stay here “until the situation is already okay,” he left for Manila Tuesday afternoon after learning that the Supreme Court had declared the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional.

Damage assessment. Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez meets with Vice President Jejomar Binay and his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay Jr., at the Tacloban City Airport . The vice president and Romualdez later flew in a helicopter to look at the houses damaged by super typhoon Yolanda in Leyte. “He saw the improvements in the situation since last week. He also had things to attend to this week,” explained Presidential Communications Development Secretary Ramon Carandang said, apparently referring to developments at the SC, a scheduled budget meeting on Wednesday and a meeting of the National Economic Development Authority on Thursday.

But before he left Tacloban, he met with Mayor Alfred Romualdez before he left along with Public Works Sec. Rogelio Singson. Presidential Management Staff head Sec. Julia Abad, Interior Sec. Manuel Roxas II and Social Welfare Sec. Corazon Soliman.

Aquino also visited Basey in Western Samar and Ormoc City for the distribution of relief items before meeting with local officials.

Romualdez, for his part, acknowledged that things are getting better in the devastated city, considering that residents of this city were without food for the most of the past 11 days.

“Well, things are getting better,” Romualdez said. “In the last four days, we were able to distribute food to the entire city, about 95 percent, and we were able to do that in one day.”

Romualdez said many city employees have returned to work with their stories of woe, but they are already working round-the-clock to deliver food and whatever potable water and water purifiers they can get their hands on.

But still the United Nations’ World Food Programme said some 600,000 survivors in all areas affected by the disaster are yet to receive assistance on Tuesday, 11 days after the disaster struck.

Ertharin Cousin, the WFP’s executive director, told journalists in Manila that the UN agency had so far delivered emergency supplies of rice and high-energy biscuits to 1.9 million people.

She said an initial assessment of areas ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan had estimated that 2.5 million survivors were in need of food.

“There are significant numbers of people still that we have yet to reach,” Cousin said. “What we work to do is to reach those who don’t have other means of accessing food and that number will continue to reduce as we move forward.”

Cousin said “geographical challenges”, including choked roads and accessing remote islands, had made reaching everyone affected difficult, and she added that the 2.5 million figure was a “conservative” estimate.

Damage assessment. Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez meets with Vice President Jejomar Binay and his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay Jr., at the Tacloban City Airport . The vice president and Romualdez later flew in a helicopter to look at the houses damaged by super typhoon Yolanda in Leyte. “We are challenged but not overwhelmed and we will continue to perform the work necessary to meet the needs of the Philippine community,” she said. “The work goes on and we won’t stop until everyone receives food assistance.”

Romualdez acknowledged that other Leyte residents from outside Tacloban City are equally devastated and city relief workers have been told not to discriminate and simply extend help where they can.

“Everyone, young or old. If workers see them, they will be given food, regardless whether they are residents,” the mayor said.

Romualdez said they have already completed two cycles of food distribution with more transport vehicles with generators on board to be able to boost the distribution of humanitarian gesture even at night.

Romualdez said they are putting up shelters as relocation sites of residents whose houses were wrecked by the typhoon and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency has donated tents as temporary shelters in these relocation sites.

In the midst of rising medical concerns among the victims, Romualdez said that medical workers have been mobilized to attend to sick and injured residents.

“So we are setting up an area where those tents so we can now monitor their hygiene, we can also monitor their health concerns and their general welfare,” he said.

Meanwhile, United States military forces has increased the pace of its humanitarian operation to hasten normalcy and airlifted 301,639 kilos of relief supplies provided the US Agency for International Development.

“The duration and extent of U.S. military support will depend on the request from the government of the Philippines. American forces will be present as long as they are needed, but no longer than required,” US Pacific Command Head Navy Admiral Chuck Hagel said in a statement.

In addition to the delivery of relief supplies, US military aircraft have logged nearly 650 flight hours, moved nearly 1,200 relief workers into Tacloban and have airlifted nearly 4,900 survivors from typhoon-impacted areas.

Over the last 24 hours, more than 66,000 pounds of food, water and shelter items have been delivered to Tacloban, Borongan and Guiuan, some of the hardest-hit regions.

At least 24 helicopters continue to deliver water and relief supplies to remote areas and more than 335,000 liters of water, 77,000 pounds of food, 6,000 pounds of dry goods have been provided to displaced victims.

The US navy has dispatched 10 ships including aircraft carrier George Washington, docked at Guian Eastern Samar, USS Cowpens, USS Antietam, USS Mustin, USS Lassen, USNS Richard E. Byrd, USNS Charles Drew, USNS Bowditch, USNS Yukon and USS Emory S. Land.

“Geographically our focus remains on Eastern Samar where USS George Washington is located. This is the hub for supplies our helicopters deliver to outlying areas,” Hagel said.

US navy personnel has delivered 45,000 pounds of food and dry goods at Guian town would delivered more food stuffs in the coming days.

Another three US vessels with four helicopters are in Leyte Gulf distributing supplies from Tacloban to remote areas, inaccessible by land travel.

US navy ships are also conducting survey on two ports in Samar for its rehabilitation to enable amphibious ships to get in and offload pier side. With Joyce Pangco Panares and Franscisco Tuyay

Govt loses pork barrel By Rey E. Requejo | Nov. 20, 2013 at 12:16am

Voting 14-0, SC declares system unconstitutional

THE Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel unconstitutional.

Start of oral arguments. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno bangs the gavel as the Supreme Court starts hearing the oral arguments for and against the Disbursement Acceleration Program.

Earlier, the high court declared the congressional pork barrel unconstitutional.

Sonny Espiritu Voting 14-0, the magistrates also declared as unconstitutional the provisions in two presidential decrees that authorized the disbursement of the Malampaya Fund and the President’s Social Fund, respectively, “for such other purposes as may be... directed by the President” and “to finance the priority infrastructure development projects.”

The Court also declared illegal all provisions of past and present congressional pork barrel laws such those covering the PDAF and Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) that gave legislators lump-sum allocations and the authority to intervene and participate in identifying projects to be funded through PDAF.

The Court ordered the government’s prosecutorial arms to investigate and file appropriate charges against public officials and private individuals for criminal offenses, in connection with the irregular, improper or unlawful disbursement or use of all funds under the pork barrel system.

The Justice Department has already filed plunder and malversation charges against three opposition senators -- Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy

Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. -- and 34 other respondents led by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who has been tagged as the architect of the P10 billion pork barrel scam.

The decision, written by Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas Bernabe, was “immediately executory but prospective in effect,” and made permanent the Court’s Sept. 10, 2013 temporary restraining order stopping the further release of pork barrel for the rest of 2013 and Malampaya funds for non-energy-related projects.

The court also barred the release of funds sourced from the President’s Social Fund under the phrase ‘to finance the priority infrastructure development projects’ as covered by two presidential decrees. These funds were not be disbursed or released but instead returned to the general coffers of government, except for those allocated for the specific purposes set out by the Malampaya Fund and the Presidential Social Fund.

Only Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. inhibited himself.

Separate opinions were written by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who only concurred in the result, Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio, and Justice Marviv M.V.F. Leonen.

In ruling against the lawmakers’ discretionary funds, the Court held that PDAF and previous pork barrel funds violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers of the executive and legislative branches as it “allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget executions.”

It said the pork barrel system also violated the constitutional principle on “non-delegability of legislative power” by allowing lawmakers to fund specific projects they themselves determine.

The pork barrel system, including the earlier Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) and the practice of congressional insertions in the national budget, also denied the President the power to veto items, the justices said.

Besides, they added, PDAF “impaired public accountability” and “subverted genuine local autonomy.”

The Court specifically rejected the practice of allowing lawmakers to intervene or participate in executing the budget after it had been enacted, including areas such as project identification.

The provisions conferring personal, lump sum allocations to legislators from which they are able to fund specific projects that they themselves determined were also illegal, added the high court.

The justices rejected the argument by Congress that the Supreme Court already upheld the constitutionality of the pork barrel system in previous cases.

Although the Court granted most of the issues raised in the petitions against PDAF, the Malampaya Fund and the President’s Social Fund, it rejected certain appeals “due to improper recourse and lack of proper substantiation.”

The Court rejected a petition that the Executive Secretary or the Budget Department be made to provide the public and the Commission on Audit complete, detailed reports on how the funds were used.

It said, however, that the denial was made without prejudice and could be pursued by a separate petition.

The justices also denied the petitioners plea that the funds be subject to the budgetary deliberations of Congress, saying this was best left to the prerogative of the political branches of government.

The petitions against PDAF, Malampaya Fund, and the Presidential Social Fund were filed by the Social Justice Societe through its president, Samson S. Alcantara, Greco Antonious Beda B. Belgica, and Pedrito M. Nepomuceno.

Respondents in the cases were the Office of the Executive Secretary, Congress, and the Department of Budget and Management.

“It is a victory for all of us, especially during the ‘new normal’ we now live in. This decision frees up money that can be used to enact programs and build structures to protect and relieve our countrymen from calamities that are becoming more frequent and stronger,” said lawyer Alfredo Molo, counsel for the petitioners. “Today, corruption is no longer just a socio-political issue, it is a question of survival.”

He added that the voting sent a strong message, which is what the country needs.

“Accountability and constitutionality won today,” he said.

In its petition, the SJS said the pork barrel system is unconstitutional because of it made a mockery of the constitutional mandate on accountability, honesty, and integrity of public officers.

The group asked the Court to stop the Senate and the House of Representatives from appropriating funds for “pork barrel in whatever form and by whatever name it may be called.”

The PDAF is an annual allocation in the national budget for members of Congress to cover expenditures for projects identified by senators and congressmen.

In the proposed 2014 General Appropriatins Act, the amount proposed for PDAF is about P25.2 billion.

They also said the pork barrel system allows the Executive Department to have control over lawmakers, thus, violating the constitutional principle on separation of powers.

Senate President Franklin Drilon described the ruling as moot and academic, since 15 senators, representing a majority of the Senate, have decided to abandon their pork barrel allocations.

“We will welcome the decision... We will abide by the decision of the Supreme Court,” Drilon told reporters.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the decision was no surprise because he always felt that PDAF was unconstitutional.

“That it was unanimous was unexpected but having listened to the arguments made before the Supreme Court, the result was not unexpected,” Marcos said in a text message.

Drilon said the abolition of PDAF would also do away with the system of political patronage that has stunted socio-economic development and allowed a few to maintain political dominance in certain areas.

“I believe the SC decision reinforces the government’s efforts to reform the country’s political system and likewise affirms the Senate’s position that PDAF must be abolished,” he said.

With the decision, Drilon said, they were looking at the passage of a supplemental budget for 2013 to provide funds for relief and rehabilitation efforts to areas affected by the powerful earthquake in October and several destructive typhoons.

“We will urge the President to certify the supplemental budget as urgent, as the funds can be promptly use by the necessary agencies for the relief and rehabilitation of areas struck by these recent disasters, particularly the typhoons Yolanda, Santi, Labuyo, the siege of Zamboanga City and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in the Visayas,” said Drilon.

He said the funds could come from the unspent PDAF of senators and congressmen for 2013 amounting to P14.5 billion, which can be considered savings because of the Court ruling.

Under the Constitution, Drilon said, a supplemental budget needs certification from the National Treasurer as to availability of funds, but said this was not a problem because of the unreleased PDAF.

If the remaining budget is unused before the year ends, however, it goes back to the National Treasury and can no longer be realigned, he said.

He also noted that PDAF could no longer be realigned because the Court deleted it from the 2013 budget.

Enrile, facing plunder charges, said he never had custody of the funds allocated under his pork barrel allocations.

Enrile said he merely requested that his allocations be used for certain municipalities.

“The projects were not my projects so I did not have custody of the funds,” he said.

He said because pork barrel has been in place for such a long time, he did not know what would happen next.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano said the decision settles once and for all the illegality of the pork barrel system, saying it was an end to lawmakers having the discretion to use lump sums in the national budget.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago used the Court decision to again attack her political nemesis, Enrile.

“At the very least, he should offer to commit hara-kiri because this dishonor belongs to him,” she said, recalling his disbursement of some P2 million in “Christmas bonuses” to all senators except his enemies.

In the House, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Congress would no longer appeal the Court decision.

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, member of the House independent minority bloc, welcomed the decision, calling it “a great day for Philippine democracy and good governance.”

Atienza, who has been vocal against pork barrel, maintained that the system of lawmakers appropriating money for themselves was “illegal and unconscionable.”

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. said the decision was “expected,” saying the “public pressure in the form of protest” had affected the mindset of the justices.

Barzaga also lamented that the justices saw “only the bad side of [PDAF] but not the good effects.”

He said it was “a very sad day” for scholars who depended on PDAF for their tuition.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said the Court decision was a big blow against President Aquino and his continuous defense of the pork barrel system.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said he was saddened by the decision.

“We do not have PDAF anymore for this year and the next. As for Malampaya who will reimburse the funds that were declared unconstitutional?” said Albano, a member of the House opposition bloc.

He said in the same manner, the President’s Disbursement Acceleration Program should be ruled unconstitutional, too.

Unless presidential pork is abolished, Colmenares added, the battle is not over. With Macon R. Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz

Palace scrambles for add-on budget after defeat By Joyce Pangco Panares | Nov. 20, 2013 at 12:14am

MALACAÑANG will submit to Congress a supplementary budget which will be certified as urgent by President Benigno Aquino III following an en banc decision by the Supreme Court declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund as unconstitutional.

“I will recommend to the President that we submit a supplementary budget, together with a certification of urgency,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.

Had the High Court freed up the P14.6 billion in unused PDAF for the second semester, the President would have been allowed to declare the fund as savings “for the purpose of driving more budgetary support to disaster aid efforts.”

Abad earlier said the unused PDAF “holds potential for aid” for the survivors of the typhoon.

With the Supreme Court ruling, the impounded PDAF will remain unused and will not carry over to the next fiscal year, due to the one-year limit on the validity of appropriations.

Last week, the Palace announced that it still has P26.84 billion in various funds that can be mobilized for the relief efforts – including P6.4 billion from the President’s Social Fund; P16.6 billion in government savings; P1.74 billion in Quick Relief Funds; P1.28 billion in calamity funds; and P824 million in contingency funds.

“We have to inject flexibilities within the programmed appropriations and anticipate in the unprogrammed appropriations how much more funds do we need or will this come in by way of soft loans or even grants that will be given to the country,” Abad said.

Abad acknowledged that the schedule will be tight for the passage of the 2014 budget.

“We will have to operate within the time constraints of the current budget schedule. We will take advantage of the rest of the days that it will be in session to be able to introduce those changes that we need to make to accommodate the requirements of the rehabilitation and reconstruction in the future,” he said.

Abad said a portion of the P130 billion Malampaya Funds will also be used to rehabilitate the damaged transmission lines in a bid to bring back power to the devastated areas before Christmas.

The government has already submitted a proposal to Congress on lifting the one-year lapse period for appropriations related to calamity and disaster response, including the Calamity Fund and the Quick Relief Funds under various agencies.

“If the shelf life for these budget items is extended, our implementing agencies can use what’s left of this year’s appropriations for post-Yolanda rehabilitation efforts next year,” Abad said.

“This is particularly important, because agencies only have a month-and-a-half left to obligate all the calamity- or disaster-related funds we release to them,” he added.

Senate finance committee chariman Francis Escudero said the controversy over pork barrel has discredited the entire budget process and overshadowed key reform measures instituted in next year’s budget.

On the first day of the Senate budget hearing, which started around 9:30 a.m., senators approved the recommended budget of five government agencies—the Department of Finance, the National Economic and Development Authority, the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, the Justice Department, the Labor and Employment Department and its attached agencies, and the Tourism Department.

Senate President Franklin Drilon hopes to approve the national budget before Congress goes on a Christmas break as he guaranteed there will be no re-enacted budget.

The plenary deliberations on the proposed budget of the other government agencies will resume today.

Escudero described the 2014 national budget as the “most detailed budget proposal in our country’s history” because almost everything is included as line items, including personal services, maintenance and other operating expenses and capital outlays.

This made the budget more transparent, he said.

At Tuesday’s session Senator Ralph Recto proposed slashing the governent’s spending for travel, utilities and communications by at least P1.7 billion and use the savings for calamity relief efforts.

“By simply deducting P500 million from the bureaucracy’s P12.3 billion travel fund for 2014, we can already build 900 temporary bunkhouses that can house 10,800 families,” Recto said in his co-sponsorship speech.

By lopping off P1 billion from the P12.1 billion allotted for utilities like electricity and water, he said the government can have the money to repair 3,000 classrooms.”

“If we just cut the P4.7 billion budget for text-talk-and-chat by P200 million, we can build 20,000 banca for fishermen), which we should do, because relief is giving them cans of sardines. Rehabilitation is about empowering them to fish again,” he added.

He also recommended that the P30 billion risk management program and the P25 billion debt management program be realigned for the rebuilding of hospitals and schools, the construction of homes, and additional subsidy to local governments.

House members on Tuesday welcomed Escudero’s proposal to tap the P20 billion for unfilled government positions in next year’s budget for rehabilitation and reconstruction in typhoon-devastated areas.

The congressmen led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, head of the House independent minority bloc, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. Davao City Rep. Isidro Unbab, and Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said that the proposal was timely, even as they underscored the need to ensure a huge fund that would help guarantee the protracted rebuilding process of typhoon-ravaged areas.

“The proposal is worth considering because we agree that the government needs a huge amount of funding to ensure a triumphant rehabilitation process because the international community may not

provide all the needed push to support the recovery process,” said Romualdez, whose district which includes Tacloban City had been flattened by typhoon Yolanda.

Romualdez, in a privilege speech Monday, underscored the importance of cooperation and unity among all officials of government and the Filipino people and the Aquino administration to ensure the success of the long rebuilding process in storm-hit areas.

Ungab, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said he is open to Escudero’s proposal as he urged the Senate to first approve the 2014 national budget.

“First things first, I think the Senate should first approve the budget before we can discuss whatever fund source will be used for the rehabilitation efforts. Though most House members agree that a substantial amount is needed for calamity and quick response funds in the next year’s budget,” Ungab said. With Macon R. Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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