Order return of P6.2B misused funds to gov't, SC asked

MANILA, Philippines – Hours before the first batch of criminal charges were filed before the Sandiganbayan in relation to the multi-million-peso pork barrel scam, the Supreme Court (SC) was asked to order the return of the misused discretionary funds to the national treasury.

Three anti-corruption advocates and a Christian bishop filed on Friday, June 6, a petition for mandamus for the SC to require the Commission on Audit (COA) to issue notices of disallowance in relation to the P6.2 billion (about $141.1 million) in misused Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). 

The PDAF – a congressional pork barrel that was released in lump sum – was a massive development fund that lawmakers could use at their discretion to fund pet projects. 

This has been subject to abuse and corruption over decades, however, with the Janet Napoles scandal last year as its worst manifestation. Following the scandal, the Supreme Court declared the fund unconstitutional.

A 2013 COA special audit report covering years 2007 to 2009 shows the P6.2 billion in PDAF went to 82 dubious non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  (READ: COA special audit report, 2007-2009)

Petitioners argue that failing to issue the notices of disallowance (NDs) is a breach of duty by the COA. The issuance of NDs – which will force either the lawmakers or the NGOs to return the misused funds – is within the powers of the commission as a quasi-judicial body.

According to the COA's rules of procedure, parties can still file an appeal against the notice. 

Petitioners before the High Court include former senatorial candidate Greco Belgica, Christian Bishop Reuben Abante, as well as anti-corruption advocates Quintin Paredes San Diego and Jose L Gonzales.

COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan and COA Special Audits Office Director Susana Garcia were named as respondents. 

Tan's promise

It was on October 8, 2013 during the oral arguments before the the SC on the constitutionality of the PDAF that Tan told the High Court that COA was in the process of issuing the NDs. 

"So there’s going to be thousands and thousands of disallowances given the scope of the audit. In terms of the amount, Your Honor, we would estimate about P6 billion worth of disallowances that will be made within the year," Tan told SC Justice Lucas Bersamin, upon being questioned.

Belgica, who was also among the petitioners who assailed the PDAF before the SC, later on wrote to Tan to remind her of her promise before the Court.

"The Supreme Court has already struck down by a unanimous vote, the Pork Barrel. As such, we eagerly await the fulfillment of the promise," he said, pertaining to the historic November 2013 SC ruling that junked PDAF.

He also asked Tan to furnish him a copy of the NDs, if these were already issued without his knowledge.

With Tan allegedly not responding to his request, Belgica on Friday sought the Court's intervention.

Speedy recourse

Belgica and his co-petitioners argue that the "exceptional character" of the PDAF scam and the "unprecedented frauds and raids of the treasury" justify their appeal before the SC.

"... the incalculable injury suffered by the Nation and the petitioners, as well as the assertion of grave violation of the law and the Constitution attributable to the respondents, and there being no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, petitioners’ posture and decision to bring suit could not be unwarranted," their petition read.

COA special audit report

In determining the amount of PDAF that went to dubious NGOs, the COA audited some P12 billion ($275 million*) in PDAF releases from 2007 to 2009. 

The resulting audit report was a product of a two-year probe.

The report tagged 12 senators and 180 representatives whose PDAF went to the questionable NGOs.  

In addition to whistleblowers' testimony, the report also served as documentary evidence that helped indict those who pocketed kickbacks from the scam. 

On Friday afternoon, barely an hour before the docket closed at the Sandiganbayan, opposition senators Juan "JPE" Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada were charged with plunder over the scam. More are set to be charged. (READ: 3 PH senators charged with plunder over PDAF scam

PDAF unconstitutional

In a historic ruling in November 2013, the SC voted unanimously to junk PDAF for being unconstitutional.

The SC ruled that the system gave lawmakers power to interfere in the execution of projects already after the passage of the budget, a duty supposedly in the hands of the executive department.

The decision – penned by Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe – voided legal provisions that provided legislators the power "to intervene, assume or participate in any of the various post-enactment stages of the budget execution.” 

The PDAF scam is the biggest corruption scandal to hit the country in recent years. – Rappler.com