Noted constitutionalist and former president of the Ateneo de Manila University Fr Joaquin Bernas lauded the Supreme Court decision to ban pork which, he wrote, “restores the normal constitutional order of handling public money”. He cited the specific clause in the Constitution that clearly defines the limits of the power of any one government official to control public funds; “No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law,” a stipulation that “prevents members of Congress, and the President, from indiscriminately spending unappropriated money.”
The landmark Supreme Court ruling comes at an interesting time, when the ability of the government to rapidly respond to crisis situations — such as the pressing need to manage the relief and rebuilding operations following the devastation wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) — is under the spotlight…
Does [the President] have the resources needed to deal with the effects of the October earthquake in Bohol and now also with the ravages caused by Supertyphoon “Yolanda?” At the rate the President is reassuring the survivors of the ravages caused by nature, he probably is confident that he has the resources. If needed, he can call Congress to a special session to appropriate what more is required.
Unfortunately for Filipinos, President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III is not exactly the sort of guy one could rely on to prioritise disaster preparedness. Back in May, 2011 President BS Aquino’s message following his veto of the 2011 budget then reportedly included the following statement pointed out by Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino:
“I caution the inclusion of pre-disaster activities such as preparation of relocation sites/facilities, and training of personnel engaged in direct disaster in the use of the Calamity Fund. While said purpose is laudable, the same must be weighed against the imperious need of maintaining sufficient provision under the Calamity Fund for actual calamities and prevent its full utilization for pre-disaster activities…”
The rationale behind President BS Aquino’s reluctance, it seems, was that “pre-disaster activities are embedded in the services of various agencies like the DPWH, DSWD, and DND.” Unfortunately, the quality and speed with which the government had responded to the massive destruction wrought by Typhoon Yolanda has proven that this delegated and woefully fragmented approach to managing “pre-disaster activities” is a failure.
That the government had failed to implement an effective disaster preparedness framework — something that is mission-critical in a disaster-prone country like the Philippines — is possibly criminal in nature. According to Section 22 of Republic Act 10121, also known as the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010” currently in effect, a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRM Fund) which encompasses the Calamity Fund in the national budget…
…shall be used for disaster risk reduction or mitigation, prevention and preparedness activities such as, but not limited to, training of personnel, procurement of equipment, and capital expenditures. It can also be utilized for relief, recovery, reconstruction and other work or services in connection with natural or human-induced calamities which may occur during the budget year or those that occurred in the past two (2) years from the budget year.
Note the items emphasized in bold print above. Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz pointed out in his December, 2011 blog post It’s a Fine Line Between Foolish and Criminal that President BS Aquino’s veto of the 2011 budget on grounds that disaster preparedness should not be funded from the Calamity Fund could make him criminally liable for fatal delays in the government’s response to the crisis in the Visayas following Yolanda’s visit. Section 20 of RA 10121 stipulates the following penalties for persons found to be in violation of this law:
Any individual, corporation, partnership, association, or other juridical entity that commits any of the prohibited acts provided for in Section 19 of this Act shall be prosecuted and upon conviction shall suffer a fine of not less than Fifty thousand pesos (Php 50,000.00) or any amount not to exceed Five hundred thousand pesos (Php 500,000.00) or imprisonment of not less than six (6) years and one (1) day or more than twelve (12) years, or both, at the discretion of the court, including perpetual disqualification from public office if the offender is a public officer, and confiscation or forfeiture in favor of the government of the objects and the instrumentalities used in committing any of herein prohibIted acts.
Initial observations coming from CNN reporter Anderson Cooper reporting from the ground in flattened Tacloban City in the first few days following the departure of Yolanda confirmed the sad state of the Philippine government’s level of disaster preparedness when he found “no real evidence of organized recovery or relief” there.
From Cooper’s vantage point, there were hundreds of people sleeping at the airport because there was nowhere for them to go and if one would just walk three blocks away from the airport, there were also people sleeping in makeshift huts or out exposed to rains even lying next to the bodies of their loved ones because these had yet to be picked up. He said there was also very little water and food supply because there was no feeding station, which according to him, was what one would expect after five days. The journalist added that he only heard of talks about the airport being opened again by the US marines but it hadn’t happened yet. He warned that the situation is getting desperate and that sooner or later something is bound to give.
For some time, the tragic posterboy of the Philippine Government response to the crisis was Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas who, instead of stepping up to the occasion, busied himself with making schoolboy excuses for the state’s flaccid performance…
At one point during the interview [with another CNN reporter Andrew Stevens], Roxas was arguing over the treatment of dead bodies left rotting on the roads. Stevens pointed out that every day, he sees the same decomposing bodies when he passes by the same road on the way to the city. But Roxas vehemently denied they were the same bodies, stopping short of calling Stevens a liar.
Get him out of there! screams Inquirer.net columnist Conrado de Quiros. “Frankly, I don’t know what Mar Roxas is doing in Tacloban. He isn’t helping, he is hindering. He is an abrasive, polarizing, divisive presence. He does not unite, he foments rifts. He does not inspire, he breeds enmity. Without him, Tacloban will be back on its feet in no time at all,” the elderly columnist adds.
Recent events are but a small recurring cross-section of Philippine history. Just about every single lesson that should have been learned following every instance of horrendous death numbers from the multitude of “natural” disasters that hit every year gets filed in Philippine society’s Mamaya Na folder. So with regard to Fr Bernas’s recommendation that the government, “devise something constitutional to fill the vacuum left by the Supreme Court’s decision declaring pork barrel unconstitutional,” we can only take the usual next step recommended by Filipinos’ kapamilyas in the monolithic ABS-CBN Network:
Abangan ang susunod na kabanata…
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