Whiff of roasted pork

Posted by watchmen
October 12, 2020
Posted in OPINION

Article VI, Section 16 of the Constitution provides that the Senate shall elect its President and the House of Representatives its Speaker, by a majority vote of all its respective members. Each House shall choose such other officers as it may deem necessary. 

Nothing in that provision implies any participation by the President or anyone from the executive department in the selection of officers in either house of Congress.

This proceeds from the principle of separation of powers. The people, through the Constitution, have allotted powers to each of the three branches of government – the power to make laws belongs to Congress, the power to enforce laws belongs to the President and his cabinet, and the power to interpret laws belongs to the judiciary.

Each of these branches must be supreme in its own domain. In broad strokes, this means that the President cannot make laws, only Congress can. Judges cannot pass laws, only Congress can. Congress may not enforce laws, only the President can. Congress does not interpret the laws it had passed in cases of controversy, only the courts can.

Each of the branches must be independent from the others. One branch not asserting independence is in dereliction of a basic duty to prevent another branch from giving in to arbitrary or despotic tendencies. For example, a concentration of powers in the President would make government a virtual dictatorship.

This is introductory material for first-year law students. Lawyers take an oath to support the Constitution.

Yet we have two lawyers fighting over the speakership of the House of Representatives on the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement reached with the blessings of the President of the republic.

In the heat of deliberations on the national budget we are witness to how Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano appears to have consolidated his forces in order to frustrate a term-sharing agreement with Cong. Lord Allan Velasco that is supposed to take effect next week. Does this break from the agreement signal Congress’ emancipation from the executive department?

The budget is a piece of legislation. It is the function of Congress to pass it after going over the budget proposal of the executive department. But congresspersons are keen on monitoring how much a department proposes to spend on their districts because it affects how they project their vaunted power or influence for the benefit of voters in those districts.

In that sense, an individual congressperson is a conspirator in the budgetary process and must have considerable influence over how much money is actually plowed into his or her district. For that to happen there must be an alignment of interests with a Speaker who, in their collective estimation, can best advocate those interests in the executive department.

The Supreme Court has struck down pork barrel in its various iterations. A legislator when poring over the budget proposed by the executive department must act with vigilance, impelled by nothing but public interest and the common good. But a budget that allocates “pork” that will be expended in accordance with the wishes of the legislator can make that legislator blind to whatever faults the budget may have because it is in his interest that it is passed with dispatch.

The judiciary has thus declared the practice unconstitutional because it violates the doctrine of separation of powers. A congressperson who in effect has a financial interest in the passage of the budget cannot act with true independence in the consideration of its individual items.

Last year when the 2020 budget was being passed, leaders of the House and the Senate exchanged harsh words over allegations that the lower house may have managed to sneak in items that are actually “pork,” scattered in appropriations to several departments in the executive.

Speaker Cayetano’s offer to resign his post after facing off with Velasco before the President was widely rejected by the members of the House. They must be happy with his leadership. But the tide may still change, depending on who is perceived to be the better steward of public expenditure, whether in aid of reelection or dynastic ambitions, as politicians navigate the final year of this administration./WDJ

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