Sunday, November 09, 2008

Our taxes used for private purpose?

In relation to the issue of public funds used for private purposes, I re-call a case on this regard: Wenceslao Pascual v Secretary of Public Works (G.R. L-10405, decided Dec. 29, 1960).
In the 1950’s, Gov. Wenceslao Pascual of Rizal province filed a case questioning the appropriation of P85,000 to be used purportedly for the construction repair extension and expansion of “feeder road terminals” in Pasig.
According to Gov. Pascual, these so-called feeder roads were yet planned subdivision roads that were not yet constructed.
Worse, the sites of these feeder roads were located within a private subdivision owned by a Senator, Jose C. Zulueta, which feeder roads do not connect to a government road or highway.
But just prior to the approval of this appropriation law, Senator Zulueta wrote the municipal council, offering to donate the projected feeder roads to the municipality of Pasig.

The charge

The charge of Gov. Pascual was that inasmuch as the projected feeder roads in question were private property at the time of the passage and approval of the appropriations law, such appropriation of P85,000.00 for the construction, reconstruction, repair, extension and improvement of said projected feeder roads, was "illegal.
In short, Gov. Pascual charged that public funds were appropriated for a private purpose, which is illegal and unconstitutional.
The case was eventually elevated to the Supreme Court.

The issue

The issue brought before the court was whether or not the appropriation of P85,000 to construct a projected feeder road upon a location that was privately owned was legal or illegal.
The Supreme Court ruled the particular appropriation was illegal and, therefore void.
In this case, the Supreme Court laid down the rules and standards in determining whether a certain appropriation can be considered for public or private use.
In determining whether an appropriation is for public or private use, consequently it will be determined whether an appropriation is legal or illegal.

What is the test, according to the court?

The test of the constitutionality of a statute requiring the use of public funds is whether the statute is designed to promote the public interests, as opposed to the furtherance of the advantage of individuals, although each advantage to individuals might incidentally serve the public

According to the Supreme Court, inasmuch as the land on which the projected feeder roads were to be constructed belonged then to respondent Zulueta, the result is that said appropriation sought a private purpose, and, hence, was void.

Wenceslao Pascual v Secretary is a case commonly discussed in first year law school under constitutional law to find out, and to learn what is public purpose (legal) and private purpose (illegal).

Relating to the appropriation for T-shirts

Let us relate this important case of Wenceslao Pascual v Secretary of Public works, to the insistence of the city government to appropriate funds (reportedly P200,000.00) for T-shirts of city government employees.

The city government is inclined to push through with this T-shirt appropriation.
The argument, we read, is that anyway the T-shirts are to be used many times over in various activities.
The next argument is that the council determines what is necessary, therefore finding this necessity, then it can appropriate our taxes to buy T-shirts for city employees.

Applying the Supreme Court test

If we follow the test applied by the Supreme Court, the question is: will the appropriation for T-shirts of city employees promote the interests of ordinary taxpayers like you and me?
If so, how does the appropriation of funds to buy T-shirts for city employees promote our interests as a taxpayers?
If city government employees wear T-shirts on parades, how does that promote and advance the general welfare of citizens?
Let’s be more liberal. How will the wearing of T-shirts by city employees even remotely or incidentally advance the welfare of taxpayers and the community?
Can the city government explain that to us ordinary citizens, whose hard-earned taxes are to be used to buy these T-shirts?

To be used many times

The argument advanced to back the T-shirt appropriation is that “anyway the T-shirts will be used many times” in various activities.
Even if that T-shirt is worn a thousand times, we still go back to the basic question: How will these T-shirts advance and promote the welfare of ordinary taxpayers?
Will the taxpayers’ money not be put to better use if the city instead buy more equipment for our police, who until now are still using vintage police vehicles?
Which would advance and promote the public welfare?
Let’s call a spade a spade: Will the T-shirt appropriation advance the public interest, or the politicians’ interest?


Another argument advanced by the city to justify the T-shirt appropriation is that it is the council that determines what is necessary or not.
This argument is at the height of misplaced political arrogance.
The issue is not necessity.
The issue is legality.
Besides, how has it become necessary to buy T-shirts for city employees?
Are city employees walking around naked, that they need to be clothed?
Where is the necessity?
Are the T-shirts merely for aesthetics?
Is aesthetics tantamount to necessity?


Hence we kindly appeal to our trustworthy (“kasaligan”) public servants at city hall.
We are guided by laws and rules laid down by the Congress and the Supreme Court.
We follow these rules so that there will be order and progress in society.
That is why there is such a thing as upholding “the rule of law” not the rule of rogue public officials.
We hope that those entrusted with our hard-earned taxes will properly use it to promote the welfare of the whole community, not a handful of political supporters.
Otherwise, we just have to appeal to the electorate to remember these untrustworthy public officials in the coming election.
We, in the press, assure you:
We will not forget.

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