People’s Initiative: ‘6 million signatures to abolish pork barrel’
August 24, 2014
Cebu City—More than a thousand people from all over the country converged yesterday for a historic People’s Congress, which ratified a bill to abolish all forms of pork barrel “once and for all.”
The Congress, the first of its kind, hopes for the passage of the bill through a people’s initiative, or a nationwide signature campaign as mandated under the 1987 Constitution.
According to the People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel (PIAP), around six million signatures—representing at least 10% of the entire voting population and 3% in voting districts—are needed to compel the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to hold a referendum on the said bill. Only a simple majority—or 50% of votes plus one—is needed to pass the legislation, which will be the first ever to be passed through “the direct sovereign act of the people.”
Clamor for change
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) declared their full support behind the people’s initiative, electrifying the crowd gathered at Mariner’s Court.
Delegates of the People’s Congress were united in their clamor for change.
“Today we are saying, tama na yan, sobra na yan, tanggalin na ang pork barrel!” Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said in his inspirational address, referring to the pork barrel system. He called on Filipinos to join the people’s initiative “for the love of the country.”
The Archbishop said that their coming together indicates the people becoming “more and more mature.” He quoted Pope Francis in saying that the people must do their best to participate in politics.
Composed of religious, youth, lawyers, professionals, farmers and workers groups, the PIAP is made up of eight major alliances such as the Cebu Coalition Against Pork Barrel, Makabayan, Abolish Pork Movement, E-PIRMA, Scrap Pork Network and the Church People’s Alliance Against the Pork Barrel. It vows to mobilize communities, schools, and workplaces to collect needed signatures for the abolition of pork barrel.
The proposed Pork Barrel Abolition Act prohibits “lump sum public funds…with sole discretion given to the President, legislator or group of legislators, or any public officer.” It provides penalties of imprisonment up to six years and perpetual disqualification for public office to those who authorize the use of such funds.
Show of unity
The People’s Congress expressed indignation at the continued use of pork barrel under the Aquino administration.
The unity statement, read by the delegates, stated, “More than a year since the exposure of the P10 Billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, and despite the Supreme Court rulings on the PDAF and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the pork barrel system remains intact in the national budget and entrenched in the political system. Only select members of the opposition and their alleged cohorts are being prosecuted for pork-related crimes.”
“Meanwhile, Congress has created a new mechanism for doling out pork via lump sum funds tucked into the budgets and agencies under the President. Malacañang’s 2015 National Expenditure Program retains hundreds of billions of lump-sum, discretionary funds otherwise known as the presidential pork barrel,” it further stated.
In her opening remarks, Carol Araullo, Bayan chairperson and convenor of the Abolish Pork Movement, said, “That’s why it is correct and more urgent than ever to abolish pork barrel and exact accountability from those who benefited unlawfully and immorally from this system.”
Two archbishops and six Catholic bishops sent a message of support for the people’s initiative. According to Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, “Thank you for advancing decency in public life. Thank you for giving voice to countless victims of corruption especially the poor and marginalized,” he said.
Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo meanwhile said in another message: “The pork barrel system has been a bottomless pit of corruption, a terrible instrument of patronage politics, a war chest to perpetuate patronage politics. I support its abolition and encourage fellow citizens to act against this bane in our political system.”
Present in the gathering were Atty. Vic Joyas, IBP president; Sr. Mary John Mananzan; social activist Mae Paner a.k.a. Juana Change; Inday Varona of Scrap Pork Network; whistleblower Jun Lozada; Million People March organizer Peachy Bretana; and party-list representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate.
Actress Monique Wilson and singer Bayang Barrios gave cultural performances that fired the crowd, many of which were leaders representing various grassroots organizations from various regions.
Amelita Go from the Council of Laity in the Philippines underscored, “We cannot gain a critical mass if we are divided. Let us speak with one voice.”
Najeeb Mufti Razul meanwhile said that the Muslim community supports the initiative. “God will not change the condition of the people, not unless the people change it for themselves,” he said, quoting from the Koran.
Pork barrel ‘still intact’
San Beda College of Law dean Fr. Ranhillo Aquino, in a message, said that he does not agree that the Filipino people benefit from illegal disbursements.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Zarate, in a presentation, said that the pork barrel remains in the 2015 proposed budget. He said that there is P378-B special funds and P123-B unprogrammed funds under the Office of the President. “Saan kayo kumukuha ng kapal ng mukha?” he said, alluding to Aquino’s own statement in last year’s State of the Nation Address.
The proposed bill will no longer allow for unitemized appropriations, “except in the case of disaster reponse, the contingency fund of up to 5% and intelligence/confidential funds of the National Security Council, the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Governments.”
It puts special funds like the Malampaya Funds under the National Expenditure Program. It also abolishes the President Social Fund.
Finally, it mandates that “all unspent, unobligated and unreleased funds by the end of the fiscal year” be reverted to the General Fund subject to Congress for appropriation.
Aiming for a referendum
According to Atty. Alex Lacson of Solidarity, under their projected timeline for the people’s initiative, all signatures must be collected by November 30. The signatures will then have to be certified by the local Comelec. With local certifications expected to be in by the end of 2014, the filing of the petition with the national Comelec will be by the first week of January.
Under the Constitution, the Comelec must certify the petition within 90 days. Once the Comelec certifies it, a national referendum will have to be held by May to June 2015, Lacson said.
“If we succeed, this Congress, in the future, can also be the machinery through which we can use the people’s initiative to pass other pro-people laws, such as one that prohibits political dynasties,” he added.
The People’s Congress created coordinating committees at the national, provincial, city, and district levels. It hopes to mobilize “tens of thousands of volunteers” for the success of the people’s initiative.
The Congress ended with a march to Plaza Independencia, and the opening of the first signature booths for the people’s initiative. Hundreds of people lined up to sign the petition.
The people’s initiative will meanwhile be launched in Manila on August 25, anniversary of the Million People March. It will be held in Luneta Park, with thousands expected to attend.
More photos of the People’s Congress: