“The people should unsheathe and use this power to make laws whenever their elected representatives default in the performance of their sacred duty to enact laws to promote the general interest, or worse, whenever they betray the public trust.” – former chief justice Reynato Puno
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Progressive groups support former Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s proposal for a People’s Initiative to abolish the pork barrel system as the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III remains deaf to the people’s clamor for the fund’s abolition.
“It is very evident that the present administration is not sincere or does not even have a plan to abolish this discretionary fund, including the president’s. The Filipino people must then act to abolish it through a People’s Initiative,” chairman of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers’ (ACT), Benjie Valbuena said in a statement sent to Bulatlat.com.
The People’s Initiative or the Republic Act No. 6735, Section 2 or The Initiative and Referendum Act provides that “The power of the people under a system of initiative and referendum to directly propose, enact, approve or reject, in whole or in part, the Constitution, laws, ordinances, or resolutions passed by any legislative body upon compliance with the requirements of this Act is hereby affirmed, recognized and guaranteed.”
In a news report, the former chief justice proposed that a People’s Congress be convened to exercise the power that was given to the Filipino people by RA 6735. Puno said that the power to enact a law is not exclusive to Congress “but can be exercised directly by the people anchored on the doctrine that ‘the people are the sovereign people.’”
“The people should unsheathe and use this power to make laws whenever their elected representatives default in the performance of their sacred duty to enact laws to promote the general interest, or worse, whenever they betray the public trust,” Puno was quoted saying in the news report.
To enact a law through a people’s initiatve, signatures coming from at least 10 percent (about 5.2 million) of the total registered voters of the country or from at least three percent from each congressional district must be reached. It will then be followed by the signature verification of the Comelec before a referendum is called wherein people will vote yes or no to the proposed law.
Valbuena said the people no longer expect the majority of the lawmakers to abolish pork barrel because they too are benefiting from it.
Youth Act Now, a network of youth and students’ organizations against corruption, said they are willing to “mobilize thousands of young people for this as an expression of outrage against systemic corruption and mis-governance.”
The Youth Act Now network, which includes the National Union of Students of the Philippines, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, Anakbayan, Student Christian Movement and hundreds of other organizations nationwide led the youth contingent in the various demonstrations against the pork barrel and corruption during the past months.
“The plan to hold a Peoples’ Initiative against pork is a welcome development. It can be a vehicle for millions of young people to express their collective disappointment and outrage against the corrupt and pro-pork Aquino government,” said Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan national chairman and convenor of Youth Act Now.
Labor groups also vow to mobilize for the People’s Initiative. “We support the People’s Initiative against the pork barrel system and we vow to do everything we can to make it a success. We are calling on all Filipinos to show their disgust over this system of corruption and deceit by signing against it,” said Roger Soluta, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
Progressive women’s group Gabriela, meanwhile, held a human chain in front of Congress on Tuesday, Oct. 22 before the 2014 General Appropriations Act (GAA) was passed. The women’s group said the protest was an initiative of the Citizens Against Corruption, a newly formed community alliance in various villages in District 2 Quezon City, in the vicinity of the Congress. “It is only but fitting that the protest action is being held in conjunction with the third and final reading of the 2014 budget and was born out of the People’s Initiative,” said Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela.
“It is a positive foreboding on the fate of the pork barrel system and the mounting call for People’s Initiative.”
The 2014 GAA, which was only distributed in the afternoon of Oct. 22, was passed as Aquino certified the bill as urgent.
“The People’s Initiative is people’s power,” said Gary Martinez, chairman of Migrante International. He said it is a concrete measure that can be taken up by the people not only against the pork barrel system but against a system of political patronage, a system of tyranny of the elite and a system that undermines the people’s will.
“At this point in the anti-pork barrel campaign, it has become very clear that the Aquino administration has no intentions of budging despite widespread clamor to scrap the pork barrel. The People’s Initiative can be a venue for Filipinos here and abroad to express their outrage against Aquino’s pork, patronage and plunder.”
Migrante International is an alliance of more than 300 Filipino migrant organizations in 23 countries around the world. Since the expose of the misuse of pork barrel funds, OFWs have been active in the anti-pork barrel campaign and have launched series of global actions in solidarity with the #abolishporkmovement.
“We need to stop that source of ‘evil,’”Valbuena said. He said the people’s money must be returned through increasing the budget for the provision of basic social services, such as education and health, by the government.
“The public clamor against discretionary funds is very evident and surely the proposal of former CJ Puno can be achieved. We are also ready to mobilize our 50,000 members throughout the country not only to sign, but to gather signatures in their respective localities. Surely, the people will win this battle.”