“It is now up to the people to abolish the pork barrel system through this means.” – Renato Reyes, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes said the proposed peoples’ initiative to abolish the pork barrel system is difficult but not impossible.
“No matter how hard, complicated and difficult it would turn out, it is still to our advantage because it would harness the peoples’ initiatives and will. That in itself is a big thing. That is what will carry us through,” Reyes told Bulatlat.com.
Former chief justice Reynato Puno proposed that a people’s congress be convened and enact a law that 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 (pork barrel) scam is the sad story repeated over and over in the history of governments. But the PDAF scam is more than the story of how our people’s money was pocketed by some lowlifes among our legislators,” Puno said in an ABS-CBN report.
Republic Act No. 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act recognizes and guarantees 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…”
The law requires signatures of at least 10 percent of the total registered voters, of which all legislative districts should be represented by at least three percent of the voters.
Progressive groups, in their earlier statements, have expressed their support to the proposal and vowed to mobilize their members for the people’s initiative.
Reyes said progressive groups would participate in the people’s initiative because it is “another arena to engage the people, to mobilize them against the pork barrel system. The legal requirements are steep, difficult to achieve. On the other hand, there is the opportunity to talk to the people and get their support against the pork barrel.”
“We get to talk to students and people from all walks of life, as long as they are registered voters. We need five million signatures just to subject the bill to a referendum. This is going to be like an election, that is how it would look like,” he added.
Reyes said progressive groups immediately welcomed the proposed people’s initiatives because it is a clear political statement that there is nothing to be expected from legislators and even from Malacañang.
“It is now up to the people to abolish the pork barrel system through this means,” he said.
Vencer Crisostomo, president of youth group Anakbayan, said Puno should be commended for “heeding the challenge of the times and for lending his wisdom, experience and reputation to the broad movement against pork. His example should inspire other reputable and upstanding individuals to come out, take the lead and join the fight against pork and the rotten system.”
“The antidote to pork and to an insensitive, arrogant, anti-people government is people power — a peoples’ uprising against a corrupt, rotten system,” Crisostomo said.
Preparations and resistance
Reyes said groups who have expressed their interest to participate are on its preliminary stages in shaping the machinery for the people’s initiative.
“We are preparing for two things. First, is the content of the bill and, secondly, the right process required in carrying out the people’s initiative,” he said, adding that there are progressive lawyers who are looking into the law and member organizations who are finding “efficient and fast ways to secure the signatures of voters.”
Those behind the drafting of the bill come from the church, business, youth, artists, different political groups, netizens, workers, farmers, among others. Reyes said the alliance should be as “broad as possible.”
While the law guarantees the right of the people to enact or reject laws, its steep requirements are also one of the challenges they are facing.
“It is difficult but not impossible,” Reyes said.
He said 10 percent of the total registered voters equates to five million needed signatures. During the last election, he added, progressive senatorial candidate Teddy Casiño managed to get 4.2 million votes. Progressive partylist groups, on the other hand, accumulated three million votes.
The difficulty, however, lies at the required three percent signatures per congressional district. “That would include all congressional districts, even the most remote ones, from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi. We need to hold a massive campaign,” he said.
Reyes said that aside from the legal requirements, there is also the possibility of harassment against those who are campaigning for voters to sign the people’s initiatives.
“You will meet resistance from congressmen, local officials who benefit from the pork barrel and from Malacañang. They will do things to make it hard for us to secure signatures, they will malign us and confuse the people,” Reyes said.
The Commission on Elections, required by the law to validate the signature, said that the people’s initiative is no longer needed and that those behind it should just wait for the Supreme Court to decide on the fate of the PDAF.
In an Interaksyon.com report, Comelec chairman said, “What if the Supreme Court declares the PDAF and DAP unconstitutional, what will the people’s initiative be against?”
But Reyes said, “It is not true, even Justice Puno believes that too. The SC will be basing its decision on the 2013 budget. Its decision would no longer be applicable because they changed the form of the pork barrel in the 2014 budget.”
He added that the people need a law that would “prohibit any possibility that the pork barrel system would be revived or would just be changed in form.”
More groups to join
In a Sunstar.com report, several members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said they would support the people’s initiative.
“I agree that the present system of pork barrel must go. It is a source of corruption,” Caloocan Bishop emeritus Deogracias Iniguez said.
Various youth groups have also expressed their support on the proposed people’s initiative against the pork barrel system.
“With the failure of Congress to enact a law that will truly scrap the pork barrel system, the situation is ripe for the people to take law-making in their hands. The people’s initiative may prove to be a daunting option, yet the youth pledges its full support to this initiative,” said Einstein Recedes, national convener of Youth ACT Now, an alliance of youth groups calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system.
Recedes said that they would mobilize all their chapters in various provinces to gather signatures for the initiative. Youth Act Now has member-groups in Metro Manila, Iloilo, Cebu and Davao.
He added that Puno is “correct in saying that the youth will play a pivotal role in the people’s initiative. If all of the Filipino youth participates in this democratic practice, we will have more than enough signatures to pass a law.”
Data from the National Statistics Office estimates that there are some 25 million Filipinos aged 18 to 30, Recedes said, adding that, “We have the numbers. We just need to put in more effort to educate and mobilize the youth to participate in this landmark initiative.”
National Union of Students of the Philippines will also mobilize its students in various schools in the country to lend support to the people’s initiative.
Women’s group Gabriela, during their protest action on the approval of the 2014 budget said that only the voice of the people through the people’s initiative can abolish the pork barrel system.
“As a mass organization, Gabriela upholds the principle of democracy and such effort is a clear exercise of democracy,” Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela, said.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers national president Benjie Valbuena said the Aquino government does not have plans to remove the pork barrel system. The funds, he said, should be returned to the people through social services such as education and health services.
“We need to stop that source of evil,” Valbuena said, “The public clamor against their 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.
Valbuena believes that the “people will win this battle.”
Kilusang Mayo Uno, for its part, launched its “Piso para sa People’s Initiative,” a fundraising drive to help shoulder the financial costs of carrying out the tasks needed 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, said.
Challenge to community
Recedes said that Youth ACT Now is now preparing for their assemblies in various schools in communities. Everyone, he added, is “excited to participate in what can be the biggest democratic activity in recent years.”
Reyes said he is urging the grassroots organizations to convene and discuss how they can be of help to the campaign.
“We have to be ready for the campaign. Do house-to-house campaigns, visit parishes and schools. We should be ready to explain the issue of the pork barrel system to more people. We should form ‘people’s initiative committees’ in local districts to work on how to secure signatures and for the information drive,” Reyes said.
He added that social media would be used heavily for the information drive and in popularizing the content of the bill.
Recedes said that along with the campaign for the people’s initiatives, anti-pork barrel protests will continue.
“All efforts to dismantle the pork barrel system are welcome. But we have to remember that the people’s initiative is just one of the options that we have to fight the continued existence of the pork barrel system. This activity should not hinder us from continuing the fight in the streets,” Recedes said.
He added, “With the Aquino administration not keen on truly abolishing the pork barrel and instituting genuine change, the people will continue the fight – both in the legal arena and in the streets.”