“In order to put a final lid on the pork barrel system, specifically in the legislative and executive branches of government, we support the proposal from anti-pork barrel groups in the whole country that the sovereign people use the 1987 Philippine Constitution provision on the passage of a law through the people’s initiative.” – Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – A week after a broad grouping of anti-pork organizations including some church people unveiled plans to launch a People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) decided to support it at their recently concluded plenary assembly.
The people’s initiative is intent on abolishing both the presidential and congressional pork barrel through a law crafted and supported by the people themselves, according to the process stated in the Constitution in cases when the Congress itself is not coming with such a law. But aside from abolishing the pork barrel, the initiative also seeks to prohibit and criminalize the appropriation and use of lump sum discretionary funds and to mandate line item budgeting instead, which is relatively easier to keep track of.
The CBCP’s decision comes at a time when Catholics nationwide are celebrating 2014 as “The Year of the Laity”. The people’s initiative is predominantly a campaign of lay people, said Sr. Mary John Mananzan of #Abolish Pork Movement, one of the conveners of the People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel. She explained that: “The CBCP support is an encouragement for the laity to get more involved in the transformation of society.”
Fr. Ben Alforque, also one of the conveners, described the People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel as “an initiative of lay people empowered to stand for what is true, just and right for a better life.”
The year of the laity celebrates the identity and mission of lay people in the Church, the “unordained members of the Church trained in hope, faith and love in Christ, to transform the world according to the values of God’s kingdom,” Fr. Alforque told Bulatlat.com. As such, he concluded, the People’s Initiative “concretizes and effects the realization of the year of the laity, and the church cannot but support it as the call to holiness, integrity, accountability and change initiated and led by the laity.”
It was during discussion of various issues under the CBCP Committee on the Laity that Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma appealed to his colleagues for their moral blessing and backing of two people’s initiatives – the People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel and the People’s Initiative Against Political Dynasties. The Cebu Archbishop is one of the lead conveners of newly formed coalition the People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel (PIAP).
“In order to put a final lid on the pork barrel system, specifically in the legislative and executive branches of government, we support the proposal from anti-pork barrel groups in the whole country that the sovereign people use the 1987 Philippine Constitution provision on the passage of a law through the people’s initiative,” Archbishop Palma said.
The People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel includes various groups led by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, the broad #abolishpork movement, Cebu Coalition Against the Pork Barrel System, E-Pirma, Church People’s Alliance Against Pork Barrel, ScrapPork Network, and the Makabayan Coalition. They said it is also being supported by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno.
With Congress set to open on July 28, groups gathered for the People’s Initiative have strong reasons to believe that Malacañang and the Department of Budget and Management would still insert pork barrel allocations in the national budget despite a Supreme Court ruling declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and core points of Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.
Progressive lawmakers had previously disclosed how a PDAF-like method of disposing of pork surfaced in Congress, with lawmakers still entitled to decide which of their pet projects to fund, with allocations spread out in line agencies of their choice.
The People’s Initiative needs to get verified signatures of 10 percent of the total registered voters nationwide and 3 percent of the voters of all congressional districts for it to be subjected to a referendum. The 10 percent threshold means the initiative requires more than five (5) million voters.
It is a tall order, the group said in its statement when they first unveiled the initiative more than a week ago. But they believe a law like this is necessary, since both congressional and the much bigger presidential pork still remains.
Pork barrel allocations remain in the country’s budget, despite the Supreme Court ruling on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The group said Congress has created a new mechanism for handing out pork barrel allocations to its members via a discreet referral and recommendation system even as it has kept intact the President’s gargantuan pork barrel funds, including the P132 Billion Malampaya fund, the President’s Social Fund and the P449 billion Special Purpose Fund. All these, on top of the still unaccounted for DAP funds over which the Aquino administration continues to evade accountability.
On top of the PDAF-like congressional pork, there is still no closure yet to DAP. Even if the core points of the Disbursement Acceleration Program were declared as unconstitutional last week, President Aquino, his cabinet and spokesmen are still “without remorse,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes in a recent interview with ANC recently, where he also invited the public to support the People’s Initiative.
As of this writing, various groups from the workers, teachers, youth, women, progressive partylist groups and Yolanda survivors have held different protest actions in front of the offices of the DBM, Sandigan, Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit, and near Malacañang, all demanding accountability and not coverup or excuses from the Aquino administration over the DAP and pork.
To combat political dynasty after pork
Many organizations have also reportedly supported the people’s initiative to define and prohibit political dynasties. In January last year, the CBCP had also issued a pastoral statement denouncing the worsening problem of political dynasties nationwide.
In their recent plenary, the CBCP agreed to focus first and ensure the success of the people’s initiative to abolish the pork barrel system and then tackle next the people’s initiative against political dynasty.
In a statement, Sr. Mary John Mananzan reported, along with other conveners of the People’s Initiative coalition, that the CBCP views the “pork barrel as a burning and pressing issue that has sparked people’s outrage, providing favorable conditions for the initiative to end congressional and presidential pork barrel, a big source of corruption and patronage politics.”
The People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel is currently organizing what it calls as a People’s Congress, to be held on August 23 this year. The CBCP has agreed to back this forthcoming People’s Congress, where the coalitions said they will finalize the people’s initiative, the proposed law against pork barrel, and firm up plans for a nationwide education and signature campaign. They invite the public to join and support the initiative, including the kick-off rally of the People’s Congress to be held at Plaza Independencia (in Cebu) on the same day they start the nationwide signature drive.