“At the end of the day, the success of the battle against pork relies on the strong resolve of the people.” – Sarah Elago, Youth Act Now
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The nationwide sign up campaign to pass a bill that will abolish the pork barrel system through People’s Initiative was given the ceremonial kickstart this afternoon (Aug. 23) at Plaza Independencia in Cebu, in the run up to the People’s Congress to Abolish Pork held in the city.
A similar petition signing kick-off is set this August 25 at Luneta Park in Manila, alongside a protest activity that will mark the first year anniversary of the Million People March.
Since scams and lavish lifestyles of alleged pork beneficiaries made headlines last year, prompting mammoth anti-pork rallies in the country, two Supreme Court rulings have declared as unconstitutional the legislative and executive pork found in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds.
But these pork barrel remained “alive and kicking,” as Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said in a statement.
Legislators’ pork came back in the form of lump sum supplemental budget “recommended” to be placed in government agencies by lawmakers. As for presidential pork, based on initial deliberations for the 2015 national budget, the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers said they saw “how the Aquino administration is once again attempting to legislate a budget ridden with lump-sums and vague items.”
Because of this persistence of pork, the need to pass a law that will “slay the monstrous pork barrel once and for all” galvanized the formation of Peoples Initiative Against Pork (PIAP).
Under Republic Act No. 6735, “To exercise the power of initiative or referendum, at least ten per centum (10%) of the total number of the registered voters, of which every legislative district is represented by at least three per centum (3%) of the registered voters thereof, shall sign a petition for the purpose and register the same with the Commission.”
Sign up movement vs Pork
The proposal being pushed through People’s Initiative, primarily penned by retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno, seeks to abolish the presidential and congressional pork barrel, mandate line item budgeting, prohibit and criminalize appropriation and use of lump sum discretionary funds, and penalize violators with six years and one day to ten years imprisonment and disqualification from holding public office. (To read the proposed law, click this.)
“This is a unique approach that will truly show the Aquino administration how wide the clamor for change is. We in Makabayan are one with the nation in passing this bill through a direct sovereign act of the people,” Ridon said from Cebu.
The Makabayan bloc filed House Bill No. 1535 July last year, seeking to dismantle the pork barrel system. It is similar to the one being pushed by the People’s Congress now. But as Ridon noted, even after over a year, the said bill has yet to be calendared for committee deliberation.
Sectoral leaders who attended the People’s Congress concluded that the legislators cannot be depended upon to craft a law abolishing the pork, despite the widespread clamor against it that resulted in petitions filed in Supreme Court and subsequent rulings against PDAF and DAP. Moreso the president, they said, as President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has questioned instead of obeyed the SC ruling.
“That is why I and my colleagues in Makabayan have decided to throw our support to the People’s Initiative,” Ridon said in a statement.
Declarations for PI sign up drive
In a press conference at the University of the Philippines Manila, Youth Act Now Co-Convenor and National Union of Students of the Philippines national president Sarah Jane Elago and leaders of various youth and student groups announced their engagement for the people’s initiative.
Youth Act Now is the official youth arm of the People’s Initiative campaign, tasked to conduct a series of activities and petition signings in schools and communities throughout the country in the coming months. It participated as member of the preparatory committee and one of the leading groups present in the People’s Congress in Cebu. The congress was also attended by individuals as well as leaders and representatives of broad organizations united in the call to remove the corrupt system of patronage.
The youth network invited the Filipino youth and other sectors to attend the initial signature event for people’s initiative and massive protest against corruption to be held on August 25 at Luneta.
The National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), with a membership of over 650 student councils all over the country, spearheaded a synchronized noise barrage Friday Aug. 22 in different schools to condemn BS Aquino’s retention of the pork barrel system and his plans of becoming a dictator via charter change. They said the noise barrage was a foretaste of the August 25 Million People March and Stand Up, Sign Up Against All Forms of Pork in Luneta.
Workers’ group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), meanwhile, distributed pamphlets and with a mobile sound system and placards, they also invited the public to join the August 25 “Stand up! Sign up! Abolish All Pork!” protest in a march from Plaza Sta. Cruz to Morayta in Manila Friday morning Aug. 22.
“Bigger pork barrel scandals have erupted since then and we now face the prospect of the Pork Barrel King’s dictatorship,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU campaign officer.
The KMU emphasized Aquino’s questionable actions on pork issues in that while businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and the three senators involved in the P10-billion pork barrel scam are under detention, his close allies including Budget Sec. Butch Abad, Agriculture Sec. Proceso Alcala and Technical Education and Skills Authority chief Joel Villanueva remain free.
“Aquino only used the pork barrel scandal to destroy his party’s possible rivals in the 2016 presidential elections,” Adonis said. When it comes to abolishing the pork barrel system, Aquino is “all-talk,” the workers’ group said.
It is really up to Filipinos to work for the abolition of the pork barrel system in all its forms,” Adonis said.
Aside from the youth and workers’ groups, other sectors have expressed support of the initiative and the Aug. 25 Sign UP. Socio-civic organizations including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), and church groups headed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Philippines (CBCP), also endorsed the bill.
Indigenous groups also sent their delegation to the People’s Congress to Abolish Pork in Cebu. An indigenous people’s leader, Genasque Enriquez, was arrested by the military and police as he sent off representatives to the people’s congress.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said during the opening of the People’s Congress earlier this Saturday that even “the Holy Father,” referring to Pope Francis, has given his blessing for the initiative.
Not one of the proponents of the People’s Initiative is in doubt that attaining the required number of signatures may be “a daunting task.” But as Sarah Jane Elago said, “At the end of the day, the success of the battle against pork relies on the strong resolve of the people.”