By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
The controversies that have arisen from the Supreme Court’s consecutive rulings on the unconstitutionality of the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund of legislators) and the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program of P-Noy) continue to sizzle.
The government has sought to have the rulings reversed by filing motions for reconsideration. Pending the final verdicts, President Aquino and his allies in Congress have been firing off proposals to clip the high court’s powers. These moves have been interpreted as retaliation against the tribunal or as pressure to reverse the rulings.
Revising his previously adamant stand against Charter change, P-Noy has spoken of amending the Constitution (coincidental with extending his term of office) to curb what he calls the Supreme Court’s “judicial over-reach” that, he alleges, disturbs the balance of power among the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. His statement instantly spurred strong reactions and sharp rebukes from lawyers’ organizations, religious leaders, opinion writers and commentators, and the social media.
At the House of Representatives, two bills have been filed seeking to abolish the Judicial Development Fund and transfer it to the National Treasury for congressional appropriation. The SC has in turn warned the legislators against touching the JDF, or amending Presidential Decree 1949 which created it, as that would violate the judiciary’s constitutionally mandated fiscal autonomy.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has also informed Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. that the court will not participate in the House inquiry on the JDF until the motions for reconsideration on the PDAF and DAP are resolved with finality.
Adding to the widespread outrage has been the disclosure in the House that the PDAF has been deviously retained in the 2014 budget under lump-sum appropriations for executive departments such as the Department of Health and the Commission on Higher Education. A fourth impeachment complaint against P-Noy for betrayal of public trust, based on the documented disclosure, was filed in the House but was barred under the rules of impeachment.
Moreover, in the proposed 2015 national budget now under deliberation in both chambers, provisions for presidential discretionary lump-sum funds have been questioned by watchdog groups, such as Ibon Foundation and Social Watch-Alternative Budget Initiative.
For instance, the President’s Special Purpose Fund — the “presidential pork” — is proposed to be increased by 34%, from P282.5 billion in 2014 to P378.6 billion in 2015.
Under this fund, the allocation for local government units is proposed to be hiked from P19.6 billion to P33.1 billion (this, aside from the P389.8-billion automatic appropriation for internal revenue allotments to LGUs). Also, the allocation for miscellaneous personnel benefits is to be more than doubled, from P53.5 billion to P118.1 billion. These huge increases are indications, as SW-ABI says, that the 2015 budget might be used to help administration candidates win in the 2016 national and local elections.
Besides these, next year’s budget also proposes a redefinition of “savings” that apparently aims to circumvent the SC ruling on the DAP.
Vis-a-vis these developments, the various movements formed last year demanding the abolition of the pork barrel system (in the light of the P10-billion Napoles PDAF scam) have resolved to act in unison to scrap both the congressional and presidential pork.
Today, leaders and representatives of people’s organizations, citizens’ groups, and individuals from across the nation are gathering in Cebu City for a day-long People’s Congress, called by the People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel.
The leading groups are: the #abolishporkmovement, Cebu Coalition Against Pork Barrel, Church People’s Alliance Against the Pork Barrel, e-Pirma, Makabayan Coalition, #ScrapPork Network, Solidarity, and Youth Act Now.
The People’s Congress will approve a people’s initiative bill that seeks to abolish all forms of pork barrel; mandate line-item budgeting (specific projects with specific funding allocations); prohibit and criminalize the allocation and use of lump-sum discretionary funds and penalize violators with 6- to 10-year imprisonment, plus disqualification from holding public office.
Broadly, this people’s initiative intends “to rid the nation of a corrupt system of patronage that undermines the principles of separation of powers, checks and balance, transparency and accountability.”
It is being taken in pursuance of Article VI, Section 32 of the 1987 Constitution, and its enabling law (RA 6735), that calls for a system of initiative and referendum whereby “the people can directly propose and enact laws or approve or reject any act or law.”
The process requires the signing of a petition endorsing the bill by at least 10% of the total number of registered voters nationwide – about 6 million — with at least 3% of the voters in every legislative district. After it verifies the petition to be sufficient in form and substance, the Commission on Elections shall submit it to the people in a referendum.
Soon after the People’s Congress approves the bill, the signature campaign will begin at the Cebu City Plaza Independencia, through nine campaign stations set up for Cebu’s nine congressional districts. On August 25 similar signature campaign stations will be set up along Roxas Boulevard in Manila, when last year’s One Million People’s March against the pork barrel is commemorated at the Luneta.
A daunting task? Yes, but the organizers are optimistic that the initiative, endorsed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, will gain popular support.
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Published in The Philippine Star
August 23, 2014