“Any big effort would not succeed if we would not do things as small as affixing our signatures. All big things have small beginnings.”- Bong Almonte, signatory to the People’s Initiative Against Pork
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Every time Sixta Ebio, 60, watches the news, she said she could feel her blood boiling with rage as public funds reportedly end up in the pockets of few individuals when it should have been spent on basic social services long denied to the poor.
“Of course, I am angry. I am very infuriated every time I see Napoles on TV. The money involved is just too big to be ignored,” Ebio told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
But for her, the days of merely being enraged while watching news on television is over. Ebio said she took her anger out on the streets. Along with her neighbors, she signed the People’s Initiative against the pork barrel.
Blue tents were set up around Quirino Grandstand yesterday, Aug. 25, for the Stand Up Sign Up protest against the pork barrel. The People’s Initiative Against Pork aims to gather some six million signatures to enact a law through referendum that would abolish all forms of lump sum government spending.
Republic Act No. 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act recognizes 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 of the said law.
The signatures of at least 10 percent of registered voters, of which all legislative districts should be represented by at least three percent of the voters, are required as stipulated in the law.
Some 10,000 signatures were reportedly gathered from the Luneta rally on Aug. 25. Organizers said they would next bring the initiative to the villages and parishes “where the people are.”
“Any big effort would not succeed if we would not do things as small as affixing our signatures. All big things have small beginnings,” Bong Almonte, one of those who signed the people’s initiative, said.
Holding a HolDAP pin he bought from one of the stalls in Luneta, Almonte said his signature and all the rest who are willing to do the same “sends a message that we want to hold our leaders accountable.”
Nothing has changed
Edna Flores, 44, and colleague Ethel Sayson, 46, said they both decided to return to Luneta, a year since the Million People March, as they saw no concrete measures from the Aquino administration to address the issue of the pork barrel.
“We have a hard-headed president,” Flores quipped.
Flores said she was not a registered voter but back in 2010, she endured the long queue at the Commission on Election to register. She said she really thought that Aquino, then candidate for president, would push for the genuine change she was hoping to see for the country.
“But I regret it now,” she said, “He should have just turned into an actor like his sister.”
Sayson said the government, on top of the corruption issues it is facing, failed to deliver the much-needed services for the Filipino people. It has pushed for privatization of government facilities and the conditional cash transfer, which, she added, did not help the people at all.
She also finds it unacceptable that an agricultural country like the Philippines is now one of the biggest rice importers in the world.
Apart from signing the people’s initiative, both also expressed disgust over the recent pronouncements of Aquino hinting at charter change to clip the powers of the Supreme Court and to allow him to run for a second term.
Flores asked Aquino whose “voices” was he hearing when he heard the supposed clamor for his second term. “From the demons?” she asked.
Do not turn a blind eye
For the likes of Albin Ferreras, 57, he said he would register as voter before the Commission on Election so he could affix his signature in the next sign-up event that would be conducted by the organizers.
Ferreras said he does not have problems paying the right amount of tax for as long as it would be returned to the people in the form of services.
“Maybe there is truth in the claim that the country’s economy is improving. But it is only for the rich. If you look around you, the poor are getting poorer especially in light of the increasing prices of staple goods such as rice,” he said.
Though he considers himself relatively well off, Ferreras, a businessman, said he could not turn a blind eye to the sufferings of the people around him.
“I have been to the Malacañang Palace before. And I would always refer to it as the ‘house of evil.’ They are feasting there while outside many Filipinos do not have anything to eat,” he added.
Sayson, for her part, said that while she is considered as part of the middle class, “we find life getting harder. How much more for those who are receiving less?”
DAP still present
The Aquino government has repeatedly claimed that the pork barrel no longer exists but those who signed the petition believe otherwise. Such claim, Almonte said, “is mere propaganda” meant only to divert the issue.
“They did not remove it. They just did not put a label on it but we know that it is there,” Flores said.
Lawyer Rosario Reyes said she is against all forms of pork, most especially the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which has “allowed the one person and those who surround him lone control of public funds.”
Dog lovers such as Leo (not his real name), 50,said it is about time that lawmakers listen to “man’s best friend.” He arrived at Luneta with his two dogs, a toy poodle and a shih tzu, who were both sporting placards calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system.
More info campaign
Albert Umali, 38, noted that there seems to be a decrease in the number of protesters who arrived compared to last year’s Million People March. “But I am still here,” he said.
Almonte said that while not everyone is informed that there is an ongoing signature campaign or what its content is, “I believe it would snowball. The church people and the academe have committed to do their share in disseminating information. They have high moral grounds to teach.”
Social media, too, he added, would “help ventilate the issues. The youth and the religious sector would play a big role here.”
Rosario said nothing is impossible if the people are united.
“A lot of people would criticize this. But I expect they would soon realize that we have to start somewhere and hope that it would have a domino effect,” Isabelita Asistido, 46, said.
Sr. Rosalie Diaz OP said, “We have to stand up and show that they are wrong. This would have a big impact as Filipinos are now going out of their way to support the people’s initiative and demand for genuine change.”