I wrote this for the Philippine Online Chronicles.
Various groups coming from different walks of life and political persuasions have all joined forces to pass a law that will abolish the corruption-tainted Presidential and Congressional pork barrel through a People’s Initiative.
The People’s Initiative is a mechanism allowing for the enactment of a law outside of Congress through a nationwide signature campaign in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and Republic Act No. 6735 or the “Initiative and Referendum Act.”
The People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel is being pushed by the country’s 8 major anti-corruption alliances, namely the Abolish Pork Movement, Cebu Coalition Against Pork Barrel, Church People’s Alliance Against Pork Barrel, E-PIRMA, Makabayan Bloc, Solidarity, Scrap Pork Network, and Youth Act Now.
Independence from corruption
These Anti-pork groups said the initiative has become necessary since the pork barrel system continues to be a major source of corruption and political patronage.
Over a thousand people representing the church, the academe, workers, peasants, professionals, youth, and other sectors from as far north in Tuguegarao to as far south in Zamboanga gathered together in Cebu City on August 23 for a People’s Congress that approved the People’s Initiative draft.
Held on the 118th anniversary of the Cry of Pugadlawin that signaled the start of the Filipino revolution against Spanish colonialism in 1896, the People’s Congress took the fight for independence from all forms of pork barrel and corruption to a higher level.
“Today we are saying, tama na yan, sobra na yan, tanggalin na ang pork barrel!” said Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma in an inspirational speech during the People’s Congress.
In spite of the Supreme Court rulings that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) are unconstitutional, many people are outraged that over billions of lump-sums and non-itemized discretionary funds are retained in the president’s proposed 2015 national budget.
Saying that the President and Congress will not give up the pork barrel as a major source of corruption and political patronage, anti-pork groups are urging the people to take matters into their own hands and abolish the flawed budget system through a People’s Initiative.
Criminalizing pork barrel
If approved, the law proposed through People’s Initiative entitled “An Act Abolishing the Pork Barrel System” will prohibit pork barrel which it defines as “a lump sum public fund assigned by law, regulation or practice with sole discretion given to the President, legislator or group of legislators, or any public officer.”
According to this definition, “the exercise of discretion by public officers relates to the allocation, release or use of these public funds, the identification or selection of projects, implementors or beneficiaries, or any or a combination of or all of these.”
Those who authorize or partake in the use of pork barrel funds will be penalized with imprisonment of six to ten years and permanent disqualification from seeking public office.
The People’s Initiative would need the signature of 10 percent of the entire voting population – around 6 million signatures – and 3 percent of voters in each of the country’s 234 districts before a referendum on the bill can be organized by the Commission on Elections.
In this referendum, a simple majority of 50 percent plus one voting in favor is enough to pass the law abolishing the pork barrel system in all forms.
According to Prof. Sarah Raymundo of the University of the Philippines Diliman, the People’s Initiative is a novel exercise in “direct democracy”: “the people making laws for the people and not just representatives of the people making laws for the people.”
“The former empowers the citizenry to say, ‘Let’s make laws that will be good for us.’ The latter, as configured by representative democracy, entitles politicians to their undying claim: ‘We know what’s good for you,’” she added.
In an unprecedented demonstration of unity from, the initiative has gathered together under its wings organizations and personages from across the political spectrum and religious affiliations.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has declared full support for the People’s Initiative with the message of CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas read during the People’s Congress.
Along with Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, and six other Catholic bishops also sent their personal messages for the event.
Amelita Go from the Catholic Church’s Council of Laity in the Philippines gave the keynote address. She encouraged lay people and ordinary Filipinos to take part in the historic undertaking. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines through its President Atty. Vic Joyas moreover declared full support for the campaign.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches also expressed their solidarity for the People’s Initiative.
Some of the personalities present in the event were Sr. Mary John Mananzan, ‘performance activist’ Mae Paner aka Juana Change, actress Monique Wilson, whistleblower Jun Lozada, #MillionPeopleMarch organizer Peachy Bretana, singer Bayang Barrios.
Also in full force were 6 party-list representatives from the Makabayan Bloc led by Bayan Muna reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate — who were the only elected legislators present in the People’s Congress.
Beginning of nationwide campaign
The nationwide signature campaign for the People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel began immediately with the proposed law presented by the People’s Congress delegates in a public rally which attracted over 5,000 people at the Plaza Independencia, Cebu City on the afternoon of the same day.
In the country’s national capital, the campaign kicked-off with a 20,000-strong rally and signature drive in Luneta Park on National Heroes Day last August 25. The organizers vowed to bring to communities, schools, offices, and other public spaces.
For sure, this will face many obstacles and opposition from the country’s ruling elites who have benefited from the pork barrel system of graft and corruption and political patronage and who will lose much from its abolition.
And yet anti-pork advocates are optimistic that the people will yet again make history and get the required numbers to finally put the nail to the pork barrel system.
In the words quoted from the Koran by Mufti Najeeb Razul in his message for the People’s Congress: “God will not change the condition of the people, not unless the people change it for themselves.”