Thousands of students and members of religious and civic groups demanding an end to all types of pork barrel will converge today at Manila’s Rizal Park (Luneta) to show their opposition to the attempt of the Aquino administration to continue implementing programs under the Development Acceleration Program (DAP). The program was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court lat month.
Today’s anti-pork rally is expected to be bigger than last year’s because the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines have thrown their support behind the gathering.
Several groups will convene at Luneta for the “Stand Up! Sign Up!: The People’s Initiative against Pork Barrel.” Organizers are aiming to gather six million signatures that they hope will lead to the holding of a People’s Initiative, one of three modes allowed by the Constitution to effect a law.
The CBCP said it supports “all measures our citizens take, provided these are moral, peaceful and lawful, aimed at curbing corruption and the irresponsible use of public funds.”
In a statement, CBCP President Socrates Villegas said the people are justified in taking matters into their own hands to stop the illegal use of state funds.
“Rightly appalled by what they take to be the unjust use of public funds through the pork barrel system, some citizens have taken the step the Constitution allows of legislating anti-pork barrel measures through People’s Initiative,” the CBCP statement said.
“Since it seems that despite the widespread perception that pork barrel funds have occasioned unconscionable irresponsibility on the part of those who had access to them and a definitive ruling by the Supreme Court that such funds are unconstitutional, we have been informed of attempts to perpetuate the system through the appropriation of lump sums in the national budget under various pretexts. We therefore fully endorse the People’s Initiative aimed at legislating the proscription of funds made available to officials and subject to their discretion alone. We likewise look with displeasure at the practice of classifying as ‘intelligence funds’ — and therefore beyond the scope of audit and accountability–sizeable amounts of public money,” it added.
“You cannot serve both God and money. We choose to serve God and we cannot countenance the idolization of money, especially when it takes the form of unfettered access to the money of the people,” Villegas said.
Also joining the rally is the Scrap Pork Network, whose signature-gathering campaign kicked off in Cebu City on Saturday.
Scrap Pork Network leader Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña said the group hopes to gather the six million signatures by December or the first two months of 2015.
Bretaña added that they will go around the country to convince Filipinos to participate in the People’s Initiative.
Meanwhile, militant groups will also troop to Luneta to express their opposition to all forms of DAP and pork barrel, which in the past had been abused by lawmakers, government officials and non-government organizations.
But Malacanang is not keen on supporting today’s rally against pork barrel.
In a radio interview, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the public is free to launch a People’s Initiative to abolish the pork barrel system in the government.
She, however, reminded the public that the “end goal” of this initiative will not be easy to achieve.
“We are guided by pertinent laws, [in the]Constitution, [in the decided cases of the Supreme Court on what the parameters of the People’s Initiative should be],” Valte said.
She noted that such initiative and the possible referendum that may follow will go through a long process.
“Even if you, if that [gathering of six million signatures]is achieved, it is the Commission on Elections that will have to check the validity of the signatures,” Valte said.
Under Republic Act 6735, a People’s Initiative needs the support of at least 10 percent of the total number of registered voters, and at least three percent of the registered voters in each congressional district.
The poll body will then have to verify the form and substance of such initiative.
Valte said Malacanang will not comment further until the results are in.
Public outrage has risen against the pork barrel system on account of the revelation that billions in lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel went to ghost projects of non-government organizations.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada were charged with plunder in connection with the pork scam, along with alleged pork barrel brains Janet Lim-Napoles.
Valte also noted that allocations for PDAF had been taken out from the 2015 budget.
She, however, said President Benigno Aquino 3rd had given instructions to make sure that the needs of those benefiting from PDAF, including scholars, are met.