The Filipino electorate has a chance to demonstrate its maturity through the proposal of retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno to abolish the controversial pork barrel through a People’s Initiative.
Through this mechanism provided for in the Constitution, voters can assert themselves against the shameless abuse of using public money for personal gain by politicians and their ilk.
Sadly though, Malacanang’s rejection of the People’s Initiative to scrap the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), derisively called pork barrel, shows it does not encourage the public’s participation in governance.
“A People’s Initiative presupposes that the Legislative and the Executive branches of government are unwilling to enact and implement laws that will prevent the misuse of public funds,” according to Presidential Communication Operations Office Secretary Herminio B. Coloma.
But how can we trust the present crop of lawmakers to make laws that will strip themselves of perks and privileges that they feasted on for years?
Didn’t they fool us already by promising to abolish the PDAF in the proposed 2014 budget program only to end up having the P25-billion or so amount spread out among agencies?
Coloma was engaging in double-speak when he said, “We share common ground with advocates of reform towards greater transparency and accountability in the use of public funds.”
Selective disclosure of fund disbursement and unclear explanations about the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) do not speak well of transparency and accountability.
The present Palace occupants can put the blame on the previous administration all they want for the budgeting mess that we are in, but they ought to show sincere efforts in reforming the system and the mechanism in distributing public money.
How the draft of the people’s initiative petition will shape up will be interesting. Its proponents must convince the public that they can craft better laws than Congress. If not, it will be yet another futile exercise of the People’s Initiative.
According to Puno, political interference will not be entertained in crafting the petition. Being consulted are accountants, auditors, lawyers and other professionals who understand the budget process.
UP Prof. Leonor Briones, leaders of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are likewise consulted on the initiative.
Puno believes that the pork barrel issue is easy to explain to the people in getting their support for the petition.
Calls to scrap the pork barrel funds came after it was discovered that the PDAF of legislators were used to finance ghost projects implemented by bogus non-government organizations. Charges had been filed against several legislators allegedly involved in the scam.
The retired chief justice, however, made clear that the law that will come out of the People’s Initiative petition should not be expected to solve the problems associated with the abuse of the pork barrel.
“We are expecting just modest gains. The changes won’t be too radical that there may be resistance by power-holders,” Puno said. “We just want People’s Initiative institutionalized. We will take one small battle after another until we win the war.”
Puno said however that the proposed petition should be comprehensive to tackle off-budget items such as proceeds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corp (Pagcor), and the Motor Vehicle Users’ Charge (MVUC) or road users’ tax that run into billions of pesos to be remitted to the general fund and allocated judiciously.
Keeping these monies off budget has diminished the power of Congress over the purse.
Once the People’s Initiative petition gets going, we can expect partisan politics to come into play to frustrate it. That presents an opportunity for the people to show that we can no longer allow abusive politicians to dictate on us.