Last Saturday, I was at the Mariners Hotel in Cebu City attending the People’s Congress on the People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel together with over a thousand other delegates. The historic convergence of church people from different faiths, artists, professionals, youth, students, workers, fisher folk and farmers is a reflection of the growing discontent at the inaction of the government on the pork barrel issue.
The movement that started around a year ago with the spontaneous expression of outrage of people in the Million People March against the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the Luneta took another step towards removing pork in the budget altogether.
Even after the succeeding Ayala rallies against the pork, the explosive anomalies of Janet Napoles and Benhur Luy and the jailing of some senators and their aides, the pork still remains in the budget as lump sums and is still entrenched in the wheeling and dealing of the executive with the legislators.
The executive has been unrepentant despite the Supreme Court’s decision declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional. The so-called presidential pork and the congressmen’s pork barrel remain disguised in the budgeting and disbursing by government offices and agencies. Congressman Antonio Tinio exposed the continuing informal practice of pork allocation in his revelation of statements by CHED Commissioner Patricia Licuanan at her meeting with legislators.
The People’s Congress agreed to exercise one of the most important powers granted to the people under the 1987 constitution–to use the option of a people’s initiative to pass or enact a law directly bypassing Congress. A draft bill was presented and approved in the meeting that “[removes the]presidential and congressional pork barrel, mandates line item budgeting, prohibits and criminalizes appropriation and use of lump sum discretionary funds, penalizes violators with six years and one day to ten years imprisonment and disqualification from holding public office.” A short rally and sign-up kick off at the Plaza Independencia capped the daylong event in Cebu City.
The move was supported by Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and was spearheaded by the Abolish Pork Movement, the Cebu Coalition Against the Pork Barrel System, the Church People’s Alliance Against the Pork Barrel, Empowered People’s Initiative and Reform Movement Alliance (ePIRMA), the Makabayan group, the Scrap Pork Network, and the Solidarity for Transformation Philippines.
The kick-off of the People’s Initiative started in Manila last Monday with a program at the Quirino Grandstand dubbed as Stand up, Sign Up Against All Pork. There were sign up stations for each municipality and nearby regions. The event was also attended by groups that were dissatisfied with the combative response of the government to the DAP issue as well as the proposed term extension of President Aquino.
Can the anti-pork movement gather enough numbers?
The people’s initiative law requires the verified signatures of ten (10) percent of registered voters in the last national elections so that the Commission on Elections will call a plebiscite to pass the proposed bill. On top of the ten percent, the proponents would also need the signatures of at least three (3) percent of all registered voters in EACH legislative district.
Ten percent of the voters in the recent elections (2013) number to around 5.2 million signatures. Since there are around 234 legislative districts in the country and these districts typically should be at least 250,000 in population. The largest legislative districts are in Quezon City and Manila. Three percent of 250,000 is only 7,500.
What about in areas that are controlled by the administration such as Batanes? For one, the People’s Initiative is independent of the local government and is a grassroots movement. We can use church events, schools, house-to-house campaigning as sign-up opportunities. These can also be opportunities to explain the pork barrel issue and its direct relationship to the lack of public services and livelihood in the country.
For Batanes in particular, despite the 133 million DAP funds for the province, have only around 10,480 registered voters. Three percent of them number to 315. Ten percent is 1,048. These are realizable numbers despite the influence that the DAP may have had on the population, the very same influence and “loyalty” that we want to remove using the people’s initiative against the pork barrel.
The numbers do not look daunting at all despite the dare of the Palace to those pushing the people’s initiative. The gain is much more than the passage of the anti-pork bill, the gain is in the nationwide mobilization of the people against a system that has been with us for so long. The gain is in the understanding of the people that it is in collective action that we can change things in our country.