At the height of the controversy over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Palace propagandists and Aquino defenders often lamented why the national debate had completely shifted to the DAP, with President Aquino at the center of the cross-fire. Why oh why, they wailed, can’t we get back to discussing the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel and the millions looted by members of the opposition?
After yesterday’s truncated People’s Initiative rally at Rizal Park, I suspect the factotums probably high-fived themselves and sent reassuring texts to the President.
For an event that was supposed to bring out public indignation over the massive looting of the public treasury, the rally was surprisingly sedated. Not a single angry word or statement was spoken by rally leaders during the coverage provided by the major networks. Peachy Bretaña of the Scrap Pork Network set the tone when she declared that the rally was not against the Aquino administration. (She did the same in last year’s underwhelming million-people march).
Those who like myself were bracing for a head-to-head confrontation between the forces behind the People’s Initiative and the forces of the administration must have been sorely disappointed by the lack of fireworks.
The thing was painted in exciting colors during the runup to August 25.
At one end, we were told that groups, led by no less than the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the Catholic Education Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and leading leftwing organizations, would converge at the park for the rally and lead the way in signing up for the initiative.
Strong CBCP Statement
The CBCP raised public expectations with a strong public statement over the weekend. It signaled that the church would be at the forefront of the drive. As the date nears for the visit of Pope Francis in January, the Catholic role could be decisive for the initiative.
The CBCP spoke for all of us when it said that 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.”
CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas declared that 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.
No words could be clearer in stating the bishops’ stand.
“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.
Kompre: Government’s counterpunch
At the other end, the administration mobilized its so-called yellow army by quickly forming the Koalisyon ng Mamamayan para sa Reporma (Kompre). Kompre staged yesterday its organization drive at the Ateneo de Manila University (why is my alma mater, where I was incidentally much, much better than a C student, perennially surfacing these days as a refuge for the government’s discredited initiatives?).
Kompre, said the pre-publicity, is designed to counter public outrage against the government. Karina Constantino-David, one of the convenors, said the coalition wants to ensure that positive gains under the Aquino administration are continued beyond 2016.
David stressed that the public should have a balanced view of the Aquino administration and not let one scandal erase its achievements over the past four years.
Aquino warns of fake reformists
To insure that he was not left out of the day’s news, President Aquino weighed in with a National Heroes’ Day speech that denounced “fake reformists” and all those who are opposed to his reforms.
Aquino urged the public to be vigilant against those casting doubt on his presidency. He warned that “greedy” people are determined to bring back a system of corruption in government.
Fake reformists? What about his reforms? What are they? Media has long been urging the Palace to list these reforms, but to date, no response.
Aquino issued his call at the same time that citizens started signing the “people’s initiative” against all forms of discretionary spending like the DAP and the PDAF, which have both been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC). The goal is six million signatures by December.
In response to the initiative, Palace spokesmen maintained the official line that the PDAF has already been abolished, and that the proposed 2015 budget contains no pork.
But administration critics quickly riposted that more than P500 billion in lump sum funds are still included in the 2015 budget for various line items.
The cat was let out of the bag when the administration sent top cabinet officials to the Lower House to assure representatives that they will still have their pork in key departments, like the Department of Education and the Department of Health.
Two simultaneous counts
At the end of yesterday’s activities, it was impossible to calculate on TV how big was the show at Rizal park, or whether the needle moved for the people’s initiative.
Let’s look at the national situation this way. We’re looking here at two simultaneous counts:
The countdown to President Aquino’s final day in the Presidency. As of today, he has exactly 674 days left in office.
The countup to the target of six-million signatures that has been set for the People’s initiative.
Both counts will be eagerly watched by the public, giving hope as the days dwindle for the Aquino government, and raising expectations as the six-million mark is approached.
I think the organizers of the People’s initiative should do an official count on social media, which the public can regularly consult.
It will drive interest in the signature campaign, encouraging those who have not yet signed up.
The Scrap Pork Network plans to go around the country to convince Filipinos to participate in the People’s Initiative.
No doubt, the Left will likewise deliver, as it usually does.
It would be an impressive achievement, worthy of the only Catholic country in Asia, if in January when Pope Francis touches down on Philippine soil, we the people can tell him ourselves that six million of us have signed up for an initiative to recover control of our money and our government.