Around two weeks ago, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno called on leaders of the August 26 Million People March to “exercise for the first time the reserve power given to the sovereign people” to enact laws embodied in the Philippine Constitution and Republic Act 6735 or the “Initiative and Referendum Act.”
One of the first questions with regard to his proposal was the numbers needed to be mobilized in order to meet the requirements of RA 6735. A proposal should first be signed by 10 percent of all registered voters in the country and that at each legislative district at least three percent should have agreed to the proposal.
The first number is easy to calculate: standing at around 52 million voters, the people’s initiative should gather at least 5.2 million or more. The second requirement is a bit daunting since not all legislative districts are equal in size.
While it is in reality a tall order, the required numbers is not that large. If one looks at the size of clustered precincts from the national elections last May, the largest precinct would have roughly a thousand voters each. What is three percent of one thousand? Thirty.
The magic number for each precinct is thirty registered voters or more. If we go to each precinct in the country and gather more than 30 people to sign then we can ensure the minimum three percent for each legislative district. The actual numerical requirement is 100 voters per precinct to get the 10 percent but this slack can be taken up in other areas where the proponents would have more signatures.
It cannot be denied that the call to end the pork barrel system is popular and has caught the attention of the public. It has resulted in the slide of President Aquino’s popularity despite his “Teflon” mystique. The continuation of the controversial, and probably more massive, Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP) of his government made his pronouncement that the PDAF will be discontinued did not create semantic confusion in the public. The people knew that the whole patronage and power politics embodied in the pork barrel system still remain and has even been more concentrated in the Executive after the so-called abolition of the PDAF.
Former CJ Puno called the pork barrel system as “evil.” He also lamented how the pork barrel funds undermined the checks and balances that is supposed to be inherent in this republican system that we have. As it stands, the executive branch can withhold funding to legislators of different views or dictate the voting patterns of its recipients and thus dictate the making of laws. It has even been alleged that the DAP was used in influencing the vote in the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona.
With the pork barrel, elections have become a way to access funds and not to generate real leaders in government. Political dynasties have perpetuated through the pork barrel system and has made the electoral exercise more violent and more fraudulent. Worse, the pork barrel system has been copied all the way down to the local governments with some cities having a similar system that rivals the largesse in Congress.
In my hometown in Malolos, there were five candidates running for barangay chief in the recent barangay elections, an unprecedented situation for a small barangay as ours. Each of them have their own slates and some more independents throwing their hats in the ring.
What happens above seems to happen even at the most basic barangay units.
The pork barrel system has become the door at which the public has seen the extent of whole systemic problem of treating government as a business for class and personal gain. It must be done away with.
Yet even if the numerical requirements have been overcome for the People’s Initiative, Comelec must still verify the signatures. Only then will a referendum take place to finally put into law the proposal. The “people’s initiative” is thus not only an exercise of the constitutional powers granted to the people as an expression of the people’s will or sovereignty, it is also a massive opportunity to go to the grassroots to explain the issue.
That is the real power behind this people’s initiative. It offers a venue to explain the issue deeper and to transform the ferment against the pork barrel into political action. The odious system of political patronage and power that the pork barrel system has brought us would be shaken at their roots as informed discussions would now occur at places even beyond the reach of traditional media. Everyone taking a signature in this exercise of our people’s initiative should not just look for ink on paper but must leave a politicized public more knowledgeable and more intent on change in our wake.