Anti-pork crusader Greco Belgica makes bid for the Senate
In the 2013 national elections, then 35-year-old Greco Belgica pursued a bid for the Philippine Senate armed with youth, optimism and an ambitious goal of crushing corruption in government. With seasoned politicos also in the running, he knew his candidacy was an uphill climb. Nevertheless, he saw the difficult endeavor through because he believed his cause was worth the fight.
And though he lost, the “statesman”—as he wishes to be called—did not dwell on disappointment. And more importantly, neither did he let go of his determination to push for true reforms in the country even without the power of an elected position in government.
How did he do so? By placing his trust in the judiciary of the Philippines as a petitioner to the Supreme Court for the abolition of the Pork Barrel System.
And six months after losing in the senatorial elections, Belgica won his fight against the so-called “pork” as the highest court in the land ruled the use of government funds for arbitrary projects by legislators “unconstitutional” in November 2013.
Fast forward to 2016, Belgica, who had won an important first step in his battle for government reforms returns in the electoral scene and makes a bid for the Senate anew.
“I believe there is more to be done in wiping out corruption in our country, and like I did before, it is worth the fight for the future of our nation,” he explained.
In this exclusive interview with The Sunday Times Magazine, get to know more about this young statesman who will stop at nothing in achieving his dream of a reformed Philippines.
Fight vs. pork continues
Among Belgica’s many reasons for running for a Senate seat anew is his discontent over the implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Pork Barrel System.
He explained that while the High Court scrapped the use of pork in the legislative and executive branches of government (GR No. 208566) it is only the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that was affected.
He explained, “Under the Belgica Ruling, what the court declared ‘unconstitutional’ was the Pork Barrel System, one of them being PDAF for Congress, and the other, the executive budget for the President. The greater part of the Pork Barrel System is really the presidential budget, which is still being used.”
He lamented that even his proposed itemized budget system, which was also stipulated in the Supreme Court decision, is not being utilized.
“An itemized budget system removes the ‘discretionary’ characteristic of funds because government officials must clearly state which item or project the money goes to,” Belgica elaborated. “For example, it should be reported that X amount of money went to a five-storey building on a 1-hectare lot.”
Moreover, another directive of the Supreme Court was to make liable everyone who abused the pork barrel system since its creation in 1991. As the public knows, only three senators have been investigated and detained since. One of them even is already out on bail.
With this, Belgica felt the need to bring his fight against the root of corruption to “a stronger and higher ground,” which he believes is the Senate.
“I have proven my case, yes, but if I can take it to the Senate, I will be able to fight inside the system rather than just from the outside, which as you can see, doesn’t really get the job done,” he pointed out. “This may be the only time to pursue the landmark decision and what we have accomplished through the Supreme Court, and that is why I’m running the second time around.”
Besides his advocacy for a pork-free Philippine government, Belgica, who was previously a sixth district councilor of Manila City, also shared with The Sunday Times Magazine the rest of his platform as a candidate to the Senate.
On top of his list is tax reform, which is a very timely subject today when tax collection has become a burden to the Philippine workforce.
“We really have to lower and simplify taxes with the 10-percent flat rate tax system,” Belgica declare. Currently, income taxes for individuals range from five to 32 percent, while corporations are taxed 30 percent of their revenues.
With his proposed tax collection, Belgica believes that Filipinos will be encouraged to pay taxes as their take home pay increases. On the other hand, big corporations will be compelled to give their rightful share of tariffs thus boosting the economy.
“Lalaki ang koleksyon dahil magbabayad ang lahat ng tamang buwis [Tax collection will increase because everyone will pay the right taxes],” he determined.
He pointed out that this tax system follows the model of highly developed nations like China and Russia.
Next on Belgica’s platform is rightfully returning to the Filipino people their natural resources. He elaborated, “If I win, I will propose a non-confiscatory land and water resources bill, which means that the open public lands owned by the government will be returned to Filipino families for them to utilize for their homes and farms.”
With this, he deems a two-pronged result in that the value of “planting, producing and harvesting” from the country’s natural resources will be passed on to the landowners’ children, thus re-establishing a strong agricultural industry in the country.
“Walang pinanganak sa ating mahirap dahil lahat ay may lupa at tubig. Isang buto lang ang itanim mo, maraming kapalit [No one was eve born poor in this country because everyone had land and water. A single seed planted will reap so much more],” he added.
Lastly, the senatorial aspirant will also “strictly implement all laws against heinous crimes and illegal drugs” if elected.
“We already have a law, Republic Act [RA] 9165 of 2002, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. If properly implemented, it will organize anti-drug abuse councils that will address the need for effective monitoring and clearing operations against drugs and illegal activities.”
For years, Belgica has been doing his part in raising public awareness on the Dangerous Drugs Act through his nongovernment organization, Yeshua Change Agents. Established in 2006, the NGO has been going around the country to train volunteers who can help local governments set up their own anti-drug abuse councils, all the way down to barangay anti-drugs boards.
“I believe that people, especially criminals, must feel the fear of the law again,” he declared. “To do this, we need to empower local governments through federalism.
Foundation in God
According to Belgica, his political agenda and proposed reforms are founded on solid ground—God.
For those who are unaware, besides his career in public service, Belgica is an elder at the Lord’s Vineyard Church of Manila who heeded a calling to serve the church.
Asked which among his two callings—to serve the church and the Filipino people—is stronger, he replied they both compel him to action, because they both equate to serving God.
“As Christians, we are also told to preach the gospel and teach people how to live according to the commandments of God. As men and women, we are taught to seek peace and prosperity of the city and the country you live in,” he expressed.
For Belgica, being God’s servant is what sets him apart from most politicians. He elaborated, “I don’t call myself a politician, I am a statesman. What the church teaches us is that a statesman is one who works to apply God’s law to the society.”
This will, according to the preacher, is what most politicians lack in their service to nation.
“Our nation needs men who have the courage to implement the law. But I cannot do this as a minister of church. But if I become senator, only then can I teach people to discipline our ranks, both officials and the people, and to obey the law.”
Belgica proudly added, “I am versed in Biblical Law and there is no law better than God’s law.”
His father’s story
Belgica learned the Christian way of life initially from his father, Pastor Grepor “Butch” Belgica, whose inspiring story was in fact adapted into a movie. To be sure, the 1995 true-to-life action title The Butch Belgica Story by director Toto Natividad rings a bell.
The older Belgica was once tagged as the country’s most notorious delinquent during the Marcos administration. At the age of 16, Butch was imprisoned for murder, and during his sentence in Muntinlupa’s penitentiary for 11 years, he became a gang leader.
It was when he was transferred to Palawan’s penal colony that Butch had a life changing experience, which led him to God. A Born Again Christian, he was eventually pardoned by the late President Ferdinand Marcos, and pursued pastoral work upon regaining his freedom.
“People can change,” the younger Belgica enthused.
In fact, his father’s story inspired him to produce a short film on his own with the aim of inspiring young Filipino delinquents to turn to the path of righteousness.
Belgica—whose educational background is comprised of a Marketing degree from San Beda College, and a post-graduate degree of International Trade and Commerce from the University of California, Berkeley Extension—now runs a prepaid load business to support his family.
“It’s not big but it is decent. What I earn, it’s for my wife and children,” he shared.
Before he entered public service and became a minister in his church, Belgica managed his father’s construction and real estate business as well.
He and his wife Nina are blessed with three children, Pia, 5, Don, 4, and King, the youngest who is only four months old.
Speaking as a young dad, he told The Sunday Times Magazine that his dreams for the Filipino people are his very dreams for his own brood.
“Everything I do, I do voluntarily and willingly, because I am also a father who wants to build a better and brighter future for our children,” he confided. “And I know there is hope for change—I believe we can all change if we find it in our hearts to aspire for a better country and a better future for the next generation.”