• Senators divided over people’s initiative proposal

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    LAWMAKERS are divided over the proposal of former chief justice Renato Puno to conduct a people initiative to abolish the high controversial pork barrel system but expressed support on the calls to get rid of the lump-sum appropriation.

    Senator Miriam Santiago said that while the suggestion of Puno is provided in the constitution, such undertaking is “not feasible” to implement considering the high number of signatures required in order to have the law prohibiting the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) passed.

    Santiago, a constitutional law expert, explained that under the law on people’s initiative, people can directly propose and then enact a law only after the registration of a petition which must contain at least 10% of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3% of the registered voters.

    Based on the commission on elections’ (COMELEC) there were 50,896,164 registered voters as off 2010 this means the petition must be signed by at least 5,089,616 voters.

    “That is an idealistic and constitutional proposal.  However, I am afraid it will not be feasible, because the number of signatures required on a petition is too high and can be subverted by vote-buying, to convince voters to stay away,” Santiago pointed out.

    She also noted that it would be too expensive to conduct information and education campaign for voters in order for them to understand the meaning and context of an anti-pork barrel law under the system of initiative and referendum.

    Instead, Santiago is pushing for the enactment of the budget control and impoundment act, as better alternative to the people’s initiative.

    The budget control act, which was originally proposed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, when he was a senator, will prevent the chief executive from spending government funds the way he wants and at the same time preserve the congressional power of the purse.

    Under the proposes measure once Congress authorizes appropriations, and the executive department does not intend to spend the budget items for which it is authorized, the President has to go back to Congress with a request to impound the appropriations.

    “The President should not make a habit of requesting large budgets for some departments and then, in the middle of the year, juggle the funds, repackage it as DAP, and spend it the way he wants,” Santiago said, adding.

    She added that if congress and the executive are really sincere about budget reforms, they should prioritize a Budget Control and Impoundment Act.

    Senator Francis Escudero for his part said the while he agrees with Puno’s stand against pork barrel he maintained that congress should be the one, by law, that should abolish it or, at the very least, establish strict guidelines on use and transparency.

    “I admit that there have been abuses committed by some lawmakers and because of this, I agree with call to abolish the pork barrel in order to regain the people’s trust in our institutions,” he added.

    But Escudero noted that he is also open to initiative outside congress adding that it won’t hurt to approach the pork barrel issue through two different avenues.

    Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th, also believe that the abolition of the pork barel system and other discretionary funds can be done within the walls of the senate and the numbers of lawmakers that are for the abolition continues to grow.

    Minority Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito on the other hand views Puno’s proposal as an effective way to abolish pork considering that Malacanang and its allies in congress are for its retention.

    He explained that it the abolition of pork will be left to congress there is a possibility that it will not prosper because Malacañang, which refuse to give up its own pork, can easily order its allies in congress to junk the proposal.

    Likewise, Ejercito said that aside from the congressional pork, the planned people’s initiative should also include the abolition of the president’s own pork barrel and other lump-sum appropriations.

    Ejercito pointed out that the president and his lawmakers will not allow his pork barrel and other off-budget items, under his discretion, taken away because they know it is the same funds use to support allied legislators and local government units (LGUs).

    Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara backs Puno’s people’s initiative proposal saying that the undertaking may be a viable option given the uproar about the pork barrel misuse.

    “But the proponents must unite and come up with an attractive proposition or amendment to get the necessary numbers to enact a law,” he added. JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA

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