Cebu groups to launch initiative vs pork
CEBU CITY, Philippines–A coalition of more than 70 organizations in Cebu is taking up the challenge of retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno for people to take the initiative to propose a law scrapping the pork barrel.
The Cebu Coalition Against the Pork Barrel System will launch a people’s initiative to push for a legislation to remove the pork barrel. The coalition had spearheaded in Cebu two anti-pork rallies, which were all supported by the Cebu Archdiocese.
Several Catholic bishops voiced their support for a people’s initiative to scrap the pork barrel, which they reiterated was the root of corruption and patronage politics in the country.
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo told reporters that he was in favor of Puno’s suggestion that Filipinos, particularly the One Million People March Movement, convene a People’s Congress to enact a law that will abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund.
But an alternative to the pork barrel system that will truly benefit the people must be presented as well, Lagdameo said.
“Yes, I am in favor of the [former] chief justice’s proposal. But it should include the alternative for the common good of the country,” said the prelate.
But the Commission on Elections described as “premature” the proposal to use a people’s initiative to enact a law that will abolish the pork barrel.
“It is premature in a sense that the Supreme Court s just hearing on the [constitutionality of the pork barrel]. Once it is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court what will the people’s initiative be for?” Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes said at a press briefing Wednesday.
Brillantes said the public should just wait for the high court to rule on the matter first.
In a news conference on Wednesday, lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr. said the Cebu Coalition Against the Pork Barrel System would gather 5.7 million signatures and at least 3.5 percent of the registered voters in legislative districts nationwide.
The number was more than what is required by the 1987 Constitution–10 percent of the 52 million registered voters in the country or about 5.2 million, and 3 percent of all registered voters in each legislative district.
Francisco said that to achieve the task, the coalition would enlist the help of the 86 dioceses all over the country. Each parish could help in the signature campaign and urge parishioners to support it.
The coalition was also counting on the help colleges and universities as well as employees of allied business groups and companies to collect the needed signatures.
To drum up support for the campaign, the group will hold information campaigns in schools, parishes, barangays, cities, towns and provinces.
Primers explaining the negative effects of the pork barrel system will also be distributed. These will also contain the alternatives to the current system.
On Nov. 9, the coalition would meet in Cebu City with representatives from the interfaith, academic, civil society and business sector to finalize the plans for the people’s initiative.
The group was also making a draft of its proposed law that would replace the pork barrel system.
The proposed law would prohibit any legislator from demanding an allocation from the General Appropriations Act or to make any insertions in the proposed national budget.
The President and departments would also be barred from making any expenditure, using or disposing of public funds that were not provided in or consistent with the GAA.
In addition, the President and the executive departments would not be allowed to give or provide any member of Congress any allocation in the GAA or to make any insertions.
But the group’s proposed legislation would not curtail the role of Congress to exercise its power of appropriation and oversight.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes also shared the same sentiment, saying that a people’s initiative was the solution for the country to do away with the PDAF, which has been immensely abused by government officials, since the Aquino administration has no intentions of abolishing it.
“Yes [to a people’s initiative] because President Aquino and the Congress are determined to keep it by many names,” said Bastes in a text message.
On Tuesday, Puno had urged leaders of the One Million People March Movement, which had launched various antipork barrel rallies, to lead a people’s initiative that will abolish the PDAF, stop the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and check the abuses of Congress in the exercise of its power over the purse.
President Aquino has rebuffed calls to scrap the newly created DAP, which allows the Department of Budget and Management to pool government savings and use them for other purposes.
“I think the pork barrel must be abolished by the law or by the Supreme Court [and] a people’s initiative is the last recourse,” said Malolos Bishops Jose Oliveros. “It has been the cause of corruption and patronage politics,” he stressed.
For his part, former Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said he agreed with the former chief justice that the present system of the pork barrel must go “because it is a source of corruption.”
It would be better to just use the initiative as an alternative once the high court rules that the pork barrel is legal, he said.
“If it’s constitutional then we have to come out with a law. If the congress does not want to come up with a law abolishing PDAF and DAP, it can be taken up in a PI,” the poll chief explained.
Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno earlier said that Filipinos were empowered to scrap the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Development Assistance Fund.
The high court on Tuesday started the oral arguments on the pork barrel following widespread indignation on allegations that P10 billion in the congressional pork barrel system went to bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and kickbacks to lawmakers in schemes hatched by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Under the law on people’s initiative, signatures of at least 10 percent of the total number of registered voters must be gathered.
The law also provides that every legislative district must be represented by at least 3 percent of the registered voters.
The Comelec is mandated by law to verify the signatures and hold a referendum for registered voters to choose to abolish the funds or not.
Brillantes said it may only take a month or two to verify the signatures, but the gathering of signatures might take time.