People power vs pork starts
Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno has begun to marshal the resources and support of large civil society organizations to launch a campaign for a people’s initiative for passage of a new law that would abolish the corruption-tainted pork barrel and ensure the proper accounting of every peso that goes in and out of the state treasury.
Puno said it was vital for the country to get rid of the pork barrel—officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF—in all its forms, as he said it was “the worst violation of human rights” that has led to the “failure of democratic institutions and to a large degree destroyed our democracy, principle of separation of powers, and doctrine of checks and balances.”
“The PDAF is destroying our democracy. You look at how the money was spent. Congress does not act on the basis of law but based on its own interests,” said Puno in an interview at the Intramuros headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands (CCPI).
The CCPI is the oldest business chamber in the Philippines, dating back to 1886, and is one of the organizations that Puno is counting on to help in achieving the numbers needed to bring about a people’s initiative through which the Filipino people, by direct action and bypassing Congress, can enact the necessary law to abolish the hated pork barrel system.
Earlier this month, Puno, the country’s 22nd Chief Justice, issued a statement saying that a new law had to be put in place through a people’s initiative as Congress “cannot legislate against its own selfish interest” and that “legislators have lost the moral authority to be the guardians of the people’s money.”
According to Puno, the Filipino people have a “reserve power” to enact laws under Republic Act No. 6735, which provides for a system of initiative and referendum. Under this law, the people can directly propose and enact laws, he said.
“Under our 1987 Constitution, the power to enact laws is no longer exclusively vested in Congress but can now be directly exercised by the people in recognition of the doctrine that the people are the real sovereign and not their elected legislators,” he said.
Puno said the people should use this power “to make laws whenever their elected representatives default in the performance of their sacred duty to enact laws to promote the general interest, or worse, whenever they betray the public trust.”
To get a law passed through a people’s initiative, the proposed law should be endorsed by 10 percent of registered voters—equivalent to about 6 million—and at least 3 percent of the registered voters of every legislative district.
Puno said that after these numbers are secured, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will then publish the proposed law for public discussions. Then after about 45 days, the Comelec will hold a referendum where voters will be asked to vote either “yes” or “no” to the proposed law. A simple majority of the votes cast will be enough for the law to pass.
The real problem
Puno believes it would not be too difficult to get the 10 percent of registered voters to sign on to the proposed law to do away with the PDAF, as everyone is fed up with it.
What will be difficult, he said, would be to get the mandated 3 percent of the registered voters of all legislative districts, considering that many of these districts are tightly controlled by political dynasties, which would want to keep their hold on millions of pork barrel funds.
But the 73-year-old Puno said he was not daunted and was determined to see the people’s initiative through.
“It is important that this first attempt to enact a national law succeeds. It has never been done. If this succeeds, we can use it to enact a freedom of information (FOI) law and to extinguish the political dynasties. In effect, we will use the power granted to the people in the Constitution to enact changes,” he said.
“To me, this is a very crucial issue. The people are united (against the pork barrel). You’ll be hard put to find anyone who says he or she is in favor of the PDAF. The only problem really is that you are going against the politicians,” said Puno.
The CCPI has committed to host meetings where Puno will be holding forth on the people’s initiative. The chamber was once the depository of the Official Gazette of the laws that have been passed in the country.
CCPI president Jose Luis U. Yulo Jr. said the chamber will also help in getting signatories for proposals to pass laws that Congress refuses to pass, including laws abolishing the pork barrel and political dynasties, and the FOI bill.
Puno, who has also started talking to church-based organizations and lawyers’ groups, said other organizations need to join the people’s initiative campaign as opposition to it would be fierce.
“You need to organize. Your opposition are the traditional politicians, the vested interests, everyone who wants to preserve the stinking status quo, those are all your enemies,” he said in Filipino.
Puno said that under the proposed law, which he would like academics, auditing experts and economic experts to work on, more power should be given to the Commission on Audit (COA) to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and none goes to line the pockets of elected officials.
He explained that one major reason why politicians have been able to get away with using the pork barrel funds to enrich themselves was that not enough auditing was carried out.
“The examination is done only once a year. It should be done more often,” said Puno, who also proposed that the COA should have more people and that it should be given prosecutorial powers to cut through bureaucratic red tape.
Under the current system, COA findings are merely submitted to the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman and made the basis for the filing of cases.
People are angry
Puno admitted that the people’s initiative campaign would be an uphill climb and would be opposed by entrenched politicians. He is banking, however, on the people’s disgust with corruption to ensure its success.
“If the politicians oppose the people’s initiative campaign and they again use money, force and fraud, we don’t know what will happen next. This people’s initiative is the last safety valve for the people not to go to the streets,” he said.
“The country’s leaders will try to block it again. But they will come to regret this in the end. They had better think again because the people’s anger is overflowing,” Puno said.
First posted 12:25 am | Sunday, October 20th, 2013
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