GROUPS from a broad spectrum of Philippine society, including the Catholic Church, launched on Monday a people’s initiative to pass legislation that would outlaw the Aquino administration’s pork barrel system and strip an incumbent president of discretionary powers over lump sum allocations.
“The President, Congress and the Supreme Court have failed the people. It is time for the people to take matters into their own hands and abolish the pork barrel system themselves,” said the groups jointly calling themselves People’s Initiative against Pork Barrel.
“We have jointly come up with a proposed bill to abolish the presidential and congressional pork barrel; prohibit lump sum, discretionary appropriations; and penalize violators,” the group said in a joint statement that was read by Benedictine nun Mother Mary John Mananzan on Monday.
Aside from Mananzan, other convenors of the initiative are priest Ben Alforque, entertainer Mae Paner, physician Carol Araullo, Manny Lopez of ePirma, lawyers Rex Fernandez and Marc Canton, lawyer Alex Lacson and journalist Inday Espina-Varona, among others.
Mananzan said the groups aims to gather the signatures of some 5.4 million Filipinos demanding the complete and permanent abolition of the pork barrel system.
The proposed people’s initiative bill also aims to criminalize the use of pork barrel funds in any form and prohibit an incumbent president from impounding funds or realigning them after Congress already passed the General Appropriations Act.
Mananzan said the proposed bill will be presented for finalization in a People’s Congress that will be held in Cebu on August 23 and they hope to complete the required number of signatures by January 31, 2015.
The 5.4 million signatures represent 10 percent of the total voting population, or three percent per legislative district, as required by Republic Act 6735, or the people’s initiative law, according to Manny Lopez of E-Pirma.
“We are in the process of reaching out and forging unities with all forces, groups and individuals to build the broadest possible unity for this people’s initiative,” Mananzan said during a press conference at the Quezon City Sports Plaza on Monday.
Alforque of the Church People’s Alliance Against the Pork Barrel said priests and bishops from 96 archdioceses in the country will deliver sermons on Sundays to educate the public and campaign for the immediate scrapping of pork barrel.
A corner in every Church, parks, public markets and various public places will be put up for a signature campaign booth, Alforque said.
Retired Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop Oscar Cruz also expressed dismay that other administration politicians accused in the ten billion-peso “pork barrel scam” still walk free.
“I’m waiting that suspected party mates and cabinet members of President Aquino will also get arrested,” Cruz was quoted as saying in Filipino.
The former Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines head said Filipinos are more interested to know if Aquino will also have Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Technical Education chief Joel Villanueva, and other allied lawmakers detained.
But Araullo of the #AbolishPork Movement admitted that the initiative is also faced with great challenges.
Araullo said funding was one of the bigger ones because the printing of the proposed four-page bill up for referendum alone will already cost P5 million. But the group said they are confident of raising the needed funds from “faceless individuals” who are against the corrupted pork barrel system.
According to RA 6735, the petition must contain the text of the proposed measure, the proposition, the reasons for the creation of the proposed measure, the signatures of the petitioners or registered voters, and an abstract or summary written or printed at the top of every page of the petition.
After the Comelec verifies the signatures and determines the sufficiency of the petition, the poll body is required to publish the petition in newspapers with major circulation within 30 days after its receipt.
The Comelec will also set the date of the referendum which shall not be earlier than 45 days but not later than 90 days from the determination by the Comelec of the sufficiency of the petition.
A special registration must also be set at least three weeks before the referendum. If the voters approved the proposition, the proposed measure will be enacted into law 15 days after its publication.
Mae Paner, also known as Juana Change of the #ScrapPork Network, said the initiative will give the “faceless” the chance to participate in law-making.
“The weapon is a ballpen, if you will accompany that with your signature, we can make a law. How so rock star is that?” Paner said.
Colmenares, the congressional representative of Bayan Muna, said the initiative became necessary because the national budget still contains billions in lump sum funds at the disposal of the President despite the decision of the Supreme Court against the Priority Development Assistance Fund.
Colmenares said Congress has created a new mechanism for handing out pork to its members via a discreet referral and recommendation system even as it has kept intact the President’s gargantuan pork barrel funds, including the P132-billion Malampaya fund, the President’s Social Fund and the P449 billion Special Purpose Fund.
Former chief justice Reynato Puno was the first to call for a people’s initiative against pork barrel in October last year.
Puno, who heads the Moral Force Movement that was launched in 2009, said outraged citizens should convene a people’s congress to conduct a people’s initiative to abolish the PDAF and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which is being considered by the Supreme Court.
He said he believed there was now a need for citizen action since the lawmakers “have lost their moral authority” as guardians of the people’s money and the former chief justice asked leaders of the Million People March Movement to help in the effort.
“To maintain the momentum of the movement, its leaders should now focus on providing our people with a specific solution to the problem of our rotten pork barrel system by proposing a comprehensive law that will extirpate it or, at the very least, checkmate its misuse and abuse,” Puno said.
Puno last month rallied members of the Methodist churches in the Philippines to join the multitudes seeking justice against the perpetrators of the pork barrel scam.
Puno also drafted his own version of the measure and proposed to holed a people’s congress last January, but the plans apparently did not push through.
But the former jurist also said he expects the initiative to be attacked in the Supreme Court.
“If you have a defective [proposed] law, we stand in danger of having a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court. That will be the end of a people’s initiative, so we will consult with constitutional experts,” he said.
“There will be a lot of slippery slopes to manage. This is the first time we are using the people’s initiative to draft a national law. Many traps abound in the process of drafting the proposed law. Let us not fall into these traps by amateurism,” he added.
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