CEBU CITY—Insisting that they will not be diverted from key national issues, multi-denominational religious leaders linked arms here on Saturday and kicked off the first people’s initiative campaign to pass a law that would abolish the much-maligned pork barrel system.
“You cannot serve both God and money,” said Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
“We choose to serve God and we cannot countenance the idolization of money, especially when it takes the form of unfettered access to the money of the people,” Villegas said, reading from an official CBCP statement endorsing the people’s initiative campaign.
Around 800 civil society leaders convened themselves as a People’s Congress at the Mariner’s Court Hotel here Saturday morning to approve the four-page final draft of the measure that they hope to pass into law.
Under the people’s intiative bill, all appropriations must be line-item appropriations, except in the case of disaster response, the contingency fund of up to 5% and intelligence and confidential funds of the National Security Council, the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Governments.
The people’s anti-pork bill also abolishes the Presidential Social Fund and requires that special funds, like the Malampaya Funds and other off-budget accounts, shall be included in the National Expenditure Program to be approved by Congress.
All unspent, unobligated and unreleased funds by the end of the fiscal year shall revert to or remain in the General Fund and shall be subject to Congress appropriation, the bill added.
The people’s bill also provides penalizes violators from six to 10 years in prison plus perpetual disqualification from public office for government officials who violated the anti-pork law.
The bill prohibits any national official (the President, his subordinate or member of Congress) from authorizing the spending of public money that is not covered by or is in violation of any appropriation law.
• Any national official who includes a lump sum amount in any budget proposal submitted to Congress, or any member of Congress who approves the inclusion of lump sum discretionary fund in the general or supplemental appropriations acts shall also be liable.
• Any member of Congress or his agent who directly or indirectly intervenes or participates in the implementation of any appropriation law through any post-enactment act or practice.
• Any national official who declares and utilize savings in circumvention or violation of Article VI Section 25 (5) of the Constitution and this Act.
• Any national official who withdraws unobligated funds and declares and utilize as savings said unobligated funds before the end of the fiscal year.
• Any national official who impounds any appropriation or portion thereof unless there is an official declaration by the President of an unmanageable National Government budget deficit.
• Any person, including a private individual, who persuades or cooperates with any national official in violating this Act.
Hours before the People’s Congress, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma issued a pastoral letter exhorting the laity and the parishes to get involved and sign up for the initiative.
“Let the signature drive begin. Let the laity speak more. Tama na, sobra na, undang (stop) na ang pork barrel,” Palma said.
He also justified the Catholic Church’s involvement: “This too is a very, very important work of the Church. This is our care,” said Palma, who lined up with ordinary people to sign the people’s initiative bill.
Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle also sent his own message of support for the people’s initiative.
It was the first time in Cebu City for Catholic leaders linked arms with Muslim and Protestant leaders in kicking off a political campaign and more than 3,000 people gathered at the Plaza Independencia to start the drive to gather six million signatures.
“God will not change our situation unless the people themselves change the situation,” said Najeeb Mufti Razul, representing the Muslim communities.
Anol Mongaya, facilitator of the Cebu Coalition Against the Pork Barrel, expressed surprise at the groundswell of support from various organizations from the 14 regions attending the People’s Congress for the people’s initiative to abolish the pork barrel system.
Mae Paner, popularly known as Juana Change, and Monique Wilson led the song-and-dance closing ceremonies of the national people’s congress where the religious leaders sang and dance to the delight of the audience.
Businessman Marc Canton and civic leader Stella Palomo-Montero of the Movement for Livable Cebu said they aim to gather the signatures of at least 15 percent of registered voters in every district of the country, so that Comelec will be forced to call for a referendum ratifying the so-called people’s law abolishing the pork barrel system.
Canton said that there are 234 legislative districts in the country and they want to fast-track the signature campaign so that Comelec can call for a referendum within the next 90 days.
Other personalities at the congress and the Plaza Independencia were Fr. Ranhillo Aquino of San Beda College, IBP president Atty. Vic Joyos, Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, Inday Varona of the Scrap Pork Network, Fr. Ben Alforque of the Church PeopleÆs Alliance Against Pork, Msgr. Rommel Kintanar of the Cebu Coalition Agaist the Pork Barrel, Dr. Aemelita Dayrit-Go of the Council of the Laity of the Philippines, Iglesia Filipina Independiente Pastor Francis Nicolas, and Sister Mary John Mananzan.
Also spotted at the Plaza Independencia were former Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, Sanlakas leader Sonny Melencio, and incumbent Makabayan bloc congressmen Neri Colmenares and Antonio Tinio, and Peachy Bretania who initiated the Million People’s March.
A separate rally and signature drive will be held in Luneta on Monday, August 25, a year after the Million People March showed the public outrage against corruption brought about by the pork barrel scams.
Participants noted the pronounced number of Catholic priests, nuns and lay leaders and Villegas admitted that the members of the Catholic clergy and lay leaders were “at the forefront of these initiatives.”
“All measures our citizens take, provided these are moral, peaceful and lawful, aimed at curbing corruption and the irresponsible use of public funds have our full support,” Villegas said.
“We therefore fully endorse the people’s initiative aimed at legislating the proscription of funds made available to officials and subject to their discretion alone,” Villegas said.
“We likewise look with displeasure at the practice of classifying as æintelligence fundsÆ û and therefore beyond the scope of audit and accountability û sizable amounts of public money,” the CBCP head said.
Villegas said the Catholic bishops had thrown full backing for the signature drive after they had been informed of “attempts to perpetuate the system through the appropriation of lump sums in the national budget under various pretexts despite a definitive ruling by the Supreme Court that such funds are unconstitutional.”
“Now, Malacañang will be crazy to ignore or belittle people’s initiative,” said Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus, who, along with six other members of the Makabayan bloc û fellow Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Isagani Carlos Zarate, Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon and ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio flew to Cebu to participate in the PeopleÆs Congress.
The People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel would go house-to-house, campus tours and market day to gather six million signatures required for the referendum.
Parishes nationwide would also set up signature booths to collect the signatures before and after the masses.
The delegates also collectively recited a “declaration of unity” and solemnly declared their commitment to end the pork barrel system and exact accountability “for the plunder of the people’s money.”
“More than a year since the exposure of the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund scam, and despite the Supreme Court rulings on the PDAF and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the pork barrel system remains intact in the national budget and entrenched in the political system,” the delegates declared, led by Mother Mary John Mananzan of the People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel.
“Only select members of the opposition and their alleged cohorts are being prosecuted for pork-related crimes,” they stressed.
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