PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Monday called on Filipinos to fight greedy and desperate members of the minority who want to disrupt the reforms initiated by his administration.
In his speech to mark National Heroes’ Day, Aquino said there are no more threats of invasion, war or Martial Law.
“But there are a few who are determined to bring back the old system of corruption and abuses,” he said.
“This is the fight that confronts us today: to remain vigilant against those who seek to sow doubt and lies; to stand firm and refuse to allow ourselves to be manipulated by those who only pretend at reform; to reject the crooked, and resolve to stay on the straight path,” the President added.
Aquino said fighting off “desperate” critics is one way of sustaining the legacy of the country’s heroes.
“Let us not waste the opportunity we have today. This is the only way that we can repay and honor the heroes who sacrificed much, so that our country could arrive at its present state,” he said.
“This is indeed the time when all Filipinos decided, as one people, to become heroes,” Aquino added. Aquino, whose satisfaction and approval ratings have plunged to record lows, did not minced words in lashing back at his critics, whom he dismissed in his State of the Nation Address as a minority “living in their own world.”
Aquino marked national Heroes’ Day with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City, accompanied by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces chief General Pio Catapang.
In his speech, he said heroes were ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations who still chose to dow what is right.
He said Filipinos today could be heroes too by fighting for social reforms.
On the same day as a massive anti-pork barrel rally in Luneta, pro-Aquino groups launched a coalition to support the President’s straight path policies.
The launch of the Koalisyon ng Mamayan Para sa Reporma (KOMPRe) was held at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“KOMPRe is a national gathering of organizations and individuals from different faiths, generations and walks of life. We have, through the years, fought against the dictatorship and corrupt governments and practices. We will continue to fight for the reforms under the Aquino administration. The Tuwid na Daan must continue beyond 2016,” the coalition’s unity statement read.
Karina David, former Civil Service Commission chairperson, one of the group’s conveners, said their conference, planned some time ago, was held not to deliberately counter the protest rally held by the anti-pork barrel fund advocates.
“But as the enemies of reform gather their forces to tear down all that has been accomplished, we can no longer remain quiet. We will be labelled as government hacks, as the lackeys of PNoy. But no amount of name calling will deter us from standing up for reform,” David told reporters.
The enemies were detractors of the President’s programs, such as the conditional cash transfer of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the grassroots participatory budget process of the Department of Interior and Local Government, she said.
“If they (critics) are not anti-reforms, then what is it they’ve done to get more reforms instituted?” she asked.
Leah Navarro of the Black and White Movement also joined the coalition, saying this was one way to help ensure that there would be continuity of the President’s programs and reforms.
A former secretary of the Tourism Department, Alberto Lim, said KOMPRe will see to it that the reforms under the Aquino administration are pursued during the President’s two remaining years.
“Implementation is the key in the next two years. We’re here for the long haul,” he said.
David said KOMPRe has not yet discussed the possibility of a second term for the President or Charter change, which would be required to achieve it.
“Our focus is on the reforms. Term extension (for the President) is not in any way a reform. That is a political issue. What is important is the reform that affects the people,” she added.
According to KOMPRe, reforms could only succeed and be sustained if the citizenry is engaged in the assessment, assistance and proposal of progressive policies and programs.
“KOMPRe believes that when such reforms are undermined and threatened by counter-reform forces, we must openly and pro-actively take a stand. We must educate and organize, mobilize and empower the people who stand to lose by any reversal to the reforms,” the unity statement read.
Under the present administration, the country has gained significant headway in institutionalizing and establishing mechanisms for promoting people’s participation, transparency and accountability in government, in promoting growth in the economy, in providing better access to education and health-care, and in providing the poorest Filipino people the chance to uplift their lives through the CCT and GPBP, KOMPRe said.
“We also moved forward in creating lasting peace in the country with new agreements with armed political and separatist groups including the Bangsamoro. While KOMPRe acknowledges these, we also recognize that much work remains to be done,” it added.
The coalition vowed to stay vigilant to make sure “that those who stole from the people, regardless of political affiliation, will be prosecuted and punished.”
“KOMPRe shall support leaders with unquestioned integrity and competence because reforms can only be sustained by upstanding appointed and elected public servants,” it said.
Also on Monday, the Palace acknowledged that there wre still lump sums in the budget but said these could not be considered a form of pork barrel.
“You cannot avoid having lump sums in any budget under any jurisdiction. For example, there are strictly lump sum funds, like Calamity Fund or Contingency Fund, which cannot be disaggregated
because their use and release depend on unforeseen events happening in the future, like calamities or wars,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.
“On the other hand, certain lump sum funds are disaggregated and strictly speaking are not lump sums, like the Pension and Gratuity Fund. The latter, for example, has a list of personnel retiring in
every agency or office of the government during the budget year for which you need to set aside funds to pay for their retirement.”
“Some agencies carry small lump sums for repair of schools or health centers or for scholars that still need to qualify or patients that may seek medical assistance,” Abad added.
The Budget chief said based on the Supreme Court ruling declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund as unconstitutional, pork barrel was defined as “lump sums that require post-enactment intervention of legislators during budget execution.”
Malacañang also rejected the call of Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares for the President to sign the anti-pork barrel people’s initiative bill to prove that he is really against the misuse of public funds under the 2015 budget.
“Neri had the opportunity to look into the proposed 2015 budget. Secretary Abad already categorically answered his queries during the hearings before the House. The answers were obviously not in agreement with his agenda,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
“Secretary Abad has repeatedly explained the budget and the reform principles behind it. There is a fundamental difference in their definition of pork barrel, and the Supreme Court already ruled on it,” Lacierda added.
Under the people’s initiative bill, all appropriations must be line-item appropriations, except in the case of disaster response; the contingency fund of up to 5 percent of the budget; and intelligence and confidential funds of the National Security Council, the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Government.
The proposed measure also seeks to abolish the President’s Social Fund and requires that special funds such as the Malampaya Funds and other off-budget accounts 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 will revert to or remain in the General Fund and will be subject to Congress appropriation.
The people’s bill also penalizes violators with a prison term of six to 10 years as well as perpetual disqualification from public office for government officials who violated the anti-pork law.
To succeed, the people’s initiative must gather at least 5.4 million signatures that must be verified by the Commission on Elections.
The Comelec said Monday the numerous requirements could frustrate the effort, however, and that the government would need at least P7 billion to finance the holding of a plebiscite.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes also said it would take time to verify 5.4 million signatures.
“We don’t have the money yet and it is only Congress that could give us what we want and this would require more time,” he said.
During the Ramos and Arroyo administrations, attempts to launch a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution failed. With Rio N. Araja, Jules Lyndon Cajipo and Vito Barcelo
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