Anti-pork group back in Luneta for people's initiative

Posted at 08/24/14 9:23 PM

MANILA -- It was on National Heroes’ Day last year when thousands of Filipinos gathered in Rizal Park in Manila to join the so-called Million People March Against Pork Barrel.

A year later, the personalities behind that protest are going back in Luneta to take their advocacy a step higher.

“We expect thousands to turn up. No specific number but various groups have expressed support. The sign up is itself a form of protest since it highlights the failure of the Aquino government in abolishing the corrupt pork system," Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes said in a statement said, adding that there will be a main stage where a protest program will take place from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

Also to be discussed are the issue of charter change, the perceived attacks of President Benigno Aquino III on the judiciary and moves for term extension "as these are ways by which Aquino wants to evade accountability" for the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Reyes said.

It’s been quite a year for the anti-pork advocacy. In the months after the Million People March, the so-called pork barrel scam involving businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles unraveled further and led to the detention of three senators on plunder charges.

However, this came at a high price for the Aquino administration after one of the detained lawmakers, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, squealed on the DAP, which the critics of pork have come to define as a form of presidential pork barrel.

The DAP is sourced from savings realigned from the budget midyear without congressional authorization. It’s a mechanism which the Supreme court found to be in violation of the 1987 constitution. The executive, however, has justified DAP as necessary to fast-tracking project implementation, which has been slowed down by bureaucratic processes in project procurement.

On Monday, the advocates won’t just be demonstrating their sentiments. They will be massing up to exercise what has been enshrined in the constitution as a people’s initiative -- or direct legislation by the people at large instead of having Congress pass a law.

The 1987 constitution allows the public at large to legislate in theory by themselves so long as the proposed measure garners the signatures of a certain percentage of the total number of registered voters.

According to the declaration of unity of the organizers, “under the Philippine Constitution, the power to enact laws is no longer exclusively vested in Congress. The sovereign people can directly exercise the power to legislate under Republic Act No. 6735, which provides for a system of initiative and referendum. We aim to collect within a year the signatures of 10 per cent of registered voters—equivalent to about 6 million—and at least 3 per cent of the registered voters of every legislative district as required by law.”

And this is exactly what will happen on Monday, which will be a kickoff to a major signature campaign. The bill that will be passed around for signature seeks to abolish both the presidential and congressional pork barrel, "mandates line item budgeting, prohibits and criminalizes appropriation and use of lump sum discretionary funds, and penalizes violators with six years and one day to ten years imprisonment and disqualification from holding public office.”

It defines pork barrel as “a lump sum public fund with sole discretion given to the President, legislator or group of legislators, or any public officer. The exercise of discretion by public officers relates to the allocation, release or use of these public funds, the identification or selection of projects, implementors or beneficiaries, or any or a combination of or all of these.”

The following are the salient provisions:

Mandatory acts

· All proposed budgets shall contain only itemized or line-item appropriations, except in the case of disaster response, the contingency fund of up to 5% and intelligence/confidential funds of the National Security Council, the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Governments.

· Special funds like the Malampaya funds and other off-budget accounts shall be included in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) to be approved by Congress. The President Social Fund is abolished.

· 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.

Prohibited acts

The penalty of imprisonment of six years and one day to 10 years and perpetual disqualification from public office shall be imposed those who commit any of the following acts:

· Any national official (the President, his subordinate or member of Congress) who authorizes 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.

· 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.

The proposed bill also bars Congress from tampering with it.

“This act may only be repealed, modified or amended by a law that has been approved by the people under the system of initiative and referendum enshrined in the Constitution,” it said.

This is not the first time anyone has attempted a people’s initiative. There were people’s initiative movements also during the time of former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo to amend the constitution. It was PIRMA or People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action under Ramos and Sigaw ng Bayan under Arroyo.

PIRMA was torpedoed by the Supreme Court which ruled that it lacked an enabling law. Sigaw ng Bayan was also torpedoed by the court on the ground that it failed to comply with the requirements for a valid people’s initiative. The, court however, overturned the PIRMA ruling in its ruling on the Sigaw ng Bayan case -- by saying there was already an enabling law for a people’s iniative.

President Aquino, who was a senator during the Arroyo administration, had campaigned against constitutional reform at the time, for fear that it maybe used to extend her term in office.

NBut now that he is president, Aquino has expressed openness to amending the constitution to clip the powers of the court and even to allow himself to have another term in office.

His allies will be matching the people’s initiative with the launch of their own call for reform, the Koalisyon ng mga Mamamayan Para sa Reporma.

Many of these allies were against Arroyo’s charter change but now want Aquino to do exactly what they didn’t want her to do — stay in office a little longer.