Various groups in the Philippines have joined forces to pass a law through a popular initiative that will abolish the corruption-tainted presidential and congressional pork barrel spending.
The People’s Initiative is a mechanism allowing for the enactment of a law outside of Congress through a nationwide signature campaign, in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and Republic Act No. 6735 or the “Initiative and Referendum Act.”
The campaigners said the initiative has become necessary since the pork barrel system continues to be a major source of corruption and political patronage.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the congressional pork known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund is unconstitutional. It also ruled that the substantial parts of the president's budget reform called the Disbursement Acceleration Program is another violation of the constitution.
But despite these rulings, many people were outraged to learn that pork funds were secretly distributed to agencies in the executive branch such as the Department of Health and Commission on Higher Education. In addition, the president's 2015 budget proposal retains billions of lump sums and non-itemized discretionary funds.
Anti-pork groups and activists cited these reasons in urging the people to take matters into their own hands and abolish the flawed budget system through a People’s Initiative.
If approved, the law proposed through People’s Initiative entitled “An Act Abolishing the Pork Barrel System” will prohibit pork barrel, which it defines as:
a lump sum public fund assigned by law, regulation or practice 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.
Those who authorize or partake in the use of pork barrel funds will be penalized with imprisonment of six to ten years and permanent disqualification from seeking public office.
The People’s Initiative would need the signature of 10 percent of the entire voting population – around 6 million signatures – and 3 percent of voters in each of the country’s 234 districts before a referendum on the bill can be organized by the Commission on Elections.
Over 1,000 people from all regions of the country gathered together in Cebu City on Aug. 23 for a People’s Congress that approved the People's Initiative draft.
The proposed law was then presented in a public rally, which attracted over 5,000 people at the Plaza Independencia, Cebu City on the afternoon of the same day.
This marked the beginning of the nationwide signature campaign, which the organizers vowed to bring to communities, schools, offices, and public spaces.
The campaign kicked off in the country’s national capital with a 30,000-strong rally and signature drive at Luneta Park on National Heroes Day on Aug. 25.
Former legislator Teddy Casiño called on all Filipinos to become “citizen lawmakers” through his blog:
Congress will never pass a law to abolish the evil pork barrel system and neither will the President propose it because they are the ones benefiting most from the political patronage and corruption that the system feeds. So if they won’t do it, YOU WILL!
That’s right. It’s not only congressmen and senators who can make laws. The Constitution provides for ordinary people like you and me to also propose and enact laws. This is called the people’s initiative. By signing up for the petition, you become a citizen lawmaker. Imagine that.
Phoebe Zoe Sanchez, a sociology professor from the University of the Philippines-Cebu, praised the united effort to fight pork corruption on Facebook:
My hair stood on my skin as I saw the hall packed-up with all delegates from the different Islands and organizations all over the country… It was quite an overwhelming event. The people, the church, the social movements are all one against the government and its sustained stubbornness to hold on and justify its wickedness.
Sarah Raymundo, another professor from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, wrote that the People’s Initiative is an exercise in “direct democracy”:
Relative to the any law passed through a constitutional commission or a constituent assembly, PI is more compelling as it operates on the principle of direct democracy, i.e. the people making laws for the people and not just representatives of the people making laws for the people. The former empowers the citizenry to say, “Let’s make laws that will be good for us.”The latter, as configured by representative democracy, entitles politicians to their undying claim: “We know what’s good for you.”
Labor rights advocate Carlos Maningat meanwhile pointed out the rough challenges that the campaign will face from the country’s ruling elites who will lose much from the abolition of pork.
Assuming that the People’s Initiative will be successful in ridding all forms of pork, will politicos still run for public office? …but of course the country’s elites will fight tooth and nail to retain the lifelines of graft and plunder in the bureaucracy. Without pork, politicians’ lives in our country would be very boring. They would have no money to splurge for their mansions and mistresses, and no “incentive” to keep patronage transactions well-oiled. It would be the end of Philippine politics, as we know it.
The People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel is led by eight major anti-corruption alliances, namely the Abolish Pork Movement, Cebu Coalition Against Pork Barrel, Church People’s Alliance Against the Pork Barrel, E-PIRMA, Solidarity, Scrap Pork Network, and Youth Act Now.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the national organization of lawyers in the Philippines, has declared full support for the People’s Initiative.
Updates on the People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel System can be found by checking the website or following the hashtags #abolishpork, #signupvspork, and #peoples initiative, or inquiring through the email piap dot congress dot org.