Sectoral groups support people’s initiative vs ‘pork’ scheme

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Various sectors are coming together to mobilize electorates for signature campaign in a bid to scrap all forms of pork barrel.

MANILA, Nov. 17, 2013—Groups from different societal sectors unite to rally behind the move of former Chief Justice Reynato Puno for a People’s Initiative aiming to pass a law that would scrap all forms of pork barrel—including the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)—once signed by enough members of the Filipino electorate.

October Movement (OM), a newly-formed coalition of grassroots-based and multi-sectoral organizations in the country, rallied support from different societal sectors in preparing for the initiative, which will commence through a people’s congress set early next year. 

Fr. Nonong Fajardo, vice-chairman of the OM convening group, said that the “coalition of the willing” to be held in January will signal the start of their collation of signatures for the proposed law that calls for the scrapping of all forms of discretionary funds in the country’s coffers. 

“The process (that we would like to implement) is systemic change. When we say systemic change, we have to start through small means that would later on develop into something big, eventually creating an alternative system,” Fajardo said in an interview during the Unity Forum against Pork Barrel held at the Adamson University on Saturday. 

“We have to start small, learn from it, replicate, institutionalize and make it a system that will confront the present that is doing harm to the Filipinos,” he added.

Gathering signatures 

According to earlier reports, Puno said that the proposed law is still in the “process of perfection” wherein its drafters are still shaping the details of the petition that would call for the scrapping of the graft-tainted pork barrel scheme. 

The 1987 Philippine Constitution states that for the People’s Initiative to become successful, the signature of 10 percent of the total number of registered voters must be gathered nationwide. It adds that every legislative district must be represented by at least three percent of the registered voters. 

Noting the constitutional provisions to be met, Fajardo said that the campaign must gather at least 5.5 million signatures to comprise the 10 percent of the total number of registered voters approximately pegged at 55 million. 

He added that to meet the constitutional requirement of equal representation in every legislative district, the group is eyeing to make use of a database that would map out the entire country for stricter monitoring of signatures to be collected. 

“We will create a digital mapping of the Philippines. The data will be fed to all dioceses, parishes, and all other societal sectors. This could really be hard, but we have to penetrate it to this level of detail (because the law is strict about its requirements). Only one invalid signature might cause the entire initiative to fail,” Fajardo said in the vernacular. 

According to him, the collation of signatures will run from February until April next year. The group is eyeing to submit the petition while meeting all of the constitutional requirements by May. 

Chiding legislators 

Fajardo noted that denominations who have vowed to support the movement have notably increased, with various sectors such as the church, labor, business, military, academe, and many others joining the movement. 

“The effort has gained a lot of support from various groups. The only thing we have to finalize is the mechanism to be implemented. If the petition will gain enough support in the referendum, we will be the first in the world to initiate change through a People’s Initiative process,” he said. 

The Cebu Coalition against the Pork Barrel System, another coalition composed of various sectoral groups, also launched a signature campaign to support the People’s Initiative process in scrapping the pork barrel scheme. 

Fajardo also chided legislators who are expressing doubt over the capability of Filipinos to set off a People’s Initiative in calling for the abolition of the graft-tainted pork scheme. 

“It is saddening to realize that those officials whom we have voted into positions are the ones who do not believe in the capacity of the Filipino people. They have already segregated themselves from the people who have voted them,” Fajardo said. 

“They should not represent the Filipino people for it shows that they are sitting down in their offices for themselves and their families and not for the electorate. I hope that this time, they will see how these issues have gravely affected the country,” he added. 

Nothing to lose 

If ever the People’s Initiative process would fail to materialize, Fajardo said that Filipinos have nothing to lose because trying to mobilize an entire electorate toward a common cause is already a victory by itself. 

“I believe we have nothing to lose in this fight. If ever we fail in this initiative, we are still victorious for we are able to unite this mass movement together…It is a very good process because the process itself is the end,” he said, noting that mobilizing the people is the byproduct of the People’s Initiative process. 

Fajardo noted that the important thing for those pushing the People’s Initiative is for them to awaken the public and show those in authority that Filipinos are united in standing against government corruption. 

“CJ (former chief justice) Puno said before that even if we fail in this fight, we should still be proud for trying to mobilize millions of people who are united in pushing for a common cause. Who wouldn’t be afraid of such crowd size?” he said. 

“I believe in the capacity of the Filipinos to rise up. Rising up does not mean simply getting out of poverty, but making poverty a footprint that will only be in the past. I want to see any Filipino who can stand hand-in-hand with any country and any race,” he said. (Jennifer Orillaza)

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