People line up for a People's Initiative signature drive seeking to end all forms of pork barrel. Photo by Peachy Bretana
MANILA – One of the organizers of today's protest against the pork barrel system acknowledged that abolishing discretionary funds and lump sums in the budget through a people's initiative will be an uphill battle.
Inday Espina-Varona, a civic leader, said today's protest marks the beginning of a more concrete step towards the abolition of all forms of pork barrel.
''Dati kasi sa Million People March isang bugso, tapos pagkatapos 'anong gagawin natin?''' Espina-Varona told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda.
''Dati galit lang tayo lahat. Pero ito ay isang mapayapa at constructive na paraan para mabago ang sistema sa lipunan. Ito ang People's Initiative laban sa pork barrel."
Espina-Varona said passing a law through people's initiative, which bypasses Congress, is a tough task. The Constitution provides that under a people's initiative, every legislative district must be represented by at least three percent of the registered voters thereof.
Enabling laws also provide that the initiative must be endorsed by at least 10% of the registered voters and with at least 3% of the voters in every legislative district.
Espina-Varona said churches and schools will be tapped in gathering signatures for the People's Initiative.
Verification of the signatures will also be done as soon as they arrive.
She said supporters who will sign up are encouraged to send their ''selfies'' so that the verification of signatures will be easier.
''May committees per district at sasalain din yan, hindi na iintayin na mag 6 million, kasi medyo madugo yan,'' she said.
Once the required number of signatures have been achieved, the petition will have to be forwarded to the Commission on Elections for verification.
Under the law, the petition must contain the text of the proposed measure, the proposition, the reasons for the creation of the proposed measure, the signatures of the petitioners or registered voters, and an abstract or summary written or printed at the top of every page of the petition.
After the verification of signatures and determination of the sufficiency of the petition, the Comelec is required to publish the petition in newspapers with major circulation within 30 days after its receipt.
The Comelec will also set the date of the referendum "which shall not be earlier than forty-five (45) days but not later than ninety (90) days from the determination by the Commission of the sufficiency of the petition."
''Ang target ay 6 million voters nationwide, with 3 percent of voters per district. Napaka-tirik niyan na tatahakin. Pero naniniwala kami na ang taong bayan…hindi kailangan [palaging nagra-rally] yan kung meron tayong mas systematic na magagawa,'' she said.
San Beda Graduate School of Law dean Ranhilio Aquino, who supports the People's Initiative, said even if the initiative gathers the signatures and passes the law, Congress would not be prevented from moving to amend or repeal it in the future.
"I want to emphasize, that as a matter of Constitutional Law, I must point out na hindi pwede ang probisyon na sabihin mo sa draft petition na bawal amyendahan o i-repeal ng Kongreso yan. You cannot repeal the powers of Congress," Aquino told dzMM.
Nonetheless, Aquino warned politicians against going against the will of the people.
"Mag-ingay din ang mga lehislador dahil ang ultimate remedy of the people will be political," he said.
Selfies vs pork
Meanwhile, Monet Silvestre, spokesperson of the Abolish Pork Movement, said the people's initiative is being carried out since the declaration as unconstitutional of the congressional pork barrel, officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), has failed to deter the government from putting up lump sum funds in the national budget.
''Hindi enough na sabihin ng SC na unconstitutional ang PDAF. Kailangan natin itong isabatas, at mapaparusahan lahat ng mga masasangkot dito,'' he said.
As the anti-pork protesters mount their rally in Luneta, another group calling for reforms in government is set to hold a conference today.
Leah Navarro, one of the convenors of Koalisyon ng Mamamayan para sa Reporma (KOMPRe), said the group is not calling for the ouster of President Benigno Aquino III.
"Pagod na kami sa mga rally-rally. Ngayon na nakikita natin na may repormang ginagawa, we want to help. That is why we are having this conference,'' Navarro said.
Navarro said the group also believes that the government has already abolished the pork barrel system. She said the group supports the government's grassroots participatory budgeting program which allows locals to take part in the budget-making process.