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Group presses on with people's initiative against pork barrel.

MANILA -- The issue may not always hog the headlines, but the proponents of the people's initiative against pork barrel are forging on with their effort to gather some six million signatures to put in place a law to prevent the return of the corruptionprone, lumpsum allocations in the country's national budget.

The People's Initiative Against Pork Barrel (PIAP) expects that one million signatures would have been gathered by the end of December, according to lawyer Alex Lacson, the group's cochair.

The PIAP is also hoping to pick up the momentum of its signature drive in the first quarter of 2015 to complete its goal of gathering the support of at least 10 percent of 54 million registered voters to get the initiative going, Lacson said.

The group hopes to overshoot this a bit and is aiming for six million names, he added. The law requires that the signatures comprise at least three percent of voters in each legislative district.

The PIAP has so far reached out to 224 out of 234 legislative districts in 72 out of 82 provinces, where it has set up a network of organizations and volunteers to gather the necessary number of signatures, Lacson said.

It has also completed the three percent requirement in several districts, including those in Cagayan Valley, Nueva Vizcaya, Iloilo, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Antique, and San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, he added.

Lacson said he expects the number of signatures to grow faster when 2015 comes in because the PIAP has already put in place its organization and network.

"We feel that once we have created the momentum, the organization, it will keep on going," he told the Inquirer in a phone interview. "It's feasible. We have reached this far and we believe we're in a very good position to achieve this."

He also thinks that once the number of signatures picks up, it would create "excitement" and more people would be motivated to join the cause.

The people's initiative has received its share of criticism, with some saying it was unnecessary because the Supreme Court had already struck down the lump sum priority development assistance fund and all its permutations. The provisions of the draft law have also been criticized as unclear.

The draft law requires that all budgets submitted to Congress contain only itemized or line item appropriations, except for appropriations for disaster response, intelligence and confidential fund, and the contingency fund. It also abolishes the Presidential Social Fund.

The draft states that expenditures from allowable lump sum funds should be reported immediately to Congress and subjected to special audit. Unspent, unobligated, and unreleased funds by the end of the fiscal year should remain in or revert to the General Fund and should not be available for expenditure except by a subsequent appropriation law.

It also seeks to impose a 6 to 10 year prison term for national officials who authorize the spending of public money not covered by the appropriation law; who include a lump sum amount (except for those allowed) in any budget proposal; insert a provision in the budget allowing postenactment intervention by a member of congress; declare and use savings outside the allowable circumstances; and impound any appropriation, unless there is an official declaration of an unmanageable national government budget deficit.

The same penalty applies to members of Congress or their representatives who intervene in the implementation of the appropriation law through any postenactment practice.

According to Lacson, the signature gathering did not take off swiftly after the launch in August because the group had to build up the organization and had to reach out to 82 provinces.

It had to put people on the ground and orient them on the goal of the project, as well as provide them with materials and documents that they could share with the communities to convince them of the need to support the people's initiative, he said.

The group has since stepped up its signature drive, and even conducted it in churches especially when the dawn masses began on December 16, according to Fr. Ben Alforque of the Church People's Alliance Against Pork Barrel, and a coconvenor of the PIAP.

Alforque said that initial reports indicate that the onemillion mark has been reached, and even this number does not include reports from all provinces the PIAP has covered.

Alforque said that out of 86 Roman Catholic dioceses, 44 have joined the campaign for a law against pork barrel. Also taking part are the Protestant and Methodist church groups, and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

The rest of the PIAP is composed of civil society organizations, such as the Abolish Pork Movement, the Cebu Coalition Against Pork Barrel, EPirma, Makabayan, Solidarity for Transformation Philippines, and the Scrap Pork Movement.

The activities of PIAP's network consist of going to communities and talking to them about the pork barrel issue in a simple, easy to understand manner, Lacson said. In some areas, groups of catechist volunteers go house to house to discuss the matter, he said.

It is not difficult to convince people they were able to reach, he said, because they themselves see evidence of fund misuse and want the situation to change.

"They want public funds to be spent properly," he said.

He said the group has heard of efforts in some areas to discredit the signature drive.

There have been some, who turned out to be consultants of public officials, who would tell people that there was no need to sign up for the people's initiative because there was no more PDAF, he said.

But Lacson said the PIAP continues with its campaign to explain to people why the people's initiative is needed.

The PIAP has also reached out to the Commission on Elections and has received an assurance that the signatures it would submit to the poll body would be accepted, said Alforque.

Lacson said that if the people's initiative for a law against pork barrel would succeed, it would be the first time that Filipinos would get to use the "door" given to them by the framers of the Constitution to pass laws when the members of Congress no longer represent their interests.

"The moment we're able to open that door, the movement would continue, we could introduce more reform legislation," he said. "This is people power in action, a real one."

The people's initiative was launched after the Supreme Court declared the PDAF unconstitutional, following public outrage over the alleged misuse of public funds by lawmakers and their cohorts.

Proponents of the initiative believe a law against pork barrel is necessary because public officials could still implement strategies to get around the court ruling against the pork barrel.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Dec 27, 2014
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