CBCP backs people's initiative vs pork barrel

MANILA, Philippines – As deliberations started in Congress on the proposed national budget for 2015, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) endorsed on Thursday, August 7, a people's initiative against discretionary funds or pork barrel.

In a statement Thursday evening, CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the CBCP has "been informed of attempts to perpetuate the system through the appropriation of lump sums in the national budget under various pretexts."

Villegas said: "We therefore fully endorse the people's initiative aimed at legislating the proscription of funds made available to officials and subject to their discretion alone. We likewise look with displeasure at the practice of classifying as 'intelligence funds' – and therefore beyond the scope of audit and accountability – sizable amounts of public money."

The people’s initiative is a mechanism provided in the 1987 Constitution. Republic Act 6735, the implementing law, allows registered voters to directly propose a bill, a form of public empowerment when elected lawmakers would not author or sponsor a proposal.

The Initiative and Referendum Law requires the proposed bill to be endorsed by at least 10% of the total number of registered voters nationwide. This 10% should include at least 3% of voters in each legislative district.

The Philippines has about 50 million registered voters.

No to 'idolization of money'

"'You cannot serve both God and money.' We choose to serve God and we cannot countenance the idolization of money, especially when it takes the form of unfettered access to the money of the people," Villegas said.

The CBCP has criticized the pork barrel system. It has also dared the Aquino administration to hold accountable even its allies if involved in fund misuse.

The bishops' support for a people's initiative to ban any form of pork barrel comes after the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund that used to be automatically allotted per senator and congressman. 

The high court has also declared unconstitutional 3 schemes in the Malacañang's Disbursement Acceleration Program, where unused funds were pulled out from agencies halfway through the fiscal year and transferred to programs of other agencies and branches of government that were not previously approved by Congress. It was revealed that the DAP funded the pet projects of lawmakers as well.

The proposed national budget for 2015 also shows some P500 billion in lump sum and special allocations have been placed under the discretion of the President. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.