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MANILA, Philippines – In 2013, former Manila councilor Greco Belgica ran for the Senate but failed to secure a seat. Will he have a different fate in 2016?
What’s changed since then? Most notably, Belgica filed a series of petitions before the Supreme Court against the different forms of pork barrel. He has dubbed himself a “pork buster.”
Months after the May 2013 elections, the pork barrel exposé exploded into public consciousness as graft and plunder charges were filed against government officials, including 3 incumbent senators. (READ: Pork Tales: A Story of Corruption)
Belgica filed a petition to strike down congressional pork in the form of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) and presidential pork in the form of the President’s Social Fund (PSF) and the Malampaya Fund.
On September 10, 2013, the High Court ruled that PDAF is unconstitutional. It stopped the release of Malampaya funds for projects that are not energy-related, and disallowed the use of the President’s Social Fund for priority infrastructure development projects. (FULL TEXT: SC PDAF ruling, justices’ opinions)
The consolidated decision also ordered all prosecutors to investigate and prosecute all government officials and private individuals “for possible criminal offenses related to the irregular, improper and/or unlawful disbursement/utilization of funds under the Pork Barrel System.”
In 2014, Belgica filed a petition against the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), along with several others. The Supreme Court ruled that two executive actions under DAP are unconstitutional.
That same year, he also filed a petition to strike down the following lump sum funds in the 2014 General Appropriations Act: P1 billion Contingency Fund, P139.9 billion Unprogrammed Fund, P2.5 billion E-Government Fund, P405 million Local Government Support Fund
Belgica wants government to use these funds for his priority programs.
Belgica wants the government to provide free education by establishing a Tuition Fee Voucher Fund. Under the scheme, qualified students pay their tuition using the vouchers. He believes this would also indirectly raise the quality of education as schools would improve their facilities to compete with other schools.
With PDAF now unconstitutional, Belgica said the P25 billion that once went to the fund is enough to sustain the program.
He also supports the adoption of a 10% flat tax rate. This entails scrapping all other taxes, including the 12% value added tax (VAT) on all consumer goods and services. All individuals would only be taxed 10% of their income. (READ: The taxes we pay)
Belgica believes this will not adversely impact the government’s revenues and capacity to provide social services. He said the government has shown it can operate at its current funding level even as public funds are lost to corruption.
For Belgica, a flat tax rate would improve government revenues since it would simplify the entire tax-collection process to the point that the Bureau of Internal Revenue would no longer be needed.
Through such a policy, he said Filipinos would have more take-home pay. The price of goods would also go down due to the elimination of VAT.
A flat tax rate would be more faithful to the constitutional mandate that taxation must be “uniform,” “equitable,” and follow a “progressive system” than what is provided under the Tax Code, he told Rappler.
Belgica also supports the adoption of a federal system of government. He said 90% of the budget should go to local governments and the remaining 10% to the national government.
For Belgica, the national government should only be concerned with issues affecting the whole nation such as foreign policy and national defense. Social services should be devolved to local governments, he said.
On the settlement of the Philippine dispute with China, Belgica said he would rather enter into bilateral agreements with China. He also supports the joint exploration of the disputed territories so long as China recognizes that the territories belong to the Philippines.
Regardless, he said the Philippines must be prepared for the possibility of war, with or without assistance from the United States. He said there is a need to increase spending on national defense particularly on air defense capacities such as surface-to-air missiles.
He is also for the return of mandatory enlistment in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Belgica is against the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. “The Bangsamoro Basic Law is constitutionally infirm. We cannot have a state within a state,” he told Rappler.
While constitutionality was the core issue for Belgica, the other reason is based on his Christian faith. “We are a Christian nation. It’s in our Constitution’s preamble,” adding that there cannot be an Islamic state within a Christian nation.
He clarified that non-Christians are free to live in the country but “if you want to live under Muslim laws, then go to a Muslim state.”
“The separation of Church and State is the separation of the institutions, the Church and the government. But you cannot separate God from man. Our laws must follow Christian teachings,” he further explained.
Belgica said that if elected, he will push for a land and water resources reform bill which seeks to allow the government to give away public lands and support to people who have no land. He said he has not worked out the details, but his proposal would include provisions on training and support for beneficiaries.
On peace and order, Belgica supports the reimposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes such as murder, rape, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and plunder. He will also push for the adoption of a jury system to minimize the influence of corrupt judges and expedite case resolution.
On the mining sector, he said he opposes large-scale mining. – Rappler.com
Greco Belgica is among the senatorial candidates who will participate in Rappler’s #TheLeaderIWant Senatorial Debates at AMA University and Colleges in Quezon City on April 8, from 3 pm to 5:30 pm.