Will 6 million sign up to scrap pork?

MANILA, Philippines – It’s a goal that is way up there.

Anti-pork barrel advocates will need at least 6 million signatures – and a maximum of 10 million, if possible – in order to pass a law that would “abolish the presidential and congressional pork barrel, prohibit lump sum, discretionary appropriations, and penalize violators.”

The “People’s Initiative Against Pork” was launched in Manila on Monday, August 25, in the same place the “Million People March” against the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) took place a year ago.

Behind the people’s initiative are a mix of groups and individuals from different political backgrounds. Some of them were also behind the Million People March in 2013.

Former Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño told Rappler on Monday that despite the Supreme Court rulings that the PDAF and the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) are unconstitutional, “the system is still in place.”

“It’s easy to file a bill in Congress, but whether that bill will go anywhere…that’s the problem. We feel that it’s easier to get 6 million signatures than to get 280 congressmen agreeing to let go of their pork,” added the former lawmaker.

Kinks along the way

The idea began early this year, said Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña, one of the Million People March's first movers. Groups in Cebu floated the idea “parallel” to Manila’s late 2013 event.

Cebu is where the initiative was first launched on August 23, Saturday.

But the initiative is not without controversies.

Lawyer and Constitutional Law teacher Oscar Franklin Tan wrote in a commentary on the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the initiative was “lamentably pointless” because “its features are either already emphasized in Supreme Court decisions or are counterproductively vague.”

But Casiño said the initiative would “compliment the SC’s decision.”

“What the SC hoped to abolish, they were unable to abolish… or at least they only abolished as an item in the budget. But the discretionary spending of lump sum appropriations by the executive and by congressmen is still there,” he added.

Another section in the proposed act is also stirring controversy – which states it can only be “repealed, modified or amended” through another people’s initiative. “We feel that a law passed through the people’s initiative is superior to a law passed by representatives of the people,” said Casiño.

The separability clause – or the lack thereof – has also earned the ire of citizens. The petition signed by people in Cebu was apparently without a separability clause or a clause that would protect other parts of the act should certain provisions be declared unconstitutional.

In a phone interview with Rappler, Casiño said they had only known about the incident on Monday, August 25.

Casiño said lawyers had told them a separability clause was a “mere technicality” but that other lawyers also insisted on its inclusion in the Manila version.

Impossible dream?

Can they do it? According to Section 5(a) of Republic Act 6735 or “The Initiative and Referendum Act,” the following conditions need to be met:

The Commission on Elections pegs the number of registered voters at 54 million, and expect 3 million more by the 2016 elections. Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares earlier said they aim to get around 10 million signature to have a “buffer.”

Although the 2014 crowd was much less than the Million People March crowd, Bretaña said the two were different. “This year, it’s more in depth, people’s understanding of pork barrel is deeper now. And that’s why there’s indignation,” she added.

Plans are set for regional contacts to head petition signings in the different regions, cities and barangays in the country. But history is not on their side. A law has never been passed via People’s Initiative.

For Casiño, the 6 million is achievable.

“The timing is right, consciousness is very high. How long it will take is the more interesting question,” he said. – Rappler.com