October 17, 2013

People’s initiative vs “pork”

Former Chief Justice Renato Puno’s proposal to the Filipinos who participated in the August 26 Million People March to use “people’s initiative” -- the Constitutional provision by which the people can enact a law without the participation or intervention of Congress or the President -- in order to bring about an end to the pork barrel system has resonated far and wide.

At the start there were misgivings that a “people’s initiative” would be a tall order given the extensive logistical and organizational resources needed to meet the requirements of Republic Act No. 6735, "The Initiative and Referendum Act".  The petition for enactment of a law against the pork barrel must be signed by 10 per cent (or roughly 5.2 million) of all registered voters with at least 3 per cent from every legislative district. Then, assuming the numbers are reached, there is the long and tedious process of signature verification by the Commission on Elections before a national referendum is called wherein the people will vote for or against the measure.

What prevailed is the recognition of a tremendous political advantage already in existence.  Not only is public opinion overwhelmingly in favor of the abolition of the “pork” system, a vital social movement is fast building up and gaining momentum calling for an overhaul of the way Philippine traditional politics has hitherto functioned and been imposed on the people.

Now there is excitement and a sense of challenge, of daring and optimism, on how to harness this new element in the battle against “pork”, a battle that has transformed into a fight against the political and social status quo.

In a recent exchange of views with CJ Puno, church people and activist groups and individuals at the forefront of the #abolishporkmovement distilled several important principles and guideposts.

CJ Puno summarized the “evil” that is the pork barrel system.  What is immediately apparent is how it has lent itself to abuse by those in authority to plunder the people’s money.  More than this, how the republican system of separation of powers and the doctrine of checks and balances has been grievously undermined if not destroyed by “pork” and actual tyranny exists wherein the Executive branch can and does dictate the making of laws.  The two-party system that had provided the people a modicum of choice of political platforms and a mechanism for recall has disappeared, in its place a multiparty system without clear-cut political distinctions.
Consequently, the electoral system itself is undermined and rendered farcical with political dynasties fattened and entrenched on “pork” dominating ever-more expensive and ever-more-fraudulent electoral campaigns.  And once the dust settles and the victors emerge, the administration party draws almost all the members of Congress to its fold either through turncoatism or the convenience of loose inter-party alliances upon the promise of “pork” and more “porK”.

On “people’s initiative”, CJ Puno asserted that it is an expression of the people’s will or sovereignty.  It is in this transcendental sense that the “people’s initiative” can be a powerful tool in the struggle to rid the country of the pork barrel system.

Mr. Puno stressed that the doctrine "the people are the sovereign" means that the power to enact laws does not reside exclusively in Congress but can be wielded directly by the people.  In fact, this power is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and a law already exists to define it. 

The people should use this power whenever their elected representatives default in the performance of their sacred duty to enact laws to promote the general interest, or worse, whenever they betray the public trust and act against the people’s interest.  CJ Puno's call implies that neither can the people expect the Executive branch to uphold the public trust and truly abolish “pork”.

The former Chief Justice affirmed the continuing need to build a strong social movement that would undergird, run parallel to and complement the legal process of crafting the petition for the abolition of “pork”, collecting the required number of signatures and discussing the petition during the campaign period for a national referendum.  He even reminded the body that in world history, it is in fact these social movements that bring about great changes for the betterment of society.

And it is precisely such a social movement that could overcome the seemingly daunting requisites dictated by law not to mention the anticipated countermoves of the pro-pork politicians of whatever stripe, most especially the Aquino regime itself that has emerged as key to defending, preserving and upholding the “pork” system. 

The educational and organizational process involved in building, expanding, strengthening and mobilizing such a social movement has incalculable and long term benefits, whether or not the people's initiative petition is actually passed into law.  

The greatest achievement of the people's initiative cum social movement campaign would be the empowerment of the people.  First, in galvanizing the consensus that there is a need to reform our entire socio-politico-economic system.  Corruption, electoral fraud, social injustice, puppetry and subservience to foreign interests cannot be eliminated, not even significantly minimized, with a mere periodic change of leaders.   Second, in making the people realize from their own direct experience that it is in their power to act, together and decisively, to effect that system change, towards one that will truly uphold the interest of the majority and not the few.

With this genuine empowerment of the people, real and manufactured fears that the struggle to abolish the “pork” system can be worn out and defeated by deception, intrigues, and over-all fatigue or used and manipulated by factional in-fighting among the ruling elite lose their fearsomeness and are rendered largely ineffectual.

The pro-pork and anti-pork divide has quickly developed into a pro-status quo and anti-status quo alignment of forces.  Who will prevail?  The people, without a doubt. #
Published in Business World
18-19 October 2013


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