POSTSCRIPT / August 24, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Comelec can trip People’s Initiative

PEOPLE’S INITIATIVE: Let us pass on and amplify the very informative Star column yesterday of our colleague Satur Ocampo on the imperative of ridding the country of the pork barrel plague through People’s Initiative.

Tomorrow, another attempt will be made at the Luneta to mass the warm bodies and the resolve of a million Filipinos to banish the pork barrel scourge. “Million” is not literal, as it actually refers to a critical mass enough to propel the citizens’ campaign to fruition.

People’s Initiative is being resorted to — the citizens taking this legislative matter into their own hands — because it is clear that the Congress has been conspiring with the Executive to perpetuate pork barrel as a means to control public funds for their political purposes.

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COMELEC TEST: But the very law outlining the mechanism for a system of initiative and referendum under Article VI, Section 32, of the Constitution has what looks to us as a tricky requirement that could frustrate its noble intentions.

Under this enabling law (RA 6735), the people’s petition must be endorsed by at least 10 percent of the total number of registered voters nationwide – about six million — with at least three percent of them residing in every legislative district.

The Commission on Elections must then verify the petition to be sufficient in form and substance, after which the poll agency shall submit it to the people in a referendum. The big question is will the Comelec be up to it?

Is the Comelec ready and willing to verify six million signatures nationwide, with the voters so distributed that they comprise at least three percent of each legislative district?

What happens if/when some malevolent characters challenge each or most of the six million signatures and demand satisfaction that each one is the authentic signature of a live and qualified voter whose presence is needed to verify his identity and handwriting?

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OUTRAGE: Satur called attention to the widespread outrage following the disclosure that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (the euphemism for legislative pork barrel) “has been deviously retained in the 2014 budget under lump-sum appropriations for Executive departments.”

Moreover, he noted, in the 2015 budget bill under deliberation in both chambers, provisions for presidential discretionary lump-sum funds have been questioned by such watchdog groups as Ibon Foundation and Social Watch-Alternative Budget Initiative.

For instance, the President’s Special Purpose Fund — the “presidential pork” — is proposed to be increased by 34 percent, from P282.5 billion in 2014 to P378.6 billion in 2015 which ushers in the next national elections.

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PATRONAGE: Under this presidential fund, the allocation for local government units is to be raised from P19.6 billion to P33.1 billion, aside from the other P389.8-billion appropriation for internal revenue allotments to LGUs.

The allocation for miscellaneous personnel benefits is to be more than doubled, from P53.5 billion to P118.1 billion. The SW-ABI said these huge increases are indications that the 2015 budget might be used to help administration candidates win in the 2016 elections.

Why do the billions have to be held hostage first by the President, to be released to the intended recipients and beneficiaries according to his personal and partisan discretion?

That is not the money of the President or of the administration-Liberal Party machine. It should go directly and expeditiously to the units and personnel it is meant to benefit. There should be no hint of patronage or political debt of gratitude in its release.

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JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: The Congress is also threatening to revamp the Judicial Development Fund created by a presidential decree to insulate the judiciary and protect courts from undue meddling with the use of budgetary pressures.

The JDF, consisting mainly of fees collected by the courts, is allocated internally for upgrading court facilities and personnel benefits. It is managed by the Chief Justice without the money having to be included in the annual budgetary bargaining in the Congress.

As we see it, however, since the JDF was created by a PD, that decree can be amended by the Congress. But such action must not diminish the judiciary’s independence and standing as guaranteed by the Constitution.

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PAGCOR & PCSO FUNDS: It seems that lawmakers still smarting from the trashing of their pork barrel by the High Court intend to funnel to the Treasury all revenue collected or earned by the courts and for the funds to be included in the budgeting process.

If the Congress is to be fair and honest, it should also decree that henceforth the earnings that are routinely sent directly to the President by the state gambling agencies be also surrendered to the Treasury for appropriation under the budget.

The billions sent yearly by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to the President’s social fund are used without prior consent of the Congress and without the usual stringent post-audit by the Commission on Audit.

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HAIL MARY: From reader Ronito Ines Amigable comes this rejoinder to our Aug. 19 Postscript citing reports that pork barrel “queen” Janet Lim Napoles prays 2,000 Hail Mary’s everyday:

“I beg to disagree with your analysis re Ms Janet Lim Napoles’ ability to pray 2,000 Hail Mary’s everyday. Actually, as long as each Hail Mary is recited speedily, promptly, swiftly and immediately after each blob, one person (especially if it’s done mentally like what Ms Napoles does, I assume) or even a group of congregants will surely be able to pray 2,000 Hail Mary’s anywhere between eight (28,600 seconds) and 10 (36,000seconds) hours with even a 3 o’clock Divine Mercy prayer and some short readings in-between. I know this as a fact as we usually do this as a 2,000 Hail Mary group every first Saturday of the month.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 24, 2014)

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