Pens vs pork: People’s Initiative puts dead end to Aquino’s ‘Daang Matuwid’ show

First published on Blogwatch

Tens of thousands returned to Luneta Park today to kick off the Luzon leg of the petition for a People’s Initiative bill to abolish the pork barrel system, a year after the mammoth “Million People March” demonstration against widespread corruption in government.

Today’s gathering brings to the fore two main positives for the country’s history: One, Filipino voters transcend their token role as mere source of votes for politicos in the electoral exercise, in a bid to finally end the abuse and misuse of public funds. Two, the Filipino people are taking the anti-corruption drive literally into their hands, which is by far the strongest telltale sign that President Aquino’s sham “Daang Matuwid” show has ended.

The former marks a milestone as regards the electorate’s political maturity while the latter signifies the ruling class’s immaturity in running their business of deceptive politics, believing that empty slogans will still do the trick. But of course Palace spokespersons would be quick to place credit on the President for this growing political movement to end and criminalize pork. They would say the people were inspired by Aquino’s resolve to stamp out corruption in government.

In truth, the people were disillusioned by Aquino’s farcical anti-corruption campaign.  A growing number of Filipinos from the left to the right, south to north, are now rising up, kicking off the long haul to kill pork in all its permutations.

At the center of today’s protests is the petition proposing the enactment of an anti-pork bill that not only bans lump sum funds but also criminalizes the budget schemes. This is premised on the fact that the Chief Executive in collaboration with lawmakers has retained discretionary funds in the 2014 national budget, as the audio recording by ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio of “executive sessions” reveals. Based on the discussions between some agency officials and lawmakers, the latter will still have discretion over the lump sum funds that were realigned to different departments.

In short, pork barrel is still alive and “oinking” despite Supreme Court rulings declaring Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional. This comes as no surprise since the President has remained staunch in his assertion that discretionary funds should be maintained in any national budget.

As if to blunt the impact of the explosive disclosure on the state of “hidden pork” in the budget, President Aquino then began entertaining the thought of term extension and Charter change. But instead of dissuading the public from joining today’s protests, it appears that the contrary resulted. Aquino’s talk of term extension has galvanized the unity of the anti-pork coalition and has attracted to the fold more disillusioned camps and individuals.

Groups behind the People’s Initiative target at least 10 million signatures, or nearly twice the compliance rate of 6 million signatures for the the bill to be considered for approval. Once the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has verified at least 6 million signatures and the referendum successfully conducted, the initiative cannot be vetoed even by the President.

With the People’s Initiative to drive a stake through the heart of the pork barrel system now in full swing, no future Philippine president can lay claim to another anti-corruption rhetoric. Future presidential aspirants would have to invent modern formulations of anti-poverty themes that are disjointed from corruption – that is IF there would be elections as presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda spilled out.

An alternative way to frame the prospects of the 2016 elections would be like this: Assuming that the People’s Initiative will be successful in ridding all forms of pork, will politicos still run for public office? There would be probably be a different “no-el,” but of course the country’s elites will fight tooth and nail to retain the lifelines of graft and plunder in the bureaucracy. Without pork, politicians’ lives in our country would be very boring. They would have no money to splurge for their mansions and mistresses, and no “incentive” to keep patronage transactions well-oiled. It would be the end of Philippine politics, as we know it.

Such ramifications of pork’s demise for ruling families present the reasons why the People’s Initiative will face a very rough sailing and why it requires the broadest support possible. President Aquino is expected to mobilize all institutions albeit cunningly to avert this initiative, with political Charter change as the ace up in his sleeve. Extending his term would buy himself time to maneuver against the anti-pork crusade, aside from sparing himself from potential suits. But then it would also be too politically costly for the ruling clique.

The final war to end patronage politics and corruption has just begun. The lines have been drawn, with Noynoy and his allies and apologists on the wrong side of history.

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