Editorial: Taking the anti-pork initiative

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014


SINCE its launch last Saturday, the campaign to abolish the pork barrel system through a people’s initiative has gained ground. The organizers will need only 5.3 million signatures, but reaching their target of 10 million signatures before the end of the year is not impossible.

Before this, the last group that attempted a people’s initiative gathered 6.32 million signatures in 2006. Unfortunately, they failed to convince the Supreme Court (SC) that they had gathered these signatures in a way that met requirements of the Initiative and Referendum Law (Republic Act 6735).

How do these two attempts differ? What can present-day organizers learn?

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One difference is that the People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel (PIAP) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) have incorporated within their petition the full text of the bill that seeks to abolish “the presidential and congressional pork barrel system.”

One flaw that sank the initiative in 2006 was the admission that although the organizers had gathered 6.32 million signatures from February to August 2006, “very limited copies” of the petition had been circulated. One of the petitioners, lawyer Raul Lambino, told the Supreme Court that he had ordered 100,000 printed. Assuming 10 signatures for every sign-up sheet, the current initiative’s organizers would need to circulate at least 600,000 copies of the petition, including the full text of the bill, for their signatures to count.

A second area that needs scrutiny is the content of the proposal itself. The PIAP-NUPL initiative’s goal is more modest than that of the Lambino Group, which had proposed changing from the bicameral-presidential form of government to a unicameral-parliamentary one.

Unlike the 2006 attempt, the current one does not seek to amend the Constitution. It seeks to enact a law that will abolish the Presidential Social Fund; require line-item budgets, except for disaster responses, intelligence funds and a five-percent contingency fund for specific budget items; and impose a jail term of 6-10 years for members of Congress who intervene in how appropriations are implemented, like endorsing projects or contractors.

In 1997, the Court ruled that Republic Act 6735 was “inadequate” in providing for how an initiative could be used to amend the Constitution. By proposing specific anti-pork legislation, rather than taking on constitutional amendments, does this people’s initiative stand a better chance of surviving legal challenges?

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 27, 2014.

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