OPINION: A TRUE STRAIGHT PATH / PEOPLE'S INITIATIVE VS PORK
 

MANILA, OCTOBER 14, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Jojo Robles - President Noynoy Aquino’s administration has obviously strayed from the straight path that he once promised to take us on. But now we have a chance to set things right and to go the right direction as a nation.

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno has shown the people the true straight path to the goal of curing government’s addiction to pork barrel funds. Now, the hard work of gathering signatures that will lead to a people’s initiative to directly legislate the abolition of all manner of pork funds should begin.

For the longest time, many well-meaning Filipinos have despaired over the refusal of both the Aquino administration and Congress to even acknowledge that pork even exists and that it is, like actual pig meat, harmful to health.

There seemed to be no way to stop the practice of handing out pork and preventing its delivery mostly to the pockets of our lawmakers since the vast majority of our officials see nothing wrong with it.

Indeed, despite the long and sustained public outcry against all sorts of pork, most Executive officials and Congress members have stridently defended the funds or simply kept their mouths shut about the whole scandal.

In fact, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is the only prominent incumbent official who has called for the abolition of pork.

(Miriam has also urged all officials involved in the pork scandal to drink poison and die. But I think her point has already been made clear even without that statement.)

Now we have Puno showing us the way forward—and it doesn’t require any new law or constitutional amendment. But Puno’s suggestion to start a people’s initiative will test the people’s resolve in the battle against pork; it will require, by most estimates, the gathering of 6.4 million signatures, the 12 percent of the country’s 52 million registered voters that is the minimum for a people’s initiative to prosper, according to both the 1987 Constitution and Republic Act 6735, the law which governs such initiatives.

The same people in Malacañang and Congress who have tried so hard to make believe that pork is good and/or has actually been abolished can be expected to oppose the initiative. These natural adversaries of the abolish-pork movement are many, awesome in their power and wealthy almost beyond belief.

But at least a people’s initiative takes the anti-pork battle outside the home courts of both Congress and Malacañang, where the cause is already lost even before the first shot is fired. For this, Puno deserves an entire nation’s thanks.

Now, let’s see if the people really want to use their power and win back their right to tell government how to spend their hard-earned money. If the people want this country to finally get on the real straight path, they will follow Puno’s prescription.

* * *

Along North Bay Boulevard (also known as R-10) in Tondo, Manila, inter-island shipping is about to be reborn. Between the old Piers 4 and 6, the new and modern passenger terminal of the Manila North Port (formerly the Manila North Harbor) will soon open.

The North Port is remarkable not only because of the variety of passenger vessels that would be able to use it once the new terminal is completed. It also promises to make traveling by sea to the provinces an entirely new experience.

The new passenger terminal is part of the port modernization program being spearheaded by the Manila North Harbour Port Inc. at the North Harbor, to make it a premier passenger seaport in the country. Manila North Port is located in an 11,600 sq.m. area that will provide state of the art facilities that take into consideration the safety, security and comfort of passengers.

The new facility, I’m told, will have more in common with airport terminals than with the passenger seaports of old. From the airport-like baggage handling procedure to the availability of pushcarts for hand-carried bags, the new terminal will give passengers that airport-like experience.

When passengers enter the main passenger terminal, they will be screened with state-of-the-art x-ray equipment for their safety and security. Just like in airports, only ticket holders will be allowed entry in the main passenger area.

After they have checked in, passengers will be led to an air-conditioned lounge while waiting for boarding. The lounge area can seat almost 2,000 passengers; sufficient parking, taxi and shuttle services, a VIP lounge and facilities for children will complete the airport experience.

Even from the outside, the terminal building, with its use of heavy glass, cladding and granite, is imposing and airport-like. It’s probably even going to put our existing airports to shame.

The Manila North Port Passenger Terminal Complex is one of the major activities in the ongoing modernization program undertaken by MNHPI, which is also going to make Manila among the destinations of local, regional and international cruise ships in the coming years, according to Dr. Michael L. Romero, MNHPI chairman.

NEWS REPORT FROM THE DAILY INQUIRER

Santiago rejects ex-SC chief Puno’s bid for people’s initiative vs ‘pork’By Maila Ager  INQUIRER.net 2:14 pm | Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago (photo above) thumbed down on Wednesday the proposed people’s initiative by former Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno to abolish the “pork barrel” funds, saying it was “not feasible.”

“That is an idealistic and constitutional proposal,” Santiago said in radio interview, reacting to Puno’s proposal.

“However, I am afraid it will not be feasible, because the number of signatures required on a petition is too high and can be subverted by vote-buying, to convince voters to stay away,” she said.

Under the law on people’s initiative, Santiago said the people can directly propose and then enact a law, but only after the registration of a petition which must contain at least 10% of the total number of registered voters.

She said the law also provides that every legislative district must be represented by at least 3% of the registered voters.

“The Comelec says that in the last 2010 elections, there were 50,896,164 number of registered voters, so the petition must be signed by at least 5,089,616 voters,” Santiago said.

She said it would also be too expensive to conduct information and education campaign for voters so that they can understand the meaning and context of an anti-pork barrel law under the system of initiative and referendum.

A “better alternative” to the proposed petition for initiative and referendum and the various petitions filed at the Supreme Court, Santiago said, is a Budget Control and Impoundment Act, originally proposed by President Benigno Aquino III when he was senator. Santiago re-filed the measure this present Congress.

“It provides that like its American version, after Congress authorizes appropriations, and the executive department does not intend to spend the budget items for which he is authorized, then the President has to go back to Congress with a request to impound the appropriations,” she said.

“The power to grant or not the request to impound will continue to belong to Congress. Thus, such a law will preserve the congressional power of the purse,” she further said.

Santiago said Aquino was right in filing the measure, saying the President should not make a habit of requesting large budgets for some departments “and then, in the middle of the year, juggles the funds, repackage it as DAP, and spend it the way he wants.”

She was referring to the recent controversy surrounding the release of additional funds allegedly given to senators and congressmen through the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP after impeaching former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Asked what advice she would give to Aquino on the pork barrel issue, Santiago said: “Life is a consequence of our moral choices.”


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