By Alden M. Monzon and the Visayas Bureau

Thinner crowd at anti-pork rally does little to douse fervor

Posted on August 26, 2014

A MUCH thinner crowd joined the “anti-pork barrel system” protest on Monday compared to last year’s similarly-themed “Million People March.”

A protester may not have that much difficulty looking for breathing space after only a thinner crowd turned out at the Luneta Park, Manila on Aug. 25 for the people’s initiative to abolish the pork barrel system in time for the National Heroes Day. -- Aileen Camille B. Dimatatac

Yesterday’s event, which was also held at the Luneta Park in Manila, was attended by only 5,000 people, Police Director Carmelo E. Valmoria, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief, said in a phone interview.

Even at its peak, at around 11 a.m., Mr. Valmoria said that the crowd only numbered at around 5,000 people.

The figure is a far cry from last year’s event, accounting to but almost a third of the 75,000 people believed to have gathered last year, based on the estimates of the Manila Police.

For his part, Renato Reyes, Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that around 20,000 people from progressive, religious, youth groups and other associations, as well as regular people seeking change, attended the event.

Burnham Green, the 10-hectare open space in front of the Quirino grandstand where the protest took place on Monday, is estimated to accommodate half-a-million people if each person standing would occupy two square feet.

Meanwhile, different groups pushing for the abolition of the pork barrel system remain optimistic that the initiative will push through despite issues that it could be overturned by Congress.

These groups, which attended Mondays event, include the #AbolishPorkMovement, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, Scrap Pork Network, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Judiciary employees, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, artists and former beauty queens, students from different universities as well as bishops and other civic groups.

Bayan Muna representative Neri J. Colmenares said that Congress have no ways of overturning the people’s initiative once they gather enough support from the public.

“The bill cannot be repealed by Congress... The Constitution limits the power of Congress. The Constitution is clear -- Article 6, Section 1 -- legislative power resides in the Congress except as to the extent reserved for the people in initiative and referendum,” Mr. Colmenares told BusinessWorld in an interview.

“The Congress is representative ng bayan. How can a representative repeal a law passed by the one they represent?” he said further.

With that, Vicente M. Joyas, national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) -- one of the supporters of the initiative to abolish the pork barrel system -- said that there is no legal mechanism to overturn the merit of what they are doing.

“People’s initiative ’yan eh, so tao rin ang magbibigay ng kapasiyahan. Wala akong nakikitang legal mechanism na ma-repeal ’yan especially since magkakaroon ng plebesito ’yan, unlike an ordinary law where anytime it can be repealed (That’s a people’s initiative so it’s up to the people to decide. I see no legal mechanism to repeal that since the process will involve a plebescite where anytime it can be repealed),” Mr. Joyas explained to BusinessWorld in an interview.

Under Republic Act 6735, or The Initiative and Referendum Act, “at least 10 percent of the total number of the registered voters, of which every legislative district is represented by at least 3 percent of the registered voters thereof,” shall sign the petition. The signatures will have to be validated by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

In Cebu City, the Catholic Church-backed people’s initiative against pork barrel has snowballed with the launching yesterday of signature campaigns in key cities in the Visayas.

Bayan Muna led the launch in Iloilo City, which included a forum on the pork barrel at the Iloilo National High School Cooperative Union Building in La Paz, Iloilo City. Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate served as speaker.

Fr. Meliton B. Oso of the Jaro Archdiocesan Social Action Center (JASAC) said they will support the signature campaign by urging the Catholic faithful to sign the petition.

Mr. Oso said they sent three representatives to the People’s Initiative against Pork Barrel (PIAP) National Congress last Aug. 23 in Cebu City, where a bill drafted by former chief justice Reynato S. Puno was approved and presented to the people to kick off the people’s initiative. The signature campaign was first launched in Cebu.

The Puno bill “mandates line item budgeting, prohibits and criminalizes appropriation and use of lump sum discretionary funds, and penalizes violators” with imprisonment and disqualification from public office.

The target is to gather 5.4 million signatures, or 10% of the 54 million registered voters in the country, up to six million signatures by Nov. 30.

“Our maximum target is 10 million signatures nationwide just in case some of the signatures are invalidated,” Mr. Zarate said.

The Iloilo launching was followed by a torch parade in downtown Iloilo City around 6 p.m. on Monday.

In Tacloban City in Leyte, the people’s initiative kicked off with a caravan yesterday despite a heavy downpour caused by a low pressure area.

“The purpose of the launching is to inform the public about the signature campaign against pork barrel. We also started the decentralization of the signature drive to six provinces and 12 legislative districts,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Eastern Visayas acting secretary-general Rey C. Miranda.

The signature drive kicked off at the city’s public market and later held in coastal villages nearby. Mr. Miranda said they hope to get the support of at least 20% of the nearly three million registered voters in Eastern Visayas region before the end of October.

“The target of 3% of the voting population for every legislative district is very realistic because different sectors support this initiative. In fact, parishes and Catholic-owned schools have opened their doors for those who want to sign the petition,” Mr. Miranda said in a mobile phone interview.

He said multi-sectoral groups will meet in Tacloban next month to assess the progress of the signature drive and solicit more support.

In Bacolod City in Negros Occidental, militant groups put up booths at the Bacolod Fountain of Justice Area in front of the City Hall for the signature campaign against pork barrel.

About 100 protesters also marched along the city’s main thoroughfares to demand the scrapping of pork barrel and denounce plans to extend President Benigno S. C. Aquino III’s term beyond 2016.

The National Council of the People’s Initiative, which is spearheading the signature campaign, hopes that the Comelec will declare the People’s Initiative petition sufficient in form and in substance by February 2015. They aim to hold a referendum between April and June next year.

The national council, which was formed during the Aug. 23 congress in Cebu, is made up of eight primary groups: #AbolishPorkMovement, Cebu Coalition Against Pork, Church Coalition Against Pork, ePirma, Solidarity for Transformation, MAKABAYAN Coalition bloc, Youth Act Now and the #ScrapPork Network.