10 myths destroyed by the People’s Initiative campaign

Mong Palatino


bu-op-icons-mong1. President Noynoy Aquino is sincere in abolishing the pork barrel system. PDAF (legislative pork) was abolished but the funds were embedded in the national budget. DAP (presidential pork) was discontinued but the unconstitutional principles that sustained it were maliciously inserted in the 2015 General Appropriations Bill. Aquino adopted and expanded the crooked practices of his predecessors like bloating the budget with lump sums and other non-itemized unprogrammed funds. The People’s Initiative (PI) would have been unnecessary if Aquino had completely dismantled the foundations of corruption in the budget system.

2. It is only the Left which continues to insist that pork is still intact in the budget. There are eight major groups which launched the PI – each has specific proposals on how to eradicate corruption in the country. But they all arrived at the same conclusion that Aquino and his allies have continued to distribute pork through various insidious means. They have conflicting political views, some of them are even against the move to impeach or oust Aquino, but what bonded them together was their collective outrage over pork politics. It’s either the Left is incredibly good at brainwashing the other PI proponents or there is a genuine disgust against pork and its current permutations.

3. Anti-pork groups have no clear alternatives. But the demands of activist groups have been very well articulated already since last year: Scrap pork, prosecute the thieves, and rechannel funds to social services. Then they filed two cases in the Supreme Court to invalidate the PDAF and DAP which should have been enough to prove that they are really determined to win the fight against pork. But after winning in the Supreme Court (not once, but twice), they wanted a guarantee that the pork monster will not be revived in the future. Thus, the PI – a proposed bill that criminalizes and penalizes the introduction of all types of pork in the national budget. The bill also restores the dignified meaning of ‘savings’ as against Abad’s distorted interpretation of the term. In addition, it provides the procedure for accessing the special funds and it enumerates the illegal acts in implementing or amending the appropriations law.

4. The intolerant Left is incapable of working with other groups. The PI is a collaboration of various political and civic groups, including the Left. The Left participated in drafting the PI petition and it helped in organizing the People’s Congress, launching the sign-up drive, and building the campaign machinery across the country. The PI proved that activists are ready to join hands, link arms, and sign their names together with religious groups, academics, lawyers, netizens, and all those involved and interested in the struggle for change in society. We are different in so many ways but our shared humanity including our noble vision of the world is enough reason to march forward; united and eager to claim a brighter future.

5. Representative democracy is true democracy. Agree, assuming that elections in the country are truly free and political dynasties do not lord it over Philippine politics. But because generally, Philippine elections and politics could not be characterised as genuinely free and representative, it is imperative on the people to continue exerting political pressure on all branches of government – executive, legislative, judicial – to push for the people’s rights, interests and welfare. If government officials refuse to heed the call of the people then there is the option of direct democracy. The people themselves would have to wield its power to propose legislation through PI. From the point of view of those who enjoy the spoils of power, this is mob democracy. For those who are allied with the ruling clique, this is a mere anti-Aquino plot. But for ordinary citizens, this is pure democracy at work. Hopefully, history will judge it as a brilliant experiment to deepen the roots of democracy in the polis.

6. The Left is using the pork issue to advance a sinister agenda. Ever since the Left mobilized its ranks to push for the total scrapping of pork, it has been unfairly accused by yellow pundits and reactionary intellectuals of exploiting the issue to carry out an evil plan. But they are silent about the specifics of this supposedly devious ploy. They are satisfied in echoing the propaganda of Malacanang that the Left is out to destroy democracy, bring down the government, and spread mayhem in the country. The Left does not hide its disdain for the rotten political system and it is not alone in clamoring for the overhaul of the country’s political economy. But to argue that it exists to destroy democracy is a misguided judgment. What could be more democratic than asking people to express their sentiments in the streets? Petitioning the Supreme Court will undermine democracy? How is constitutional democracy threatened by the PI?

The irony of our situation today is that it is the president, the protector of the constitution, who has been found guilty of implementing an unconstitutional budget program; while the Left, the subversive of society, is affiliated with a campaign that seeks to strengthen the principles of the country’s fundamental law. It is the president who is the real threat to our democratic way of life.

7. Aquino is a good leader who listens to his bosses. The PI exposed this as an empty boast. He vowed to abolish pork but corruption has persisted. He stubbornly defended DAP which was used as a tool for political patronage. And instead of accounting the DAP funds, he refused to be express remorse. He even claimed that the bosses wanted him to run for a second term. The bosses are demanding accountability but Aquino responded by offering the second term proposal. For many groups, this was the convincing proof that Aquino cannot be trusted anymore to continue the crusade for a clean government. The PI was a response of the frustrated constituency after Aquino showed his unwillingness to heed the call of the bosses for a thorough sweep of the corrupt bureaucracy.

8. The Left is rigidly focused on its outmoded beliefs and practices. The PI is not part of the Left’s founding programs. It is not a core demand of its mass organizations. Ten years ago, would you expect the Left to be leading a PI campaign? The radical Left is part of a movement seeking direct and substantive reforms using the framework provided by the constitution? Perhaps it is time to revise the textbook stereotype about the Left being a static movement.

9. The anti-pork movement is mainly a political noise in Metro Manila. The PI was launched in Cebu. There were more than a thousand delegates in the People’s Congress representing all regions in the country. Sign-up events were simultaneously done in various provinces last August 25. Support for the PI came from broad segments of the population, including institutions such as universities, churches, and some local government units.

10. Only Aquino can unite the people. And his preferred indicator of unity is the wearing of yellow ribbons. But to be fair, it is because of his intransigence that inspired our groups to coalesce and launch the PI. So yes, he is effective in uniting the people, including those who are not supposed to work with each other and embark on a common political platform.

Popularity is not enough to sustain a leader’s political capital. He must always strive to be credible. In the case of Aquino, his insincerity to fight corruption has forced his erstwhile supporters to find an alternative to continue the struggle for reforms. Today, it is the PI which has the most promising potential in unleashing a wave of democratic reforms in the governance of the country. To think that it is the people (six million to be exact), and not just one person, who will determine the success of this movement is a already a precious albeit risky idea, All things considered, the PI is a struggle worth signing and fighting for. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: mongpalatino@gmail.com

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