By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Two major events would be happening next week. On August 25 in the morning there would be a mass petition signing for the People’s Initiative against the pork barrel. This is a noble and bold effort to put a stop to the practice of the government of creating pork barrel funds, which officials use to dip their hands into the nation’s coffers and which the president uses to buy the loyalty of lawmakers and local government officials.
It is a daunting task as the signatures gathered should constitute 10 percent of the total number of voters, of which all legislative districts must be represented by at least three percent of its registered voters. But the undertaking itself is an exercise in democracy as the people directly participate in putting forward proposals and it raises awareness on an important issue facing the country.
On August 26, Congress will be tackling proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution. Initially, the discussions are supposed to revolve around proposals to amend the provisions in the Constitution that restrict foreign equity and ownership. It is projected to be a battle between progressives who are protesting the impending sell out of the country’s patrimony and resources and majority of the lawmakers who seem to be sold out to the idea.
But with President Benigno Aquino III’s intervention, a bigger battle is looming. The two controversial proposals of President Aquino, one seeking to allow him to run for a second term and the other clipping the powers of the Supreme Court, threaten to divide the nation. Moreover, it is an attempt at reversing the safeguards against a dictatorship that were embodied in the 1987 Constitution. It is an attempt at allowing a president to continue lording it over the country and imposing its will on the people.
There is yet another proposal from Malacañang egging Congress to pass a law redefining the meaning of savings, which would essentially allow the perpetuation of Aquino’s version of the pork barrel, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Not content with these moves, President Aquino even appointed the defender of the DAP former solicitor general Francis Jardeleza to the Supreme Court.
It is ironic that these proposals would come from President Benigno Aquino III. After all, his parents Ninoy and Cory were known for standing up against the Marcos dictatorship. It could be remembered that Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was propelled to the presidency not because of his own merits, but because his parents became symbols of fighting a dictatorship. Cory’s death – at a time when the corruption-ridden Arroyo administration was imposing its will on the people by bribing lawmakers and local government officials, harassing the opposition and killing political activists – paved the way for her son Noynoy to take over Malacañang. The safeguards against a dictatorship that President Noynoy Aquino is now trying to dismantle were instituted during the administration of his mother.
Thus, while the People’s Initiative is meant to broaden the democratic process, the move of Aquino and his allies in Congress aims to strengthen the power of the president, paving the way for another dictatorship.
If Aquino and his allies succeed in imposing their will, the battle would no longer be waged within the halls of Congress – although part of it might still be fought there as the minority bloc is warning of a split in the ruling coalition once that happens. It would no longer be within framework of the Constitution. It would once again be fought on the streets. But the Aquino administration must be warned against toying with the idea of strong man rule, the Filipino people have had enough experience in two people power uprisings: Edsa 1 and 2.