Detained anti-pork Lumad freed as ‘People’s Initiative’ starts
MANILA, Philippines – Indigenous leader Genasque Enriquez was supposed to represent Lumads from Mindanao at a congress in Cebu that launched a people’s initiative against the “pork barrel” or discretionary funds on Saturday, August 23.
He did not make it to the gathering dubbed “People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel” after authorities arrested him in Surigao City before his flight on Friday, August 22.
“Hindi ko na-avail yung due process of law. Hindi ako nakatanggap ng kahit anong subpoena. Nabigla ako,” Enriquez told Rappler in a phone interview. (I was not afforded the due process of law. I did not receive any subpoena. I was surprised.)
Police and military personnel arrested Enriquez using an alias warrant for frustrated murder. With the help of nuns, human rights groups, and his colleagues, he was released on bail after being detained for about 17 hours, the Manobo leader said.
Enriquez previously faced charges linking him to a New People’s Army (NPA) ambush in Mindanao.
“Previous false charges against him have been dismissed for lack of cause. Suddenly a frustrated murder charge which was purportedly committed by him in 2013 in Lianga, Surigao del Sur sprang up to ensure his imprisonment,” according to Dulphing Ogan, secretary general of the indigenous group KALUMARAN.
Enriquez denied the allegations, stressing that he is only defending his ancestral land from “mining operations and militarization” through protests.
“The Lumad people are the first victims of environmental destruction and human rights violations,” Enriquez told Rappler in Filipino, explaining why he has been the target of alleged “political harassment.”
In Cebu City, where the gathering against the pork barrel kicked off on Saturday, August 23, participants denounced the arrest of the indigenous leader.
“His arrest yesterday happened as the campaign for People’s Initiative against the pork barrel system is about to take off. Magsisimula pa lang, pikon na si BS Aquino (President Aquino is already piqued by the people’s initiative that is being launched)," Karapatan Secretary General Tinay Palabay said.
Enriquez urged participants to continue the initiative, saying that marginalized indigenous peoples will support the campaign because it is consistent with their right to self-determination.
“Ang mga Lumad ay kasama ng sambayanan sa pagpapanday ng batas laban sa pork barrel – laban sa korapsyon – sa pamamagitan ng people’s initiative,” Enriquez said. (The Lumad are one with the people in crafting a law against the pork barrel – against corruption – through the people’s initiative.)
The Initiative and Referendum Law (Republic Act 6735) allows registered voters to directly propose a bill – a constitutionally guaranteed form of public empowerment when elected lawmakers would not author a proposed measure.
At least 10% of the total number of registered voters nationwide – including at least 3% of voters in each legislative district – should endorse the bill for it to pass.
“Today we formally launch the proposed People’s Initiative bill – “An Act Abolishing the Pork Barrel System,” Sr. Mary John Mananzan of the Abolish Pork Movement declared during the gathering attended by more than 1,000 participants.
Congress participants are optimistic they can gather at least 6 million signatures for the initiative.
“It’s a tough task – like the Long March – from a culture of impunity to a culture of integrity…We’re positive despite the challenges because it’s a constructive mode for change with a clear goal,” according to Change.org campaign director Inday Espina–Varona, who was one of the congress delegates.
‘Sign up, stand up’
The Catholic Church is backing the people's initiative, having earlier urged the people to propose a law that would end the practice of appropriating lump sums in the national budget under various pretexts.
In a message of support read at the congress in Cebu, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle told the participants: “Thank you for making democracy alive and active. Thank you for advancing decency in public life. Thank you for giving voice to countless victims of corruption, especially the poor and marginalized.”
Meanwhile, officials of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) said in a statement they will support protests “until the pork barrel in all its form is eradicated in our system of government.”
A major protest dubbed “Stand Up, Sign Up Against All Pork” will be organized on Monday, August 25, in Rizal Park. The rally coincides with the first anniversary of the Million People March that magnified public outrage over the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam. The social media-fueled protest movement in 2013 triggered the Aquino administration's decision to overhaul the pork barrel scheme. – Rappler.com