Filipinos protest ‘pork barrel’-A A +A
Monday, August 26, 2013
MANILA (Updated) -- Thousands of Filipinos spent National Heroes’ Day (August 26) in various parks in the country to call for the scrapping of a corruption-tainted development fund that allows lawmakers to allocate government money for projects in their districts.
The Manila Central Police District said in a television interview that about 62,000 individuals went to Luneta, the country's national park before noon Monday to participate in the nationwide protest rally against the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), also known as “pork barrel.” [Know more about PDAF]
Similar actions were reported in other urban areas outside Metro Manila, like Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Baguio, and Pampanga.
In Cebu City, more than 3,000 protesters coming from multi-sectoral groups marched from Fuente Osmena Circle to Plaza Independencia Monday morning.
Cebu City Traffic Operations Management operator Rosario Torres said more than 100 people participated in the march, and some of them are members of the groups Gabriela, Bayan, and Anak Pawis.
Torres said other participants, including priests, also marched from the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral to Plaza Independencia. [Read more about the protest rally in Cebu City.]
Close to 1,000 protesters also trooped to Baguio City’s Burnham Park as early as 11 a.m. Monday to air their protest against the pork barrel system.
The Tongtongan Ti Umili-Cordillera People’s Alliance and other progressive groups, including Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kabataan Partylist and Ornus, held their noise barrage and rally at the Igorot Park along Harrison Road to demand the abolition of the PDAF.
The group moved from Harrison Road to Burnham Park’s Rose Garden where they joined other protesting residents. Business, religious and non-government organizations also gathered at the Rose Garden around noon to express disappointment with how national government is handling the controversy.
Also present were religious and business groups such as the UCCP and Protestant Churches, as well as nuns from the Diocese of Baguio.
In Pampanga, Auxiliary Bishop Pablo David led Monday other church leaders and people in voicing out their cry against pork barrel and all forms of corruption in government.
The bishop celebrated a Mass at the Holy Rosary Parish, which was attended by hundreds, to oppose the latest controversies involving the government.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said David.
People who expressed their solidarity for the abolition of the PDAF wore white shirts and displayed anti-PDAF posters and streamers in front of the Museo ning Angeles and the Church.
The groups who converged in front of the Church included Roman Catholic organizations, sectoral and civic organizations, among others.
The church initiated the mass action, in cooperation with the Alliance for the Development of Central Luzon (ADCL) and Subli Taya Ing Upaya, Bie at Leguan Ning Indung Kapampangan (Subli).
The same protest actions were reported in Davao City, where close to a thousand Dabawenyos converged at the Rizal Park, asking the government to scrap the PDAF and re-channel the fund for basic social services instead.
The rallyists marched from Freedom Park to Rizal Park, carrying placards with a broad message asking the government to expose the truth behind misuse of the pork barrel.
Among the groups who joined the protest action, dubbed as “Million People March Davao,” were faculty members and students of Ateneo de Davao University, Assumption College of Davao and Holy Cross of Davao College, Mother of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church and Sister Association of Mindanao.
Also present were San Lorenzo Ruiz Foundation, Regional Prosecutor's Office, Office of Councilor Leah Librado, Anakbayan, Sambayan, Makabayan Coalision, Pagbabago, National Union of Students of the Philippines, and Centrist Democratic of the Philippines, among others.
The same protest happened in Bacolod City, where around 2,000 rallyists and participants from all walks of life -- elite, civil society, religious, business, transport, professionals, and students – gathered at the Negros Occidental Capitol Lagoon and signed a manifesto calling for the scrapping of the whole PDAF system.
Raymund Javellana, one of the convenors of the Negrosanon Kontra Korapsyon and president of the Alliance of Negrense Tourism Stakeholders, said they will hold a post event analysis and that they are going to draft a template for future rallies.
He said they are demanding for the abolition of the whole pork barrel system, believing that the funds are just being used for political game, and it has become the main source of corruption in the Philippines.
"We are calling for the immediate abolition of the pork barrel system in the country after it has clearly become the worst example of immoral and wanton use of public funds that should have resulted to real, concrete and sustainable socio development especially in the countryside," read the manifesto that was signed Monday.
Javellana said they have gathered more than 2,000 signatures, and that they target between 3,000 and 5,000 signatures in the province of Negros Occidental.
Filipinos in Cagayan de Oro, Albay, as well as in the Philippine consulate in New York also gathered to call for the abolishment of pork barrel.
The simultaneous march protest was triggered by a government audit released August 16 that found P6.2 billion ($141 million) of the fund allocated over three years under the previous administration was released to questionable aid groups and ghost projects.
The scandal centered on a powerful businesswoman, Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly collaborated with lawmakers in channeling some of the funds.
Napoles has gone into hiding after she was charged with illegal detention of a whistleblower. Media reports of her daughter’s lavish lifestyle have angered many ordinary taxpayers in the Southeast Asian country where nearly 28 percent of the 97 million people are extremely poor.
That prompted calls on social media for Monday's protest in Rizal Park, where more than 100,000 turned out including students, workers, priests and nuns.
Dubbed as the "million people march," the event Monday was seen as the first massive protest under the Aquino administration. Police said there were around 60,000 protesters.
Some protesters carried placards saying: "Senators, you should be ashamed of yourselves."
Others wore masks with a picture of a pig's face, or shirts calling for the abolition of the fund.
Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, speaking to the cheering crowd, urged all to show that the Filipino is honorable, to support policies that offer a way to heroism and to feel the heartbeat of the nation and the sufferings of the poor.
"Let us also listen to the voice of God, especially in our conscience," Tagle added.
"Lumambot nawa ang mga pusong nagmamatigas. Mabuksan nawa ang mga matang nabubulagan. Maging payak nawa ang nalulong sa karanyaan. Makipagkapwa tao nawa ang nahuhumaling sa sarili. Marinig nawa namin ang hikbi ng mahihirap," said Tagle.
Akbayan party-list congratulated the thousands of concerned citizens who gathered at Luneta Park in Manila.
"We are heartened to see that the spirit of protest is alive and that the people continue to believe that change must be furthered and deepened. If the Middle East has the Arab Spring, we have the 'Filipino Habagat," said Akbayan Representative Walden Bello.
Fr. Robert Reyes challenged President Benigno Aquino III to resign if he could no longer handle the problem.
"Kung hindi niyo na kaya, take the example of Pope Benedict and resign. It’s a very painful challenge pero huwag niyo na kami bolahin," said Reyes.
Activist nun Mary John Mananzan demanded not only the prosecution of Napoles and his brother but also the lawmakers who benefited from the PDAF scam.
"I hope there will be a continued demand for the abolition not only of the PDAF but all pork barrel that means both congressional and presidential," Mananzan told Sun.Star.
She said the PDAF scam is the "worst scam" since the Martial Law government of former President Ferdinand Marcos, which spurred the first Edsa Revolution or the People Power.
The nun added that members of Congress should go back to their basic job, which is enacting laws.
Miggy Moreno, president of the University Student Government at the De La Salle University Manila, said at least a thousand students joined the protest to voice out their dismay over the government’s inaction on the PDAF abuse.
"I expect the government to really be more critical and consult the people in terms of their sentiment that they have in possible improvement and development in this country," Moreno said.
Former senator Jun Magsaysay, former chairman of the Senate committee, which investigated the Fertilizer Fund scam, also supported the event.
Aside from abolishing the controversial PDAF, laborers are challenging government officials to try living with a minimum wage.
According to the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), abolition of the pork barrel may not be enough to make government officials become better leaders as they need to be one of the people to know their needs, just as the Catholic Church has said.
"If our legislative and executive officials are in position for public service and not to wallow in pork then they should be amenable to a radical pay cut to the level of a minimum wage earner," said Renato Magtubo, PM chairman.
"They can better craft law and policies beneficial to the masses once they experience the life of the ordinary worker," he added.
Magtubo stressed, however, that they remain one in the call for the abolition of the pork barrel, saying the people should not be at the mercy of public officials in releasing their discretionary funds.
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were also not left out of the activity, as many chapters of the Migrante International reported similar actions versus pork barrel.
"For OFWs, it is only fitting that protests culminate today, National Heroes Day. Dubbed the ‘modern-day heroes,’ OFWs are claiming their stake in the call to abolish Aquino’s pork barrel," said Migrante chairman Garry Martinez in a statement.
He said their chapters in Asia, North Africa, Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe all reported having their own versions of the anti-pork rallies.
Former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was removed from the Supreme Court last year for concealing multi-million peso cash deposits from the public, received mixed reactions from the crowd when he arrived at the rally.
"Ako'y nakikiisa sa galit ng ating sambayanan sa pang-aabuso an nangyayari in connection with this pork barrel and accountability of public officers sa kaban ng bayan," he said in a television interview Monday.
Critics said President Aquino’s promise on Friday (August 23) to reform the system was not enough and all pork barrel funds must be abolished because they are prone to corruption.
Aquino, who has made fighting against corruption a centerpiece of his administration, said there was nothing "intrinsically wrong" with the system but it has been abused by "a few greedy individuals."
He vowed to prosecute those responsible for misusing the fund.
He said under the new system, legislators could still identify projects but they would need approval and would be closely scrutinized.
Aquino also issued guidelines to safeguard public funds, including the publication of bids and awarding of projects.
In his speech marking National Heroes' Day, Aquino reiterated his promise.
"We will do everything in our power to find those who conspired to take advantage of the PDAF's good intentions, and to hold them accountable," he added, referring to the PDAF.
The PDAF is an annual fund amounting to some P70 million given to each of the 289 congressmen for them to spend on their identified and targeted projects. Each of the senators, for their part, gets P200 million of PDAF, a whopping P1.2 billion in their gig as lawmakers of the country.
The Philippine government is allocating P25.2 billion for the PDAF distributed to both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The PDAF was initiated in 1990 under President Corazon Aquino, President Benigno Aquino III’s mother. (JK/HDT/Virgil Lopez/Kathrina Alvarez/JM Agreda of Sun.Star Baguio/RGN and IOF of Sun.Star Pampanga/ANC and RPSA of Sun.Star Davao/TDE of Sun.Star Bacolod/AP/Sunnex)