State, private workers join Luneta rally

MANILA -- (Updated) Government and private employees simultaneously joined Monday the protest rally held at the Luneta Park in Manila to showcase their disdain for the continued presence of the pork barrel system in the government.

In separate statements, the Confederation for Unity, Advancement and Recognition of Government Employees (Courage) and the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) both declared their oneness with the Filipino people in rejecting all types of pork barrel.

(John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)

"As civil servants, we are witnesses on how our people, especially the poor queue for much-needed but inadequate services and yet billions of funds are plundered by our officials. We are for the abolition of all forms of pork, lump sums and discretionary funds," said Courage.

"We are calling on all Filipinos to continue the fight against the pork barrel system and corruption in government. Let us show Aquino that we will continue fighting pork and corruption no matter the change in modus operandi or cast of characters involved," said KMU.

Courage warned the Aquino administration that given the heightened awareness created by the pork barrel scam, the people will not allow again any opportunities for officials to continuously steal public funds.

"The government can no longer deceive the people with pork being tucked-in on the national budget and under different schemes they fabricated to hide the same," said Courage.

It is for this reason, KMU said, that the public must not hesitate in joining the people's initiative (PI) for a law that will abolish all forms of pork barrel.

"It is really up to Filipinos to work for the abolition of the pork barrel system in all its forms," said KMU.

Government workers wore red and black shirts in a bid to show unity among their ranks despite coming from Executive, Judiciary, Legislative branches of government and other agencies.

Judiciary employees were also present in the rally to condemn the government's alleged schemes to perpetuate the pork barrel system and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), both of which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC).

Mar Aguilar, vice president of the Judiciary Employees Association (Judea), said President Benigno Aquino III could not give up his discretionary and lump sum funds as these can be used to keep allies in Congress.

The House of Representatives will tackle on Tuesday the impeachment complaints against Aquino and proposal to introduce changes to foreign ownership rules in the Constitution largely seen by overseas investors and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. as hindrance to the country's progress.

Aquino also recently expressed openness to lift the mandatory six-year term limit for a president and clip the judiciary's power.

Both Judea and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) called on the public to fight charter change.

"To cite the purported need to amend because he (Aquino) lost in the DAP case where the program was declared unconstitutional, simply taxes our credulity, undermines and defies reason and puts to great doubt the ability of the President to govern under a rule of law," the IBP said.

The lawyers' group asked Aquino to rethink his position in seeking a second term and of tinkering with the Constitution through his allies in the legislature.

Aquino should also learn from the country's experience during the 20-year Marcos dictatorship, which was toppled by a peaceful uprising in 1986 that installed the president's mother, the late Corazon Aquino, in Malacanang, the IBP said.

"The people would never approve the term extension of a megalomaniac that made their lives miserable, because of his puppet, scourge of the masses, corrupt, fascist ways," said Anakbayan chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.

Scrap Pork Network spokesperson Monet Silvestre said Monday's assembly themed "Stand Up, Sign Up Against All Pork" was pushing the "people's initiative against the pork barrel system."

"This (people's initiative to eradicate pork) is mandated by the Constitution, which is one way to enact a law because it is not enough that Supreme Court says the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Funds) is unconstitutional," Silvestre said.

He said the abolishment of PDAF system should be implemented as a law to penalize all the involved persons in the scam by six to 10 years.

"If the accused was not seized before, we (the people) will have an edge and the power (to castigate those who were not detained through the draft bill once it becomes a law)," he added.

(Photos by John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)

Various sectors have challenged President Benigno Aquino III and his allies to sign the people's initiative against the pork barrel if they are truly against the system.

Bayan Muna party-list Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate called on the Chief Executive to totally erase the "pork system" if they are truly sincere in their stand.

Colmenares said that if Aquino is really against the pork barrel, then he should sign the people's initiative and shun all pork from the DAP to the lawmakers PDAF as well as its other forms.

He said that Aquino has the biggest pork in the budget under the guise of President's Social Fund (PSF), Special Purpose Funds (SPF), and the Malampaya Fund.

"The president and his allies keep saying that there are no more pork barrel funds in the 2015 budget but we know otherwise because there are huge lump sums in the budget that can be nothing else but pork," he said.

The House Senior Deputy Minority Floor Leader lauded the initiative to gather signatures to come up with a law that mandates line item budgeting and criminalizes the allocation and use of pork barrel funds.

"The people's initiative is also meant to criminalize the use of pork barrel funds in any form that would make it illegal for the president to impound the funds or realign them after Congress already passed the General Appropriations Act," Colmenares said.

The lawmaker said that next year's proposed national budget still contains billions in lump sum funds at the disposal of the President.

"Congress has [actually] created a new mechanism for handing out pork to its members through a discreet referral and recommendation system even as it has kept intact the President’s gargantuan discretionary funds," Colmenares added.

Zarate, for his part, believes that if Aquino and his allies as well as his supporters will not sign the people's initiative then the Chief Executive "would truly be exposed as the primary defender of the pork barrel system."

"If we want the government funds to go straight to the people then we should support this," Zarate said.

In response, Aquino said it would not heed the challenge of Colmenares to sign the people's initiative against pork barrel.

In a text message to reporters on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad had already explained the proposed 2015 budget during a hearing in the House of Representatives.

"Neri had the opportunity to look into the proposed 2015 budget. Secretary Abad already categorically answered his queries during the DBCC (Development Budget Coordination Committee) hearings before the House. The answers were obviously not in agreement with his agenda," he said referring to Colmenares, who dared the President to sign the people's initiative against pork barrel.

He said that Abad has repeatedly explained the budget and the reform principles behind it.

Malacanang has maintained that Aquino already scrapped the lawmakers' PDAF or pork barrel since the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 2013.

Lacierda said that those who call the President's PSF, SPF and Malampaya Fund have different interpretation of what pork barrel is.

"There is a fundamental difference in their definition of pork barrel. SC already ruled on it. Do they agree with the definition of the SC regarding pork barrel?" he said.

Anti-pork barrel groups led by the Abolish Pork Movement gathered on Monday at Luneta Park to gather six million signatures for Congress to pass a law that would totally abolish pork barrel system.

Lacierda said the Palace also respects the gathering of thousands of people at Luneta Park and it was not alarmed over it.

"We have a vibrant democracy. Where's the threat to democracy?" he said.

Inday Verona, a member of the anti-pork barrel movement, said they would roam around the accessible locations like parish and schools to gather signatures. The rally at park set up 22 booths to start the signature campaign.

The group said they are confident to reach their goal as they could see the public's support over the termination of pork barrel.

Meanwhile, the Manila Police District (MPD) has estimated more than 5,000 individuals have attended Monday's protest in Luneta Park.

Varona said though it seems that the figure are typically much lower compared to their inaugural protest, they believed that the silent majority still supports their advocacy for good governance.

"Kita mo naman last year, talagang galit ang namuo sa mga tao. Ngayon kahit tingin natin na medyo mas mababa ang mga dumalo, we still believed na kahit yung mga hinde pumunta ngayon dito sa Luneta ay sumusuporta pa rin sa advocacy natin," Varona said.

Former prominent Aquino supporter Mae Paner aka Juana Change also graced the event wearing her authentic Filipiniana dress with anti-pork sentiment design. Paner signed the proposal seeking to finally eliminate the pork barrel system in the government. (HDT/Virgil Lopez/Ruth Abbey Gita/John Carlo Cahinhinan/SDR/Sunnex)
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