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Aquino faces 1st big protest
Publication Date : 26-08-2013
Call to scrap pork echoes nationwide
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III faces Monday the first massive protest against his administration—the Million People March at Manila’s Rizal Park called by netisens angry at his refusal to abolish the pork barrel despite the discovery of its misuse through connivance between politicians and racketeers.
The march has smaller versions in the provinces, called by various sectoral leaders, to let Aquino know that the demand for an end to the misuse of state funds is not limited to Manila but reverberates across the country, quite many parts of which need the very funds being pocketed by politicians and their partners in bogus nongovernmental organisations (NGOs).
Aquino tried to preempt the march by announcing on Friday the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), from which businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles allegedly siphoned off 10 billion pesos (US$229 million) into her bank accounts through fake NGOs over the last 10 years.
But the president failed to appease the public because he blunted the impact of the abolition by saying Congress would find a new way to work the lawmakers’ PDAF allocations into the proposed 2.268-trillion peso budget for next year. From 2015, there would be no more PDAF, but there would still be pork barrel itemised in the national budget.
That attempt to go around the public demand sparked more anger in social media, with netisens burning Facebook and Twitter with calls for participation in the march.
With a million people in the park, the organisers intend to drive home their message: Scrap not only the PDAF but also all lump-sum appropriations in the budget, and hold to account all those who have stolen the taxpayers’ money.
“Stay angry,” said the banner on the Facebook page of the event.
“Sustaining the outrage is very important,” Amadeo Mallonga Mendoza said on the page.
And it is not only for one day. Today’s march is just the beginning, the organisers said.
“We’re showing our anger at irregularities in the government not just for one day. August 26 is just the beginning. We won’t allow ourselves to be exploited anymore,” Mendoza said.
Peachy Rallonza-Bretana, who set the date and the place for the event, has also initiated a petition on the website Change.org to drive home the people’s call and to convince the government to let go of the pork barrel and funds that have little or no accountability.
In her new petition, Bretana said all Filipinos who pay taxes are asserting their collective right to demand that all pork be scrapped, including discretionary funds in the government.
“We acknowledge President [Aquino’s] response to the people’s mounting anger. This is a positive sign. But ‘pork’ is not just PDAF. Pork means all modes of public spending that has little or no accountability. This includes the billions and billions of pesos in discretionary funds in all branches of government,” Bretaña said.
“Successive governments, including the [Aquino administration], have failed to safeguard our interests by allowing and supporting all kinds of corruption in the pork barrel system. We, the taxpayers, are always told to be patient because the government lacks funds. Now we know why—our money, billions of pesos [of it, has] been siphoned off by the corrupt [into their pockets],” it said.
Bretana called for an accounting of how all pork barrel funds had been spent.
“If we truly want to rid the nation of corruption, we [should not] focus only on one sector or one administration. There is no such thing as ‘unaccountable’ power to spend our money,” she said.
The use of the pork barrel must be investigated and those found guilty of misuse should be punished, she said.
Bretana intends to gather 200,000 signatures for her petition.
No single group is credited with organising Monday’s march, as it arose from Facebook posts of ordinary citizens that quickly spread and gained support.
Among those joining are supporters of the freedom of information (FOI) bill who say they are heeding the call to gather and show the citizens’ outrage over the plunder of public funds, and join the call for the abolition of the pork and the prosecution of all those who misused it.
Nepomuceno Malaluan of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition said the message of the gathering was not incompatible with the the group’s push for an FOI law.
The call for accountability and transparency is very much the spirit of our cause by the expressed purpose of an FOI law,” Malaluan said in a phone interview.
He said questions on what to do about the pork barrel had yet to be answered, and the investigation of the alleged misuse of the fund was still in the preliminary stage. His group found repugnant the breakdown of check and balance in the government, which allowed the pork barrel scam to happen.
He noted that the plunder of the people’s money took place under the noses of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and other agencies under the executive, and even with such supposed safeguards as the procurement law in place.
If such measures could break down in the pork barrel, which is 1.5 per cent of the budget, what is the assurance that the same breakdown will not happen in the 98.5 per cent of the budget, Malaluan asked.
The pork barrel scam has reinforced the need for an FOI law, which would institutionalise true transparency and accountability measures, he said.
As of Sunday afternoon, nearly 18,000 people had said they would join marches culminating in what organisers said would be a peaceful “picnic get-together” at Rizal Park.
In other cities, simultaneous marches will be staged in support of the Manila protest.
Religious, professional, business and leftist organisations have signified interest in joining the protest.
Civil servants are also joining, among them Audit Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, whose office, the Commission on Audit (COA), has done a special audit of the use of the PDAF from 2007 to 2009 and found that the pork barrel scam is wider than the bogus NGO racket allegedly orchestrated by Napoles.
Mendoza posted on Facebook that she would go to Luneta not as a government auditor but as an ordinary citizen.
The Palace has no objection. “Everyone is free to join mass actions like this,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Sunday on state-run dzRB radio.
Valte said the government was open to a dialogue with proponents of the abolition of the pork barrel.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said that after the protest, the people should explore more ways to participate in the preparation and implementation of the budget.
“They can participate in various ways by making sure they exercise oversight over it so there’s greater transparency and accountability,” Abad said by phone.
The influential Roman Catholic Church has thrown its support behind the organisers of the march.
But Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle on Sunday said the Church was leaving it up to the faithful if they wanted to join the protest.
Should they decide to join the march, Tagle advised them to study the issues, be committed to integrity, and maintain peace and hope.
At a recent news conference, Tagle was moved to tears as spoke about the pork barrel scam, and he appealed to those who dipped their hands in the national coffers to go to the slums and see how the poor suffer every day.
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said he would join the protest because he believed the event was more than just about the pork barrel scam.
Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos said his diocese supported the march, as the pork barrel system was not only “shocking” but also “shameful, sinful, plain stealing, where the poor and needy are further exploited and made to suffer again and again.”
The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) said it backed the march, stressing that the use of the pork barrel must be made transparent or it must be abolished.
The National Secretariat for Social Action, the social arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), called on the people to be one with the country in protesting against the alarming misuse of public funds.
The people of Ilocos Norte are joining a local version of the Manila march at the Aurora Freedom Park in Laoag City on Monday.
“As Christians, we cannot remain silent when we see the ills of society eating us up. To keep silent is to tolerate the evil that it is and the evil it creates. This is the time to stand up for something worth fighting for,” said businessman Michael Joseph Paderon of the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) on his Facebook account.
Rain or shine
Rain or shine, hundreds of Knights of Columbus and residents of Laguna are going to Luneta.
In San Pablo City, 200 residents will gather at the city plaza at 8am on Monday to stage their own protest, said Arvin Carandang, a sectoral organiser.
In Cavite, members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and the Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW) are holding smaller protests before marching to Manila.
The Archbishop of Caceres on Sunday urged the faithful in Camarines Sur to demand the speedy and fair investigation of those who misused public funds.
“The lawful conviction of those guilty will signal commitment of our government to truth and justice,” said Archbishop Rolando J. Tria Tirona in a pastoral letter read in Catholic churches in Camarines Sur.
Tirona criticised President Aquino for his decision to merely regulate the pork barrel system, which he said “does nothing to patronage politics, which hurt the poor the most.”
Lucena Bishop Emilio Marquez criticised the president for insisting on keeping the pork barrel.
“He announced its (PDAF’s) abolition and yet one of his officials tells us that there is still pork barrel,” Marquez said, referring to Budget Secretary Abad, who said on Saturday that pork would be itemised in next year’s budget.
“They announced the abolition of the PDAF, but Aquino still has 1 trillion pesos in pork barrel. Do you understand that?” Marquez said.
In Cebu, Negros Occidental, Aklan, Capiz and Iloilo, people are also marching on Monday morning to demand the abolition of the pork barrel.
Civic and business groups in Cebu and a multisectoral group in Bacolod have issued separate statements, asking President Aquino to listen to the voices of his “bosses.”
At least 10 fashion models from the House of Emmangelo will join activists on the provincial capitol grounds and also demand the abolition of the pork barrel.
With reports from bureau desks nationwide.