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Filipinos call for a stop to political greed
Publication Date : 27-08-2013
It was a rally of several firsts: The first largest protest assembly since Philippine President Benigno Aquino III was elected in 2010 on a platform of good governance; the first initiated and ignited through the social networks; the first without a leader and political color.
The tens of thousands of predominantly middle-class Filipinos converged on Manila’s Rizal Park on Monday without a leader but pulled together by a shared desire for the complete abolition of the pork barrel and the prosecution of the people who misused it to line their pockets.
The protesters marched across Manila and streamed into the park to stage a leaderless gathering called through Facebook and Twitter to express national rage at corruption in the government.
Ignoring a slight rain and the muddy grounds, the protesters, whose number police estimated at 85,000 to 100,000, stayed all day, hoping to drive home a common message: end graft and corruption.
Aquino tried to head off the protest on Friday by announcing the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a pork barrel that channels funds to congressional districts, but allocations for it would be set down in the budget starting next year.
But angered by a series of reports in the Inquirer on the alleged plundering of the PDAF by a businesswoman in connivance with legislators, the people appear to have rejected Aquino’s solution and proceeded with the march to demand the complete abolition of the pork barrel.
The protesters gathered at Luneta Park, some wearing pig masks and headgear.
Others carried banners saying “Scrap pork barrel!” or “No to pork!”
“We have learned here that we all have a voice,” said Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña, one of the netizens who propagated the idea for the mass protest on Facebook and Twitter.
“If we speak up, we can be heard. It’s the start of being listened to,” Bretaña said.
She said the gathering was not leaderless, but “leader-full.”
Everybody who joined could initiate action and bring about change, she added.
After the gathering, people must sustain their anger to improve things in the government, she said.
They could educate themselves about the controversy and take further action to ensure the proper use of public funds, she said. They could write to mayors, lawmakers, even the president, to air their demands, she added.
Bretaña said the people were clearly unappeased by president Aquino’s decision to abolish the PDAF and replace it with a new system that would put it in the national budget.
“The effect of the announcement was that the people took a deeper look at what he was saying and they learned that he wasn’t actually stopping the pork,” Bretaña said.
She said the investigation of the pork barrel scam should be completed in 100 days, because people might forget the issue if the probe stretched longer than that.
At the center of that probe is businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly siphoned off 10 billion pesos (US$229 million) in legislators’ PDAF allocations into her bank accounts through bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) over the last 10 years.
Five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives have been implicated in the alleged plunder of the PDAF.
Napoles has denied any wrongdoing. But she has gone into hiding after being ordered arrested by a Makati City court for the illegal detention of the principal witness in the pork barrel scam.
A special audit by the Commission on Audit (COA) found wider corruption involving the PDAF, with billions of pesos being channeled through 82 dubious NGOs.
Ten of those NGOs had been set up by Napoles and received more than 2 billion pesos from 2007 to 2009 alone.
For the marchers, the protest was only the beginning, as talk of what should come next had begun.
A group of employees at music companies gathered at one corner of Burnham Green was overheard suggesting a boycott of taxes if the people’s demand for the abolition of the pork barrel went unheeded.
“If we just sign up for the campaign, what happens next? By April and no one involved in this mess is in jail, or the reforms we are asking for are not done, let’s just stop paying our taxes,” said musician Mike Villegas.
With reports from Erika Sauler and Jaymee T. Gamil