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Street unrest heightens as Aquino lambasts critics

Publication Date : 28-08-2014


In speech on National Heroes Day last Monday, Philippine President Aquino  lambasted his  critics  for “becoming desperate” in their opposition  to his campaign for good governance.

“There are still a select and selfish few who remain determined to bring back the old and abusive political systems,” he said in a vitriolic speech, bristling with prevarications and offensive self-righteousness. He ranted, “This is the fight  that confronts us today … to remain vigilant against those who sow doubt and lies; to stand firm and refuse  to allow ourselves to be manipulated by those who only pretend at reform; to reject the crooked and resolve to stay on  the right path.”

The tirades came as  mass  protests  from outraged civil society groups mounted  against  moves from the ruling Liberal  Party to revise  the 1987 Constitution  to allow Aquino to seek a second term,  and after the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional administration measures  it considered an abuse of the disbursement of pork barrel funds by the Presidential Palace.

The President’s denunciations of his critics did not identify his critics, and came as a shot-gun barrage, that was full of charges that condemned his detractors as antireform obstructionists and seeking the return of the corruption-ridden old regime. Nothing can be farther from reality than these blanket charges.
The President appeared to have been stung by protest posters directed at the abolition of the administration-sponsored pork barrel scheme incarnated in the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), branding him the “pork barrel king.”

The President’s speech was delivered a few hours before thousands of protesters gathered at Rizal Park in Manila for a signature campaign to legislate an antipork law through a people’s initiative. The protest called  for the scrapping of the  huge lump-sum appropriations  in the proposed 2.606-trillion-peso (US$59.7 billion) national budget next year. Congressional sources have exposed administration efforts to restore 20.7 billion pesos in disallowed pork barrel in this year’s budget.

Aquino has also come under heavy fire for attacking the Supreme Court after the court declared the DAP unconstitutional, sending the Court and the Executive on a collision course, and raising fears in legal circles about his “dictatorial” tendencies.

In his speech indicating growing impatience with his critics, the President appeared to be seeking public support and turning public opinion against his critics. The President has also come under a firestorm of criticism for declaring he was open to seek another term, a move that would require changes in the Constitution.

In his speech, he said, “We have been treading the straight path for more than four years now. The seeds of change we have sown are already bearing fruit—and, seeing these, those who want to take advantage of the people are becoming desperate.” Under siege from several quarters for his performance during the past four years, in the last two years the President  finds  himself  plagued by plunging trust and approval ratings in public opinion  surveys and growing unrest in the streets.

The President appeared to have made a damaging blunder when he declared that he was amenable to serve another term through constitutional change—a move that is anathema to the public, as has been found by previous presidents who sought, but failed, in their attempts to tinker  with the single six-year term in the Constitution. It has been shown that tampering with this restriction invites visitation by this political curse.

In their demonstrations on National Heroes Day against the reviled pork barrel system, the antipork movement warned that expressing outrage is not enough to get rid of the pork barrel system. Organisers of the movement served notice that they now transformed their campaign into a push for a people’s initiative and are trying to collect six million signatures to endorse a people’s initiative bill that would abolish the pork barrel system.

According to the organisers of the movement, the message of the protest was intended to encourage Filipinos to take up the initiative to abolish the pork barrel system because the government and Congress would not, despite the Supreme Court ruling that the system was unconstitutional.

For a bill to succeed, it would require the signatures of citizens representing 10 per cent of the total number of registered voters, including 3 per cent of all voters in each congressional district, as required by the initiative and referendum law.

The people’s initiative bill seeks to enact a law that would specifically prohibit lump-sum appropriations in the budget as well as the impounding of funds, unless there is an official declaration of an unmanageable budget deficit.

The bill would prohibit the insertion of provisions allowing any post-budget interventions by members of Congress in the implementation of programs. 

The Abolish Pork Movement officials said that a law specifically prohibiting lump-sum appropriations   would be useful to defeating government strategies aimed at going around the Supreme Court’s decision against the pork barrel. It would criminalise programs like the PDAF and DAP. “It’s handcuffs for officials so they can’t maneuver,” said one official.

Civil society groups have stepped up their antipork campaign, driving up unrest in the streets.


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