Nation


Protest vs ‘pork barrel’ seen to draw 1M




Posted on August 26, 2013


ANGER IN social media at the misuse of state funds has snowballed into calls for a rally expected to attract thousands, one of the organizers said yesterday.

Calls for a “million people march” scheduled for today began circulating on Facebook and Twitter about two weeks ago after local press reports of a scandal involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

The fund is money allocated for lawmakers to be used in development projects. Critics see it as funding “pork barrel” projects which have traditionally been a source of corruption.

At the center of the controversy is a woman who allegedly connived with legislators to siphon off some 10 billion from the fund.

“We demand transparency and accountability,” the organizers said in their online invitation on Facebook, “Abolish pork barrel.”

One of the organizers, Peachy Rallonza-Bretana, said the idea for the march originally circulated among her circle of friends but quickly caught on.

As of Sunday afternoon, nearly 18,000 people had said they would join marches culminating in what the organizers said would be a peaceful “picnic get together” in Luneta Park in central Manila.

Activists in other cities have said they would hold simultaneous marches in support of the Manila protest.

Various religious, professional, business and leftist organizations have also signified interest in joining the protest.

“We are aghast, disgusted and enraged at such a wanton display of shamelessness by those who we elected to serve and protect the people,” read a manifesto of support signed by some alumni of the elite Philippine Military Academy who are no longer on active duty.

“We cannot and we will not tolerate this any more even those from among our own,” it said.

For his part, Herminio Harry L. Roque, Jr., a rights lawyer, said organizers expect to reach the one-million attendance in the protest rally with no single entity spearheading the event.

Asked to identify the organizers, he said: “No one. Horizontal siya [It’s horizontal].”

A former party-list congressman, Teodoro “Teddy” A. Casiño, Jr., said in a text message on Saturday: “There is supposed to be no single organizer. But check out their FB (Facebook) page.”

According to the Facebook announcement, the protest will start at 9:00 a.m.

It read that “WE, THE TAXPAYERS, WANT: 1. THE PORK BARREL SCRAPPED. 2. THE SENATORS AND CONGRESSMEN IN THE PORK BARREL FUND SCAM INVESTIGATED AND CHARGED ACCORDINGLY, WITH FULL MEDIA COVERAGE FOR THE PEOPLE TO SEE.”

HEIGHTENED ALERT
Meanwhile, the Metro Manila police command was yesterday placed on heightened alert in preparation for the protests.

“Almost 500 Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel will be deployed at the venue to ensure safety and security of participants,” Sr. Supt. Reuben Theodore C. Sindac, the PNP spokesman, said in a phone interview yesterday.

As part of initial preparations, Mr. Sindac said the Manila Police District -- which has jurisdiction over the rally area -- has been on full alert status as of 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.

In a related development, government officials will not be barred from joining today’s rally in Manila, Palace officials said yesterday.

“They are free to join these kinds of movements. Wala ho namang kinikilingan ’yan [The event has no biases],” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail F. Valte said in an interview over state-run radio.

The Palace official further said that the government “actually encourage(s) continued discussions and taking part in participatory governance.”

Ms. Valte further said that the Palace is open to discussing the proposed new mechanism that will govern fund disbursements in the proposed 2014 budget.

“We are open to discussions as it is good that we have open dialogue and because of this conversation, more people are looking into what the budget process is,” she said.

The administration will also issue public information materials about the budget process and the differences between the PDAF and other lump-sum funds in the budget.

On Friday, President Benigno S. C. Aquino III announced that he has ordered the Budget department to consult with Congress regarding the new mechanism for disbursement of funds to lawmakers, as he ordered the abolition of PDAF.

The changes will require line budgeting or identification of specific projects of senators and congressmen to ensure transparency, and these should be defended by the lawmaker. Types of projects will also be limited to a specific menu.

As this developed, a Catholic group has called for the outright abolition of the pork barrel.

In a statement yesterday, the National Secretariat of Social Action of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP-NASSA) said Mr. Aquino “is doing a great disservice to the country by not acting decisively on this issue”.

“Our call... is not just for the rigorous investigation of this scam but for the abolition of the pork barrel system. The PDAF is not mandated by law; It is simply at the discretion of the President,” the statement read.

“If he is really against corruption, as he claims to be, then he should do away with structures that bring corruption. Stricter compliance and checks and balances is (sic) one thing, but it cannot replace the fact that this system, when not abolished, still exists,” it added.

The group further said the system weakens governance as it blurs the independence of the Executive and Legislative branches of government, promotes political patronage and political dynasties, allows incompetent lawmakers to get elected, and impedes the passage of the Freedom of Information (FoI) law.

While they acknowledged Mr. Aquino’s recent statements on changes to the PDAF, such action should be done immediately, not next year.

“PDAF should be scrapped, and it should be done now, not in 2014! If it is acknowledged to be defective, why still continue it?” the group said. -- AFP with Kathryn Mae P. Tubadeza, Emilia Narni J. David and Mikhail Franz E. Flores