“Basically, the Palace only removed PDAF in name, but the money’s still there. Worse, it’s now under the president’s full discretion.” – Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — All roads in Manila lead to Rizal Park today, virtually and physically, as outraged Filipinos reiterated plans to converge there to demand the actual and genuine abolition of ALL pork barrel allocations of government officials – from legislators to the president in Malacañang. This is despite President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s announcement on Friday August 23 of “reforms” on the pork barrel system. Desperately trying to cushion the political impact of today’s protest activity, authorities issued veiled threats and warnings against participating in the protest action today, and there were efforts by some groups to sow intrigues among the anti-pork barrel groups.
“Aquino’s statements give us no reason to celebrate and give us many reasons to be vigilant. He wants to undermine the Aug. 26 protest and even make it appear that this protest against corruption is something that is supportive of the government at a time when the latter is being criticized for corruption,” Elmer “Bong” Labog, KMU chairman, said in a statement.
In Visayas and Mindanao, and in other regions outside of the nation’s capital, various groups announced plans to converge as well this August 26 against the pork barrel, against corruption and government ruses that pretend it is addressing the demand to abolish the pork barrel system even as it it trying to expand its control and share of pork.
“It is the height of irony that pork barrel – an institutionalized plunder of people’s money until the Marcos years – was restored under Corazon C. Aquino in the guise of the “countrywide development fund” (CDF), then renamed as “priority development assistance fund” (PDAF) under Joseph E. Estrada, and now will be retained in another form by Benigno S. Aquino III – son of Mrs. Aquino – to defuse public disgust,” the Center for People Empowerment in Governance said in a statement.
“Spontaneous” organizers of the protests estimated a million participants, which authorities immediately doubted but prepared contingencies for, anyway. More than two thousand police plus unannounced number of soldiers are to be deployed in Rizal Park and the environs, and they have flooded the news with “warnings” and “prohibitions” like asking the protesters not to bring a backpack, not to bring their children, etc. in the protest ‘picnic.’
Those who have announced plans to join the Luneta demonstration come from the toiling masses of workers, peasants, urban poor, students and their schools, artists and cultural workers, religious groups, concerned netizens, lawyers groups and other democratic and progressive sectors.
Overseas Filipinos are also posting in social internet networking sites group photos of their protests and calls against the pork barrel and corruption. Seafarers, workers in Saudi Arabia, Canada, Hong Kong, Europe, among others, have unveiled plans to be with their fellow citizens in the protest even though they are oceans away. Filipinos in Europe, under Migrante-Europe, are set to hold solidarity actions such as prayer services, discussions and possible work stoppages in protest against pork barrel and massive corruption in the Philippines.
Varied and colorful
In the weekend before the Luneta protest against the pork barrel, various groups gathered to prepare their gear. Youth and student groups, for example, gathered to prepare anti-pork masks, headdresses, effigies, banners and other protest gear. The same is true with workers, teachers and unionists. Bikers and cyclists “rode against pork barrel” this Sunday at the UP academic oval in Diliman, QC.
In Southern Tagalog where numerous and simultaneous protest actions would be held this Monday in separate locations, participants have prepared to wear “pig masks.”
Various artists in a press conference Sunday also announced their stand against pork barrel and corruption. They discussed and presented the signing of their statement of unity against pork barrel (with over a hundred signatories) including Aquino’s pork barrel. They asserted that the protest this Monday, August 26, is still underway despite Aquino’s false “abolition” of the PDAF. Their planned actions beginning 7:00 a.m. include conducting street art, jamming and performance art along with members of Youth Act Now.
Save from the masks and effigies, during the Monday protests, various groups are also offering T-shirt designs sporting witty to fiery denunciations of pork barrel and corruption.
‘This is just the beginning’
“People are angry because there is so much deception in a government that claims to be doing the opposite of its predecessor,” said Nardy Sabino, General Secretary of Promotion of Church People’s Response. Sabino encourages the believer to remain active “in social witness. ”
“We call on the faithful to remain vigilant, be humble like doves, but wise like serpents. The pronouncement could be a way to mitigate the angry voices of the people against corruption,” Sabino said in a statement.
What set off the peoples’ belief that Aquino’s dramatic Friday ‘turn-around’ about the pork barrel are the executive’s outright refusal to abolish the largely un-scrutinized presidential pork and also its effort to expand control or discretion even over the legislators’ pork.
With 2016 looming in the horizon, Aquino’s moves with the pork barrel was viewed as preparation for his team. “President Aquino’s presidential pork barrel would be used to buy off politicians and votes to ensure the victory of his favored candidates,” Rev. Cesar Taguba of Migrante Europe said.
In previous elections, incumbent administrations used pork barrel – along with other government resources – to ensure the victory of their candidates, Bobby Tuazon, director of Policy Studies of CenPEG, said in a statement.
“The president’s dramatic announcement on Friday regarding the supposed abolition of the PDAF was exposed as nothing but pure gimmickry when Budget Secretary Butch Abad revealed that the fund would still remain in 2014 and the years to come – with the only difference being that the fund would be itemized and already integrated in the budget of agencies,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said in another statement.
The supposed reforms in the pork barrel only widened the president’s discretion over the PDAF. “Basically, the Palace only removed PDAF in name, but the money’s still there. Worse, it’s now under the president’s full discretion,” Ridon explained.
As this becomes clearer to various groups, criticisms of Akbayan partylist surfaced in some. Akbayan Partylist has lauded Aquino’s Aug. 23 statement, even as it had announced it would join the Aug 26 protests against the pork barrel.
Amid late efforts to sow intrigues among the critics of pork barrel and corruption, the Kilusang May Uno (KMU) claimed that the partylist group Akbayan is Aquino’s “kasabwat sa kababuyan” or “partner in pork.” The partylist which has been reportedly benefitting from appointments disbursements was criticized now “for trying to make it appear that the chief executive’s statement points to the abolition of the pork barrel system.
“Akbayan has pitted itself against the various sectors of society which are participating in the Aug. 26 protest. It is colluding with Aquino in trying to weaken the protest and divide the ranks of those who plan to join by amplifying Aquino’s lies,” Labog said.
KMU reiterated its call to the public to join tomorrow’s protest and the future protests against the president’s pork barrel, against the pork barrel system, and against growing corruption in the Aquino government.
“We are calling on all Filipinos who love their country to join this Monday’s protest,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU media officer. Like the other groups gearing up for this day of protest, he expressed “hope that tomorrow will be the start of more and bigger protests against presidential pork, the pork barrel system, and corruption.”