“May our Congressmen, Senators and President together with the departments under them voluntarily uphold the principles of transparency, justice and accountability before the Sacred Constitution of the Nation, the Bars of Genuine Justice and before God and His People.” – Fr. Ben Alforque
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — More than 1,500 Catholic and Protestant Churches all over the country simultaneously rang their bells against pork at 1 p.m. yesterday.
The newly-formed Church People’s Alliance Against the Pork Barrel said 27 Roman Catholic archdioceses, all the Churches of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), United Methodist Church participated in what the alliance called the “ringing out against the old corrupt system and ringing in the truth, justice and accountability.”
At 12 noon, Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez led the celebration of the Holy Mass at the Sta. Cruz Church in Manila.
In his homily, Fr. Ben Alforque said, “We have been shocked, nay, morally indignant, over this systematic thievery that has, for years, been attacking our nation and people. And to think that the thieves are our trusted people! They who asked for our votes and have called us their masters by vowing to be our public servants, they who have called us their ‘boss’: overtly by law, or covertly by hidden machinations, have dipped their hands on the public treasury that our people filled with the fruit of their suffering, hard work, professionalism and industry, both here and abroad. “
Alforque called on God to give the elected officials a heart for the poor and a mind of disinterested reason. “May they re-channel the funds directly to social services like education, health and housing without passing through political patronage and kickbacks.”
Alforque said that an average of P250 billion ($5.81 billion) a year is lost to government corruption. This includes, he said the P70 million (1.63 million) of pork barrel each year per congressman, P200 million ($4.64 million) each year per senator. He also cited the P20 billion ($464.6 million) Malampaya funds lost to political patronage, bribery and other forms of corruption, some P280 billion ($6.5 billion) of unobligated and released funds and over-all savings centralized and realigned under presidential discretion, and at least P927.14 billion ($21.54 billion) of pork barrel and lump sum appropriations solely at the discretion of the President.
“May our Congressmen, Senators and President together with the departments under them voluntarily uphold the principles of transparency, justice and accountability before the Sacred Constitution of the Nation, the Bars of Genuine Justice and before God and His People,” Alforque said.
After the Mass, bishops, priests, nuns and lay members gathered at the park outside the Church to ring their bells and chimes.
Iñiguez told the media that the churches want to call on President Benigno Aquino III to heed the demand of the people to abolish the pork barrel system. “The voice of God is the voice of the people,” he said.
“The prophetic ringing of bells is a sound demanding from our leaders of the country to repent and stop deceiving the people with criminal schemes,” the alliance said in a statement. “The prophetic ringing of bells marks the presence of God in our midst and our renewed hope as we struggle for a better society with abundant life promised to all (John 10:10).”
“Only those who are playing deaf would not hear us,” Nardy Sabino, secretary general of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and convener of the Church People’s Alliance Against Pork Barrel.
In a statement, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), the largest aggrupation of non-Roman Catholic churches in the country, said, “The bells call us to spring to action just as it calls villages in distant places to action in cases of emergencies and disasters. We are on a state of disaster because of the corruption in high places.”
“Government stands stubborn in its refusal to abolish the pork barrel system. Government spokespersons talk like government is theirs and the people are somewhere out there,” NCCP chairman and IFI supreme Bishop Ephraim Fautagana and NCCP general secretary Rev. Rex B. Reyes said.
In August, Aquino announced the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the official name of the pork barrel for congressional districts. But Malacañang recently backtracked saying that the President Aquino merely suspended the releases of PDAF and only Congress could abolish it.
However, in the proposed P2.268-trillion ($52.68 billion) national budget, P25.4 billion ($590 million) is allotted for the pork of legislators through six government agencies.
During the oral arguments on PDAF at the Supreme Court on Thursday, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said that only the “soft portion” of PDAF was abolished and the “hard projects” remain. Soft projects refer to livelihood projects and financial assistance programs to nongovernment organizations (NGOs) while “hard projects,” refer to infrastructure projects.
“We must sustain our campaign and unite the people against the pork barrel and/or its other names,” the NCCP said.
UCCP general secretary Bishop Reuel Marigza, meanwhile, criticized the creation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
“DAP is another unnecessarily large, discretionary fund which is at high risk for corruption,” Marigza said.
Speaking at the program in front of the Sta. Cruz Church, Marigza called for an end to patronage politics and to rechannel pork barrel funds to social services.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Sister Francis Anover, national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), said farmers and indigenous peoples are victims of corruption.
Anover, a member of the Religious of Sisters of Mercy, noted that pork barrel funds intended for the farmers and indigenous peoples went to the pockets of bogus NGOs. “Farmers did not get anything, no seeds, fertilizer, farm tools, etc.”
Last week, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) filed plunder charges against Aquino and his agriculture officials over millions of pork lost to corruption.
Iniguez said the activity is just the beginning of the church people’s more active participation in the campaign against corruption and the pork barrel. The 72-year-old bishop said it is possible that the pork barrel issue will be discussed in homilies.