Pinoys troop to Luneta to register protest vs pork

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Monday, August 26, 2013

MANILA (Updated 2:33 p.m.) -- Many Filipinos on Monday spent National Heroes' Day at the Luneta Park in Manila, to voice their protest against the priority development assistance funds (PDAF) or the pork barrel system of lawmakers.

Manila Central Police District said in a television interview at noon that about 62,000 individuals are present in the area before noon Monday.

Akbayan party-list congratulates the thousands of concerned citizens that gathered at Manila's historic park to demand the abolition of the pork barrel system.

"We are heartened to see that the spirit of protest is alive and that the people continue to believe that change must be furthered and deepened. If the Middle East has the Arab Spring we have the 'Filipino Habagat'," said Akbayan Representative Walden Bello.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle arrived at the venue shortly before noon and led the singing of "Pananagutan" after a brief speech.

In a statement recited when he made a brief appearance at the social media-initiated gathering, the Cardinal said he is praying that those behind the controversy that spurred the activity would be moved by the mass action.

"Lumambot nawa ang mga pusong nagmamatigas. Mabuksan nawa ang mga matang nabubulagan. Maging payak nawa ang nalulong sa karanyaan. Makipagkapwa tao nawa ang nahuhumaling sa sarili. Marinig nawa namin ang hikbi ng mahihirap," said Tagle.

For his part, running priest Fr. Robert Reyes challenged those in government to make good of their vow to fix the problem on pork barrel or else resign from their post.

He said resigning should be the next option for President Benigno Aquino III and lawmakers if and when they fail to address corrupt practices through the PDAF.

Such a move, the priest said, would be like now Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who quit his post as leader of the worldwide Catholic Church last February citing his "lack of strength of mind and body."

"Ang tanong ko kay PNoy (Aquino), kaya mo pa ba? Yung ibang mga senador, imbes na bola bolahin pa kami, kaya niyo pa ba linisin ang sarili niyo? Mga congressmen, they want to convene into a some kind of investigating body to investigate themselves. How can you investigate yourself? Kaya niyo ba magsabi ng totoo?" asked Reyes at a weekly forum being held near the rally venue.

"Kung hindi niyo na kaya, take the example of Pope Benedict and resign. It’s a very painful challenge pero huwag niyo na kami bolahin," he added.

The group called the Filipino Freethinkers for one held a group discussion where all protesters are free to air their position on the misuse of PDAF.

At the entrance of the Quirino Grandstand, a giant tarpaulin displayed a blow-up photo of the warrant of arrest issued against fugitive businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and her brother, Reynald Luy Lim. The two are the alleged masterminds behind the PDAF scam.

Most of the protesters wore white shirts. Face masks as well as tarpaulins were scattered around the vicinity as participants chanted "Makibaka, huwag magbaboy!"

Activist nun Mary John Mananzan demanded not only the prosecution of Napoles and his brother but as well as the lawmakers who benefited from the PDAF scam.

"I hope there will be a continued demand for the abolition not only of the PDAF but all pork barrel that means both congressional and presidential," Mananzan told Sun.Star.

She said the PDAF scam is the "worst scam" since the Martial Law government of former President Ferdinand Marcos, which spurred the first Edsa Revolution or the People Power.

The nun added that members of Congress should go back to their basic job, which is enacting laws.

"Hindi sila dapat nagpoproject project, meron naman mga ahensya ng gobyerno to make those projects," she said.

Miggy Moreno, president of the University Student Government at the De La Salle University Manila, said at least a thousand students joined the protest to voice out their dismay over the government’s inaction on the PDAF abuse.

"I expect the government to really be more critical and consult the people in terms of their sentiment that they have in possible improvement and development in this country," Moreno said.

Former Senator Jun Magsaysay, former chairman of the Senate committee, which investigated the Fertilizer Fund scam, also supported the event.

Aside from abolishing the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), laborers are challenging government officials to try living with a minimum wage.

According to the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), abolition of the pork barrel may not be enough to make government officials become better leaders as they need to be one of the people to know their needs, just as the Catholic Church has said.

"If our legislative and executive officials are in position for public service and not to wallow in pork then they should be amenable to a radical pay cut to the level of a minimum wage earner," said Renato Magtubo, PM chairman.

"They can better craft law and policies beneficial to the masses once they experience the life of the ordinary worker," he further said.

However, Magtubo stressed that they remain one in the call for the abolition of the pork barrel saying the people should not be at the mercy of public officials in releasing their discretionary funds.

"We want to curtail patronage by removing the discretion of politicians in the delivery of social services. Public services must be accessible to all Filipinos as a right without the need to beg for the indulgence of politicians," said Magtubo.

Laborers were among the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos that gathered in the simultaneous nationwide protests held Monday to call for the abolition of the pork barrel.

Similarly, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were not left out of the activity as many chapters of the Migrante International reported similar actions versus pork barrel.

"For OFWs, it is only fitting that protests culminate today, National Heroes Day. Dubbed the ‘modern-day heroes’, OFWs are claiming their stake in the call to abolish Aquino’s pork barrel," said Migrante chairman Garry Martinez in a statement.

He said their chapters in Asia, North Africa, Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe all reported having their own versions of the anti-pork rallies.

"We reiterate the call to scrap the pork barrel and instead re-channel the pork barrel to provide free, more accessible and more efficient services and welfare assistance for OFWs in distress," said Martinez.

Meanwhile, hours before a protest against the pork barrel system in Luneta commenced, hackers defaced 32 government websites before dawn Monday. Most of the defaced sites were those of local government units, but the page aired concerns about the alternative to the "abolished" PDAF.

Dubbed as the "million people march," the event is seen as the first massive protest under the Aquino administration. It was joined by individuals from the religious, academe, and youth sectors.

Protests are also being held in others parts of the country and overseas.

Former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was removed from the Supreme Court last year for concealing multi-million peso cash deposits from the public, received mixed reactions from the crowd when he arrived at the rally.

"Ako'y nakikiisa sa galit ng ating sambayanan sa pang-aabuso na nangyayari in connection with this pork barrel and accountability of public officers sa kaban ng bayan," he said in a television interview Monday.

Wearing a white shirt, Corona was joined by his wife Cristina and family in going to Luneta.

The Commission on Audit (COA) recently detailed questionable transactions under PDAF from 2007 to 2009 including ghost projects administered by non-government organizations (NGOs) linked to fugitive businesswoman Janet Napoles.

The audit period covered the last three years of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who appointed Corona to the highest post in the judiciary in 2010.

"Ang fair is buksan lahat. Buksan lahat siguro. Bakit 2007 to 2009 lang? Paano yung 2010 up to the present? Asan yung COA report nun?” Corona said.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview on August 17 that reports on pork barrel funds from 2010 to 2011 under the Aquino administration were posted on the COA website.

Corona was also accused of not being transparent while he was still the head of the High Court.

In the original impeachment complaint prepared by the House of Representatives, the former top magistrate reportedly failed and refused to report on the status of the multi-billion peso Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and the Special Allowance for the Judiciary (SAJ) collections amounting to P559.5 million.

He also allegedly did not account for funds released and spent for unfilled positions in the judiciary and from authorized and funded but not created courts.

Corona denied the allegations as he maintained that SAJ collections need not be remitted to the National Treasury under Republic Act 9227.

The ex-Chief Justice is facing P120.5-million tax evasion case before the Court of Tax Appeals for alleged non-filing of income tax returns from 2003 to 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010. (JK/HDT/Virgil Lopez/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)

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