If disclosures on raids on public funds won’t break the legislators’ tenacious hold on the pork barrel, maybe the people’s outrage will.
Calls for a mass public gathering at Rizal Park in Manila to show citizens’ outrage over the misuse of public funds have arisen on the social networking site Facebook following revelations of anomalous transactions.
Netizens have set Aug. 26 as the day to show their disgust. It also happens to be a public holiday in observance of National Heroes’ Day.
President Aquino and many lawmakers have so far rejected calls to abolish the pork or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), and instead pushed for reforms on how it is used.
The “Million People March to Luneta” was inspired by a Facebook post from music production manager Ito Rapadas, who said that there must be a million marchers to compel legislators and government officials to put a stop to pocketing pork barrel funds.
“The dominant emotion is anger and outrage,” Rapadas told the Inquirer, explaining why he decided to make the call to action.
People who are paying taxes faithfully could not accept that the money was being misused, he said.
“The dominant picture in everybody’s mind is the struggling Pinoy worker/employee toiling and paying faithfully their obligations to government. And using that mental image together with my notion of a ‘million people’—I thought it was time for taxpayers and the silent majority to express our displeasure. It’s not an original thought to demonstrate or protest because many organizations are now calling for action,” he said.
The Commission on Audit on Friday reported that some P6.2 billion from the PDAF of 12 senators and 180 representatives had been transferred to 82 nongovernment organizations, including bogus ones and those set up by legislators or their relatives, from 2007 to 2009.
Ten of the NGOs had links with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly converted P10 billion in pork barrel of 28 lawmakers into kickbacks over 10 years through her company JLN Trading Corp., using dummy foundations, fake beneficiaries and bogus signatures of officials.
That same day, several faculty members from the University of the Philippines called for the abolition of the pork barrel fund.
Rapadas’ post was shared by friends on Facebook and it got the attention of Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña.
Bretaña then reposted it and set the Aug. 26 date for the gathering. Rapadas said he did not personally know Bretaña and the other people who set up the Facebook page for the event.
In a Facebook post, Bretaña said the event was planned to be a “pocket picnic” and a “colorless” event in Rizal Park where no person would be tagged as the organizer, “because each one of us is the organizer.”
Bretaña, in her post on the event’s Facebook page, also said the gathering should not be a march or a rally since no one would get a permit for it.
“It should be a gathering of a multitude of our own little groups to show them who their boss is. We are the boss! We have forgotten this and we should lay claim to it,” she said.
The Aug. 26 event is intended to send the message that the people want the pork barrel scrapped, and that the senators and representatives implicated in the pork barrel scam must be investigated and charged accordingly.
It is also meant to show support for the Ombudsman’s investigation of the anomalies.
Rapadas said there was a “spontaneous feel about the whole thing,” since based on the Facebook page, there was no organization or committee handling the event. There seemed to be no program planned as well.
He expressed hope that the gathering would be peaceful and orderly and that those who decide to organize into committees would be able to maintain security measures during the event.
Rapadas appealed to legislators to put a stop to the pork barrel scam, and to allow the fair and transparent investigation of practices so that similar schemes would not be repeated in the future.
As soon as details of the event were posted on Aug. 17, it quickly made the rounds of Facebook and the micro-blogging site Twitter. After two days, a total of 5,532 users accepted the invitation and said they were “going,” while 872 responded with a “maybe.”
Some 45,044 Facebook users also received the invitation and have yet to respond.
Confirming his attendance, Jerry Salting Udarbe wrote, “If we don’t protest, the corrupt will think that we don’t care if they pocket the taxes that we pay.”
We’re the boss
“Tayo ang mga bayani at tayo ang boss ni PNoy… So it’s time to remind him!!!” commented Lilian Garcia Flores Quiambao on the same page.
“The only thing necessary for massive corruption to continue in this country is apathy among its citizens. Now is the time to be heard,” Andrew Agunod said on his Facebook page as he shared the details of the gathering with all his contacts.
Tina Manalo Newman asked: “Paano kaya nakakatulog ang mga sangkot dito?”
Details of the event were also shared on Twitter, with users reposting the meme, “I pay my taxes on-time and in-full. You, my government, owe me a full explanation.”
“When u pay 32% of your income sa taxes at napupunta sa wala isn’t it about time na magwala ka na join the #millionPeopleMarch to Luneta,” tweeted user @cunelva.
“If I were in Manila, I would DEFINITELY go to that pocket picnic at Luneta on 26th of August. Pera ko ang parte sa ninakaw nila!” user @imJanina tweeted.
User @jin_eus asked, “Why just march? Why don’t we all stop paying income taxes until they sort this out and ensure that this won’t happen again?”
“I have never attended any rally back in UP. Kahit sa mga walk-outs. But this one is different,” tweeted user @iansomosa.
Legislators who have called for the pork barrel abolition are supportive of the event and intend to join it.
ACT Teacher Rep. Antonio Tinio, who plans to attend the gathering, said it didn’t matter if the event would hit the one million mark or not. What was important was the fact that people were angry and showed it.
“There should be more of these protests throughout the country. Whether one thousand or one million show up, it’s important that citizens, outraged by the pork barrel scam, are now spontaneously mobilizing and calling for the abolition of the pork,” Tinio said.
He said this would just be the first of several mobilization moves against the pork barrel system, which would “make P-Noy’s continuing support for the pork ultimately untenable.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares also planned to attend the event, and believes that the presence of lawmakers against the pork should not be seen as politics affecting the event.
“The pork barrel is an issue that transcends everybody,” Colmenares said.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said in a phone interview that he was looking into the Aug. 26 gathering, and if there were no politics behind its organization, he would personally join it.
Atienza, who has vowed not to use the pork barrel, said he had seen how people have become so angry over the pork barrel system. He added that it would be a good move to suspend its implementation now in preparation for its eventual abolition.
He said it was not true that everybody was expecting lawmakers to shell out funds for projects. Only those who were used to getting money from politicians expected anything from them. Those who understood the pork barrel system actually abhorred it, he added.
Militants to join
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said it would join the event, according to Renato Reyes.
Aquino’s allies from Akbayan joined appeals for the abolition of the pork barrel, saying it was “incompatible with the President’s reform agenda.”
“We call on President Aquino to support us in our call for the total and unconditional abolition of the pork barrel system. This is a system that has been exposed time and again as a tool of patronage politics aimed to foment elite rule through political dependence,” Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said in a statement.
Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez also said Congress could no longer ignore the exploitation of the PDAF and must act decisively.
“While a gradual phase out of the PDAF to ensure the implementation of budget reforms and the readjustment agencies’ priorities to deliver basic services to the people would have been ideal, the extent and pervasiveness of last week’s appalling revelations demand that we cut clean by doing away with the entire pork barrel fund,” he said.
The President needs strong political will to scrap the pork barrel, but he risks exposing daang matuwid (straight path) as a mere slogan if he ignores calls for this, former National Treasurer Leonor Briones said on Sunday.
Briones and political analyst Bobby Tuazon agreed it would be easy for the executive department to tweak the budget and distribute the pork barrel fund to priority projects, through government agencies.
That way, the government would also eliminate political dynasties that survive on pork barrel to perpetuate themselves in power, and usher in a new breed of politicians, he said.
But since the pork barrel fund is intended to ensure the support of lawmakers for the proposed national budget, it’s tough for the President to heed calls to scrap it, Briones said.
“If he (the President) is his mother’s son, and he says the Filipinos are his boss, perhaps he should listen to his bosses. But is he listening to his bosses? We have to look at the records,’’ Briones said in an interview on Sunday.
“All that he needs to do is delete that line—it’s just one line in the budget,” she added. “It’s all about political will.— With a report from Lawrence de Guzman, Inquirer Research