MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III on Friday yielded to public pressure and announced to scrap the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) ahead of Monday’s nationwide protest calling for the abolition of the graft-tainted pork barrel fund.
“Despite the reforms we have implemented, we have seen, as the events of the past weeks have shown, that greater change is necessary to fight against those who are determined to abuse the system,” Aquino said in Malacañang.
“It is time to abolish the PDAF.”
The remark was a turnaround from Aquino’s position Monday, saying the pork barrel fund had its “good uses” and should not be junked.
Aquino at the same time vowed to prosecute those responsible for misusing the fund, which allows lawmakers to allocate government money for projects in their district.
He directed the Department of Justice and other agencies under the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council to investigate, prosecute and jail those who pocketed public funds and seize their ill-gotten wealth.
“What is wrong — indeed, what has outraged our people — was the collusion among a former president ready to trade favors just to remain in power, legislators, and members of the bureaucracy who were willing to conspire, enabled by a passive and indifferent citizenry,” Aquino said.
He was referring to his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been detained in a hospital on corruption and election sabotage charges.
The Commission on Audit said last week that over P6 billion allocated over a three-year period was released to questionable nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and ghost projects identified by lawmakers as beneficiaries.
Aquino, who has made fighting against corruption a centerpiece of his administration, said there was nothing “intrinsically wrong” with the system but it has been abused by “a few greedy individuals.”
He promised to reform the corruption-plagued pork barrel fund.
“Despite the reforms we have implemented, we have seen, as the events of the past weeks have shown, that greater change is necessary to fight against those who are determined to abuse the system,” he said.
Aquino said state funds can no longer be disbursed to NGOs and government corporations linked in the alleged PDAF scam. State firms such as the ZNAC Rubber Estate Corporation and the National Agribusiness Corporation will be abolished, he added.
He said under the new system, legislators could still identify projects but they would need approval and would be closely scrutinized.
The new project menu will prohibit consumable soft programs such as fertilizers and medicine and temporary infrastructure projects in the form of dredging, desilting, regravelling or asphalt overlay.
Aquino also issued guidelines to safeguard public funds, including the publication of bids and awarding of projects.
Web of corruption
Critics say the system promotes corruption.
A series of exposés by the Philippine Daily Inquirer revealed a tangled web of corruption, with Janet Lim-Napoles as the alleged brains behind a P10-billion scheme that channeled funds over the past 10 years from the pork barrel and other state agencies into kickbacks of up to 60 percent using bogus nongovernment organizations.
As more reports and whistleblowers emerged to tell stories of large-scale misuse of PDAF over the years, the public uproar grew into a web-based movement campaigning for a “Million People March” on Monday, National Heroes Day.
From an initial plan to stage a peaceful rally in Luneta, the drive snowballed into a national campaign as enraged netizens agreed to hold similar protest actions in various convergence points across the country.
It also spilled over to Filipino communities abroad with groups in Hong Kong, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York planning simultaneous protests.
Several lawmakers lauded the President’s announcement to scrap the pork barrel system.
But some groups calling for the abolition of PDAF expressed ambivalence, saying it could simply be a move by Aquino to appease the public ahead of Monday’s simultaneous protests.
They said the “Million People March” should push through to demand for the immediate prosecution of officials, under all administrations, involved in “pork barrel” fund anomalies. With a report from Associated Press
Originally posted at 12:40 p.m.