MANILA, Philippines—Employees and officials of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, led by chair Marixi R. Prieto and husband Alex Prieto, joined tens of thousands of people who gathered at the Luneta (Rizal Park) Monday for the “Million People March.”
The gathering, which called for the abolition of the pork barrel system and to protest the fund’s abuse and misuse, was one of the largest public demonstrations since President Benigno Aquino III was elected in 2010 on an anti-corruption platform.
“We know that it’s time because it (pork barrel misuse) has been happening for a long time. If nobody does anything about it, it will continue,” Mrs. Prieto told Radyo Inquirer 990AM.
She said the “temptations of the pork are just too heavy.”
Prieto said the government needs to devise a new system of helping congressional districts without the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which has been allocated to lawmakers to be used in their pet development projects.
She said the Philippine Daily Inquirer is not singling out any politician in exposing the issue. The calls for the protest began circulating on Facebook and Twitter about two weeks ago after the Inquirer’s series of exposés on an alleged scam involving Congress’ pork barrel fund.
“We’re not after any single politician. We’re after the removal of the pork,” said Prieto.
At the center of the controversy is Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly connived with legislators to siphon off some P10 billion from the fund.
Government officials’ misuse of funds has been long embedded and practically accepted in the Philippine political system but a series of Inquirer articles, like about how government funds were allegedly diverted into private hands, have stirred new anger outside of the usual protest groups.
Critics see PDAF as funding “pork barrel” projects which have traditionally been a source of corruption.
The protesters ranged from nuns and priests and students to businessmen, middle-class families, lawyers and other professionals, celebrities, showcasing the broad-based anger over graft in the impoverished nation.
“The Filipino people are now modern. Proof is the million people march that we can’t be fooled by our leaders anymore,” a protester calling himself Gundam08 tweeted from the rally site.
Each senator is allocated P200 million pork barrel every year, while each member of the House of Representatives gets P70 million.
But in the face of growing anger earlier this month, Aquino had suspended the releases of money and vowed to reform the PDAF system.
The protestors, carrying signs saying “Abolish pork barrel” and “Change the culture of political patronage,” were peaceful even if they appeared to have no leader, said national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Sindac.
“It’s a very respectable gathering. There are families here like a picnic. They are policing their own ranks. This is purely social-network propelled,” he told Agence France-Presse while monitoring the rally.
Of the huge crowd at the Luneta, only a few hundred were from the leftist protest groups that usually lead such street protests, he said.
Similar rallies were being held in public parks throughout the country, Sindac said, adding they were also peaceful.
Similar protest actions were also held in the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and other countries. With Agence France-Presse