MANILA, Philippines—Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno on Friday denounced what he said was a “moral eclipse” in the country that has allowed thievery to run rampant in government.
Puno, speaking at an ecumenical service at the Central United Methodist Church in Manila which was part of the “Forward March to #abolishpork” rally, urged the public to remain vigilant about the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
He said the P10 billion allegedly stolen from the legislative pork barrel could turn out to be just “petty cash” once the Commission on Audit (COA) releases the results of its audit of other “special” government funds.
After the ecumenical service, the Protestant leaders and the congregation, numbering around 1,500, marched to Luneta, joining about 3,000 others from the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, who came from San Agustin Church in Intramuros, and members of the activist Makabayan group, who had massed at Liwasang Bonifacio.
It was the third major protest against corruption since the pork barrel scam came to light. Rallies were also held in Iloilo, Capiz, Cebu and Negros Occidental.
“We must be undergoing a moral eclipse in our country, a moral eclipse whose darkness has been used as a cover by governors to inflict injustice against the governed, a moral eclipse whose shadow has been used by the wicked to oppress the weak,” Puno said.
“It is also crystal clear, that some private persons and institutions are involved in the criminal conspiracy to steal the people’s money,” he added.
He also said it might be time to consider changing the Constitution to better combat corruption.
“At least P10 billion of the people’s money has been irredeemably lost to corruption on the part of some of our legislators (but this) only represents the losses from the 11 bogus nongovernment organizations,” Puno said.
“The COA has yet to investigate and release its findings on some 70 more NGOs used as illicit conduits to steal the people’s money,” he added.
Puno said the COA investigation has not yet covered the alleged misuse of the Priority Assistance Development Fund from 2011 to 2013, and the social and special purpose funds.
Trillions of pesos
“The totality of these social and special purpose funds runs to trillions of pesos. Hence, in comparison, the P10 billion we lost in the Napoles NGOs will appear to be just petty cash,” Puno said, referring to the NGOs linked to businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the scam.
“What shell-shocked the nation is that while billions of the people’s money are being pocketed by some of our legislators, Congress cannot appropriate enough money to give our students a decent education,” Puno said.
“Congress cannot appropriate enough money to treat the sick in the hospitals. Congress cannot appropriate enough money for the military to buy enough ammunition to safeguard the security of our people,” he added.
No to President’s pork
Fr. Jose Dizon, speaking at the Luneta rally said President Aquino should also give up his own presidential discretionary funds as a concrete step toward abolishing the entire pork barrel system.
In Iloilo City, about 1,500 protesters led by the “Abolish Pork Barrel Now Na!” alliance marched from the Jaro Cathedral to Bonifacio Drive, a main intersection of the city where a program was held.
The participants included militant organizations led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, student organizations, and various churches and religious groups, including the Jaro Archdiocese, Western Visayas Ecumenical Council, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches and United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
In Capiz, about 500 protesters assembled from four points before marching to the Roxas City plaza.
In the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan, youth groups led by Anakbayan and Youth Act Now-Aklan held a concert to protest the pork barrel at the Pastrana Park.
At least 100 people spearheaded by Tipon Negrosanon-Pork Barrel Untaton group held a red and black rally at the Bacolod City public plaza.
They came in red and black, and wore pins of the same color. They also hung red and black ribbons on the vehicles.
Red stands for anger and disgust over the country’s leadership and system, and black for RIP (Remove, Investigate, Prosecute) the thieves behind the pork barrel scam, explained Dindo Ilagan, one of the convenors of the Tipon Negrosanon.
Rallies to continue
At least 500 protesters from militant groups, composed of Bayan, the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kadamay and Anak Pawis, held separate antipork rally in Bacolod City.
In Cebu City, members of the Cebu Coalition of Concerned Citizens against the pork barrel system and the Abolish the Pork Barrel System Movement scheduled a rally at Fuente Osmeña circle at 5 p.m.
Stella Monteño, one of the organizers, told the Inquirer that a series of protests would be held after the rally, including prayer rallies every Wednesday and a jog-against-pork early Sunday morning.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said a people’s march will be held on Sept. 21, the anniversary of martial law. With Nestor Burgos Jr., Carla Gomez and Carmel Loise Matus, Inquirer Visayas