MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III apparently did not succeed to assuage the concerns of the public on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) with his televised address to the nation on Wednesday night that merely defended the program and blasted critics who called him “thief.”
Just a few hours after the speech, various groups churned out statements expressing frustrations over Aquino’s address, calling it a desperate bid to keep the pork barrel fund system under the guise of DAP and the Presidential Social Fund.
Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said in a media release that they were “disgusted” that the President continues to conceal large-scale corruption under his administration by attacking those of then presidents Joseph Ejercito-Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Aquino’s justification of the DAP on the basis of the country’s so-called economic growth is a sign of desperation. His government admits that there is no fundamental change in the poverty level in the country since the second half of the Arroyo regime,” the group said.
In his 12-minute speech, the President declared that he was not a thief and that he was “the one who goes after the thieves.”
“We were stolen from, we were deceived—and now we are the ones being asked to explain? I have pursued truth and justice, and have been dismantling the systems that breed the abuse of power—and yet I am the one now being called the ‘Pork Barrel King?’” he said.
But the KMU was underwhelmed by his speech that merely served as a “response to his dwindling popularity.”
“Despite the feel-good rhetoric and cover-up attempts, it is clear that the Aquino regime remains in panic mode and that Aquino is losing sleep, if not hair, over the people’s mounting anger and protests over the pork barrel system,” it added.
‘Waste of time’
Anti-pork barrel groups, including Scrap the Pork Alliance and militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-NCR), were also not heartened by Aquino’s speech, which they said failed to save his declining trust rating as he also “failed to pacify the growing clamor against pork barrel and corruption.”
The groups maintained that the President “surely lost more support from the public as he defended strongly” the DAP and the President’s discretionary fund.
Aquino’s net satisfaction rating dipped in a survey last September at the height of the pork barrel controversies, with Janet Lim-Napoles hogging the headlines after she allegedly masterminded the multi-billion racket that siphoned lawmakers’ pork allocations into kickbacks.
“It is nothing but a waste of time to all of the Filipinos who waited and hoped for positive developments on the issue of the abolition of the pork barrel system, DAP and other corruption-ridden issues hounding his administration,” said Mark Louie Aquino, spokesperson of the Scrap Pork Alliance and Bayan-NCR.
Speech uncalled for
Alliance of Concerned Teachers representative Antonio Tinio found the President’s address, which primarily called the public to focus more on the prosecution of PDAF stealers, “gratuitous.”
“The public has no intention whatsoever of letting the PDAF plunderers off the hook. This in no way precludes anyone from questioning the DAP. Contrary to what the President would have us believe, these are not mutually exclusive,” he said in a statement.
Tinio said the message subtly showed the President’s refusal to acknowledge the “valid constitutional and legal questions regarding his possible abuse of Presidential powers over appropriations through the DAP.”
“His depiction of Congress as an institution incapable of providing supplemental appropriations in response to emergency situations, thereby justifying Presidential pork, betrays the President’s utter lack of respect for a co-equal branch of government and a cavalier attitude to basic constitutional tenets. Ultimately, Aquino’s speech boiled down to an assertion of moral exceptionalism, a vigorous defense of Presidential pork, and a repudiation of the public clamor for its abolition,” he added.
As the President justified DAP as a contingency fund for disasters, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) deemed it “unacceptable.”
Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, pointed out that instead of promoting “reactive response to extreme weather events and other climate change impacts,” the government must address first the “cause of vulnerabilities of communities which are perpetually in a state of calamity.”
The group said that the DAP as contingency fund was a reactive disaster response system that “did not provide strategic solutions especially in the context of climate change.”
Dulce said DAP gives more opportunities for corruption.
“It seems disaster situations have been used for corruption under the Aquino government, from the idle funds donated for Typhoon Sendong victims to the overpriced survivor bunkhouses for Typhoon Pablo survivors,” he added.