MANILA, Philippines—The issue is not about whether President Benigno Aquino III stole money or not but whether he is perpetuating a system that allows unscrupulous officials to pocket public funds.
Proponents of the continuing pork barrel protests said they were disappointed that the President used primetime television Wednesday night to emphasize that he was not corrupt instead of outlining changes in the system that the people have been demanding to ensure public funds are not misused in the manner demonstrated by the pork barrel scam.
The President, in his speech, said he was not a thief but the one going after thieves. He also defended his administration’s “disbursement acceleration program, or DAP, saying this was not pork barrel.
“I think he got hurt by being called the pork barrel king, and that he did not move on. He focused too much on that that it became all about him,” said Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña, one of the people behind the pork barrel protests.
Bretaña, who believes the DAP is just another form of pork barrel, said many were hoping to hear concrete actions the President was taking to safeguard public funds. But none was discussed.
“It was his chance. Too bad he didn’t take advantage of it,” she said in a telephone interview. “It wasn’t what the people wanted to hear.”
The Scrap Pork Network said in a statement said that more pork barrel anomalies could happen unless the system was overhauled, but this could not be done if the President keeps on defending the system.
“We want the vulnerabilities not only plugged but a strong wall put in front of it. We want governance improved and that’s why we want the Pork Barrel System gone and the Freedom of Information Act (and other safeguards) in place. We can’t be experiencing this every few years because you are stubbornly defending keeping the Pork Barrel System in place,” it said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
“We want public service improved, that’s why we want public funds to go straight to the departments without being a tool for patronage politics by trapos to maintain their political dynasties,” it added.
“So no need to be defensive and just get a new [communications] team. You already have some of the culprits… so why not go after everyone guilty, including those in your party?” it said.
“Mr. President, we understand that you will find it harder to push your agenda without largesse to spread around. But whoever told you that being a good president is easy should jump off a cliff,” it added.
The BPO Industry Employees’ Network (BIEN) showed it, too, was angry at the President’s speech.
“Mr. President, [how can you] tell us that the DAP is not pork when you have the power to disburse it based on your prerogative,” BIEN said in a statement.
The group added that it has yet to see the sincerity of the administration’s “daang matuwid” mantra.
Bretaña said she had lowered her expectations of the President’s speech and was not even expecting he would announce the DAP’s abolition. But at the very least, she said, she had wanted to hear Mr. Aquino say that he would leave the constitutionality of the DAP, as well as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, to the Supreme Court since there is a pending case.
She wanted him to declare that he would push for the freedom of information bill so that everyone would have access to crucial data, and that he would go after everyone who misused public funds, including those who did it under his watch.
Members of the opposition in the House of Representatives said also that the President’s speech missed the point.
The people have no intention of letting the plunderers of the PDAF off the hook.
“This is no way precludes anyone from questioning the DAP,” said ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio.
The two are not mutually exclusive, he added.
He said the President’s speech did not even acknowledge that the DAP had raised questions about its constitutionality.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the President failed to over the pork barrel and the DAP.
“He refuses to admit the reality that the people are generally incensed with the pork and the DAP because it is not just the source of graft and corruption, but of patronage politics as well,” Colmenares said.
Using funds to influence Congress to support a bill or an impeachment complaint is also an abuse of public funds and no less evil than graft and corruption, he said.
In his speech, the President could have agreed to itemize lump sums in the budget, thereby obliterating the pork barrel nature of the funds, he added.
“Instead, he paints himself into a corner and announced that he is the last man standing in the defense of pork, and worse, making it look like the people are nothing more than a bunch of thieving politicians or mere puppets of thieving politicians,” he said.