Groups stage protest vs all forms of 'pork'

MANILA, Philippines – One year ago, on August 26, 2013, Filipinos from different walks of life gathered at the Luneta Park in Manila in a massive rally – dubbed the Million People March – to protest the discredited pork barrel system.

It was then barely a month after the so-called pork barrel scam first made headlines. The alleged mastermind of the scam, businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, became the unwilling poster child for corruption in the pork barrel system.

Protesters were then also campaigning against what they called the “presidential pork” or the administration’s controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

A lot of things have happened since the scandal first sparked the collective anger of a nation: the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC) in November 2013, Napoles was put in jail, and public officials were indicted over the scam.

The High Court also declared parts of DAP unconstitutional.

On Monday, August 25, groups are once again converging at Luneta to protest “all forms” of pork barrel. Some of the groups and individuals who supported the Million People March in 2013 will also be joining the “Stand Up! Sign Up!: The People’s Initiative against Pork Barrel” on August 25, Monday.

The group is also opposing charter change and the possible lifting of term limits for presidents. Charter change became a hot topic recently after President Benigno Aquino III said in an interview that he is reconsidering his views on the touchy subject.

Speaking to the crowd after a mass in Luneta on Monday, Archbishop Oscar Cruz asked people to "rate" Aquino's performance thus far. People have been complaining, Cruz said, that they had never been part of surveys conducted by the likes of Pulse Asia or SWS.

A handful of people in Luneta gave Aquino ratings of 3 to 1 but the crowd, composed mostyl of nuns and priests, erupted into cheers when asked if they gave the president a rating of "0."

"Siguro magparating ng kahit na kaunting mensahe sa Malacanang na maraming tao ang hindi natutuwa. Mukhang pababa nang pababa ang rating ng pangulo. I hope these figures are wrong but apparently, most of them are religious and I'm assuming they're just saying what's in their heart," the archbishop told reporters.  (We want to send Malacanang a message: a lot of people are not happy. It seems like the president's ratings are going down.) 

Aquino's satisfaction and approval ratings have been at their lowest since 2010, following issues hounding his administration. They are, however, much higher compared to previous presidents halfway through their terms. 

What abolition?

In a statement, the People’s Initiative Against Pork Barrel said that despite the SC’s decision on PDAF, the system still prevails. “Congress has created a new mechanism for handing out pork to its members via a discreet referral and recommendation system,” the group said in a statement.

According to the group, the SC decision “kept intact the President’s gargantuan pork barrel funds, including the P132 Billion Malampaya fund, the President’s Social Fund and the P449 billion Special Purpose Fund.”

They also decried the "selective" quest for justice. "We are indignant that until now, the graft-ridden pork barrel system remains intact while only select members of the opposition are being prosecuted. Malacañang must bring everything out into the open, expose all, as it is now being accused of massive cover up of high administration official and allies linked to the scam," the group said. 

Part of the group's initiative is a proposed bill that would “abolish the presidential and congressional pork barrel; prohibit lump sum, discretionary appropriations; and penalize violators.”

The “People’s Congress” was launched in Cebu City last Saturday, August 23. (Read a summary of the “People’s Initiative Bill” here)

But the proposed law has been met by criticism. In a commentary posted on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, lawyer and Consitutional Law teacher Oscar Franklin Tan said the initiative was “lamentably pointless.”

“Its features are either already emphasized in Supreme Court decisions or are counterproductively vague,” he wrote.

The Palace refused to comment on the initiative and said they would wait for the results “if any.”

“We are perfectly free to start ‘yung mga ganitong petition, ‘yung mga ganyang pagkilos para doon sa pag—doon sa pagsimula ng (those kinds of petitions, actions... to start the) People’s Initiative,” said Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte in a Sunday, August 24 interview over state-run dzRB.

Yellow squad? 

Another coalition of civil society groups and individuals will

be meeting on the other side of the Metro Manila on the same day.

The Koalisyon ng Mamamayan Para sa Reporma (KOMPRe) is set to launch the coalition at the Ateneo de Manila University. KOMPRe said it “aims to ensure that positive gains made under the Aquino Administration are continued beyond 2016 through the institutionalizing, broadening and deepening of reform processes within government.”

In one of its Facebook posts, KOMPRe asked people to “stand and hold the line” when it comes to “gains… under the Aquino administration.”

“We believe in the reforms which are taking root in the country. Despite the increasing attempts of counter-reform forces to derail it, we keep the faith,” the group said in a Facebook post.

Militant groups have accused the coalition of being a “yellow cheering squad,” allegedly consolidating to push for a second term for Aquino.

Both KOMPRe and the Palace have denied those accusations.

Militant groups will also be gathering at the Mendiola Bridge in Manila on Monday before joining other groups at Luneta Park. –