‘Grave immoral act’: 10 Mindanao cities hold protests vs ‘pork’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/26 August) — Various groups will hold protest actions today in 10 cities in Mindanao to call for the abolition of the scandal-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), more popularly known as pork barrel.

Slated to be held in the cities of Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Digos, General Santos, Iligan, Malaybalay, Surigao, Valencia and Zamboanga, the protests coincide with the Million People March today at Manila’s Rizal Park.

The protests in Davao, Digos and General Santos will be held at the Rizal Parks in those cities. In Zamboanga, the protesters will gather on the WMSU Normal Road, and those in Cagayan de Oro at the Divisoria Plaza.

President Benigno S. Aquino III has declared on Friday he would abolish the PDAF, which has created an uproar after reports came out that P10 billion of the fund had been siphoned off into the bank accounts of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles over the last 10 years.

But Aquino failed to dampen public anger because he said Congress would study how to insert the PDAF into the budget for next year. He added the pork barrel would appear as line item allocations in the subsequent national budgets.

Bayan Muna Rep. Karlos Isagani Zarrate, a native of Davao, called Aquino’s announcement a “deception”, saying the President simply wanted to change the name of PDAF.

In a pastoral letter read in masses yesterday, the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro called the PDAF scandal a “grave immoral act” that must not be condoned.

“We are deeply indignant over the scam knowing that our people are barely catching their breath just to live in very poor conditions; and yet some of our legislators have the nerve to hoard the coffers of the people into their own pockets for self-aggrandizement,” the pastoral letter signed by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Social Action Director Fr. Nathaniel Lerio read.

The archdiocese urged citizens to join today’s protests against the pork barrel system. It also called for the passage of the Freedom of Information bill to ensure transparency and accountability in the use of public funds.

Aside from Ledesma, other Catholic bishops have also called for the abolition of the PDAF.

In a statement, the Pagbabago People’s Movement in Southern Mindanao said Aquino was “not listening sincerely to the call of the people” [for the abolition of pork].

“This is because Aquino has the presidential pork barrel for himself amounting to P450 billion. Triple the amount Napoles has stolen, and it will still not be half of what Aquino has,” the group added.

Pagbabago said rechanneling the pork to basic social services will render the privatization of hospitals, schools and public utilities irrelevant.

“For instance, state universities and colleges need P56 billion for its needs. They only received P39 billion. If Aquino only allots a portion of his pork barrel for public education, even if as low as a tenth of his share, it will do so much to improve the declining state of education in our nation,” the group explained.

“If only this huge amount of people’s money goes genuinely to the people’s mouth and hand, not to the pockets of corrupt officials – to alleviating poverty, to building classrooms, to pump prime public health system and to provide much needed social services – how helpful it would turn out to be”, said Fr. Christopher Ablon of Karapatan-Northern Mindanao.

Richard Colao of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Misamis Oriental meanwhile called on Cagayan de Oro Reps. Rufus Rodriguez and Rolando Uy to explain their alleged involvement in the Napoles transactions.

The names of some senators and House members have been mentioned as having allegedly conspired with Napoles in coming up with dubious pork-funded projects. (MindaNews)