DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 August) – Mindanawons from all walks of life marched together in cities across the island today to express their outrage over the reported misuse and abuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel and to call for its abolition.
The marchers held the protest action in solidarity with the Million People March at Manila’s Rizal Park, an event sparked by exchanges in the social media after reports came out that at least P10 billion from the PDAF had been diverted to bogus projects over a period of 10 years.
In Davao City, among the roughly 1,000 protesters were students, militant groups, “central democrats”, local government officials, ordinary citizens and nuns. Protests also took place in Cagayan de Oro, Surigao, Kidapawan and Iligan cities.
Ateneo de Davao University president Fr. Joel E. Tabora in a prepared statement said the pork scandal “brought the ‘decaying rat’ from the stinking closet in the open” and “exposed the dishonor in the pomp and ritual of the ‘honorables’.”
Tabora challenged President Benigno Aquino III “to report on how you have used your Special Purpose Funds” which according to reports amounts to P449.95 billion or about a fifth of the entire P2.268 trillion 2014 proposed budget.
“If news reports are to be believed, the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) has failed to submit a report on how Malacanang spent its special purpose funds. Mr. President, this makes us, your BOSS, very uneasy. Mr. President we ask you to report on how you have used your Special Purpose Funds.
“When no reports on public spending have been given, we begin to smell the rot of corruption, even where we thought we walked together on the straight and narrow.”
Shoe repairman “Jun P,” who maintains a makeshift stall at the Rizal Park here where the rally was held at 9 a.m., said it’s time that the pork was abolished.
“Anyway, it still goes to their (public officials) pockets. They tell us the government has no funds (to support social services and other programs) but how come there are these billions of money,” he added.
His buddy Joel Carsonete echoed his stance. “It should be abolished. They say it will have a new name but it is still the same. (Abolish) also the President’s (pork). It is the same.”
Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, a Mindanao peace advocate who came all the way from Cotabato City to Davao to attend the march, said “it is about time we unite for the abolition of pork and join this indignation of the people against it.”
Mercado, who is also the director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said the PDAF has long been misused and has been the primary source of corruption in government.
“Napoles is just the tip of the iceberg…hundreds of millions of pesos is annually allotted for pork and our legislators know this. Nagma-maang maangan lang sila (They just try to appear dumb),” the priest said.
Aside from corruption, Mercado said the pork barrel has become the primordial cause of political patronage in the country. “You will not be given pork if you will not vote for them.”
“This is the source of the feudal system that has ruled the country for many years and so I think it is high time that we put an end to this,” he said.
Mercado dismissed the President’s announcement on Friday to abolish the pork but create a “new mechanism” to avoid a repeat of a Napoles-like scandal as nothing new.
“Do you remember the Countrywide Development Fund which the president then decided to change and put a new mechanism because it smelled rotten? It is the same thing as what it is now,” he said, adding the “better mechanism” is hypocrisy.
Sr. Noemi Ligaya of the Sisters Association of Mindanao said there should be “no more compromises” because “we want change now.”
SAMIN also called for transparency in the audit of public funds.
City Councilor Leo Avila, who was joined by his staff, said he is “one with the people in showing disgust” against the pork barrel scandal.
“I am also a taxpayer. If I won’t pay my taxes I will get penalized. But now there is so much abuse… It’s not just the legislators but it is also the bureaucracy like the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior and Local Government and other agencies,” he said.
Avila voiced support to Aquino’s move for a system that aims to prevent future abuse of PDAF. But he clarified that the government should listen to what the people really wanted.
Tabora, on the other hand, said another mechanism is not what the people need. “We demand change. Not just perfume on the stinking rat.”
The rally in Davao ended with a pledge of commitment led by lawyer Fatima Irene Adin to continue the vigilance against PDAF and press the Aquino administration to abolish it.
Adin, the spokesperson of the Pagbabago Movement, allayed fears that abolishing the PDAF might affect thousands of scholars supported by the fund. She said money from the pork barrel was better channeled to the education department to realize free education for all.
In Iligan City, close to 500 people marched around city streets Monday afternoon to call for the abolition of the pork barrel, culminating in a rally at the public plaza.
Rallyists include the religious sector, students, artists, leftists, doctors, lawyers and businessmen.
“Sa tul-id nga dalan, walay baboy gadagandagan. Wagtangon ang pork barrel,” (In a straight road, there is no pig running around. Scrap the pork barrel) said the protesters’ main streamer.
“If you run for office with the aim to get rich, you should not enter politics,” said Dr. Marilou Vega, a pediatrician who used to be president of the Iligan Medical Society. She and her group of doctors who joined the march want the pork barrel scrapped.
Newly elected Mayor Celso Regencia, who spoke at the rally, said he is not opposed to the pork barrel if it is truly spent for projects for the people’s welfare. “But if it is unaccounted for, then the people have the right to protest because it’s their taxes,” he added.
In Cagayan de Oro, the Kagayanon Kontra sa Mga Korap (Cagayanons Against the Corrupt) pushed for the creation of an “independent investigation panel” to ferret out the truth about the PDAF and so-called discretionary funds.
The group said all those involved in the alleged PDAF scam should be held accountable for their acts and prosecuted.
The Cagayan de Oro-based Balay Mindanaw Group of NGOs said the “despicable and criminal practice” by “legislators and their co-conspirators in the executive department, and pseudo-NGOs,” referring to the alleged PDAF scam, has undermined democracy and made the lives of poor people in Mindanao more miserable.
It added government should ensure accountability and transparency especially the right of the people to freely access information.
In Surigao City, around 300 church people, local officials, militant groups, the local Muslim community and residents who don’t belong to any political group marched together to call for the abolition of PDAF.
Bishop Rhee Timbang of Iglesia Filipina Independiente came together with his priests.
“I am here because I felt we are all being robbed by this. What about the future of our children and what about the poor farmers and marginalized sectors? We are here to support calling of millions across the nation for the passage of Freedom of Information Bill and the abolition of PDAF,” said Gina Dela Cruz, a resident of Barangay San Juan who joined the march along with her two daughters.
Businesswoman Janis Medina said she collected at least 250 signatures today for a petition calling for the abolition of PDAF and the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill.
Medina was one of those who urged local residents to join the march through a social media campaign.
“We must not ignore the implications this will bring to our country and society. The continued misuse or abuse of PDAF funds has destroyed our people’s trust in government and in our justice system regarding equality and fairness,” the petition initiated by Medina said.
“We call on government for more transparency especially on those that are discretionary funds and/or intelligence funds; which are the source of abuse of power, corruption and suppression of human rights,” it said.
“We call on government for continued vigilance in the prosecution and eventual conviction and punishment for those who participated and for those who will be found guilty of plundering this nation’s wealth and resources,” it added.
IFI priest Allan Bune also called for the prosecution of public officials who may be involved in corruption.
He said Surigao del Norte 1st District Rep. Francisco Matugas and former Surigao del Norte 2nd District congressman Robert Ace Barbers should explain to the people their alleged involvement in the questionable transactions with dubious NGOs.
Their names appeared in the Commission on Audit (COA) report on the PDAF.
The COA said the two politicians downloaded close to P45 million to non-existent NGOs.
In Kidapawan City, some 100 members of different progressive groups staged a protest against the pork barrel along Quezon Boulevard.
Meanwhile, the neophyte lawmaker of the newly-created third district of North Cotabato said abolishing the PDAF should pose no problem.
Rep. Jose Tejada told Mindanews he can find other means to access resources from different national agencies.
Tejada said he would always attend House sessions and deliberations with national agencies to be able to lobby for projects in his district.
He said abolishing the pork would not be a problem if there is fair implementation of projects.
“The usual problem in government is favoritism,” he said, adding those areas that cannot be reached by the national government may eventually suffer.
North Cotabato’s 3rd district, which was created in September last year, was carved from the 2nd district. It comprises the towns of Banisilan, Carmen, Kabacan, M’lang,Matalam and Tulunan. (Vanessa Almeda, with reports from Roel Catoto, Bobby Timonera and Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)