MANILA, August 28, 2013—Despite feasting on the different forms of protest in rallying against the appalling pork barrel scandal on Monday, Filipinos from all walks of life voiced out a common cry to the government—abolish the pork barrel scheme and prosecute those who are behind the multibillion-peso racket.
The protesters—composed mostly of middle-class students, laborers, and other concerned citizens—sang parody songs that tackle graft and corruption, recited poems, danced, and played musical instruments to express their abhorrence and disgust over the graft-tainted pork during the Million People March held in Luneta.
The rally, which ensued in a peaceful and patriotic manner, pushed through on its scheduled date amid President Aquino’s declaration on Friday of the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF, commonly known as the pork barrel).
Gathering nearly 100,000 individuals, the rally was the result of a citizen-led initiative that sprung from the posts of outraged citizens over social networking site Facebook.
Approximately P10 billion in pork allocation was allegedly channeled to dubious non-governmental organizations (NGO) by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brain behind the pork barrel scam.
In a separate report, the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed that 12 senators and 180 congressmen channeled P6.156 billion in pork through 82 NGOs from 2007 to 2009.
Jess Mercado, 58, a retired radio technician, said that despite his child being sick, he still attended the rally to express his disgust on the anomalies committed by public officials trusted by the Filipino people.
“If President Aquino is really sincere in his anti-corruption campaign, he should abolish the pork barrel and entrust the nation’s coffers to honorable people who care for the plight of all Filipinos, not to those who only care about stealing the public’s money,” he said, noting that those involved in the scam are making a mockery out of the country’s democracy.
Mercado added that the multibillion-peso pork fund is also among the many reasons on why political dynasties continue to flourish in the country.
“A lot of senators and congressmen have clung to their posts for so long and yet they do nothing but rob the people’s money. They even urge other members of their families to run for public office so they may steal bigger amounts from the government,” he said.
He urged President Aquino to listen to the public’s call and make the state funds less susceptible to corruption by channeling it to developmental projects that may lessen flooding in the metro.
“My message to P-Noy, if he holds dear the martyrdom of his father and efforts of his mother to restore democracy in the country, he must do what is right for the people,” Mercado said.
“We have to wake up and be extra vigilant in watching over those thieves for the sake of the future generation,” he added.
Fight against corruption
Jonel Revistual, 18, a Broadcast Communication student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, said Filipinos must not only fight against the preponderance of fund misuse through the pork barrel, but they must also look at the bigger picture of corruption emanating in the government.
Aside from lobbying for the abolition of pork, he added Filipinos must also push for the cleaning of government ranks to achieve the change yearned by many.
“It is just a cycle that keeps on repeating. They just keep on fooling the people,” he said, referring to President Aquino’s statement on Friday about the abolition of PDAF and imposition of a “new mechanism” in disbursing lump sum funds.
“They would just make a new name for it but in the long run, same issues of corruption would still hound the people,” he added.
He also acknowledged the need for the public to do their part in fighting corruption.
“It is not only the government that has something to do. As individuals, we also have to do our part in fixing our nation. Change must begin within ourselves,” Revistual said.
Award-winning writer and director Jim Libiran also joined the public rally on Monday, noting that the pork barrel scandal is “one of the most intricate, most complicated, and most systematic” scheme of stealing money from the nation’s coffers.
“There are many institutions, organizations, and individuals whose hands are soiled over this issue, not to mention that this scandal is also the reason why our country remains impoverished throughout the years,” he said.
Likening the Million People March to the beginnings of the infamous People Power Revolution of 1986, Libiran had this message to those involved in the scandal: “If the Lord will not punish you with what you have done, the Filipino citizens will.”
Heralds of the church
Members of the religious community also participated in the nationwide protests with high-ranking clergy officials leading prayers and masses throughout the event.
Sem. Joseph Zaldivar, 26, from the San Jose Seminary said he participated in the event to sympathize with the poor and exploited Filipinos who were mostly affected by the scam.
“We have to see the reality that because of this controversy, poor individuals receive less than what is due to them. They are being robbed of their basic rights as persons,” he said.
“This calls on the church to clean the image of politics—political life is not merely about money, rather it is about ideals, aspirations, and principles that lead a nation toward progress,” Zaldivar added.
Echoing the public clamor to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, Sem. Bernard Anuta, 20, from the Order of Friars Minor Conventual noted the need for government transparency to avoid further scams in the future.
“There is really a need for transparency and this can be achieved with the passage of the FOI bill in the present administration,” he said.
Sr. Sofia Taguinod from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Sienna called on people to be awakened with the fact that corruption slowly destroys the country.
“I am not expecting a big change, but I am hoping (that through this gathering) those who are concerned will feel guilty and Filipinos will get the sense that something wrong is happening,” she said. (Jennifer Orillaza)