25 August 2013

[FYI in the Daily Tribune] Million People’s march takes nationwide dimension

by Alvin Murcia

It appears there’s no stopping the Million People’s march against the pork barrel slated tomorrow, National Heroes Day, as the event took a national dimension with civic groups outside Metro Manila scheduling their own assemblies to show indignation over the abuse of the so-called discretionary funds that amount to billions of pesos in the yearly national budget.

Despite President Aquino’s Friday address on television indicating his desire to scrap the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for members of Congress but indicated in his statement that the fund, after all, will remain but with stricter disbursement rules, sectoral groups said they will push through with the planned rally tomorrow.

The PDAF was used to be known as the Countryside Development Fund during the time of former President Cory Aquino, and it is merely being renamed based on Aquino’s announcement, the groups said.

Civil society groups particularly the Automated Election System (AES) Watch is calling for the abolition of all pork barrel funds including those used by President Aquino.

According to the AES Watch, elected officials should confine themselves to making and implementing laws to improve people’s lives and ensure that taxpayers money go direct to basic social services like education and health care.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada announced that Monday’s march at the Rizal Park does not need a permit from his office to proceed.

“It’s a free country. They’re free to express their sentiments. They do not need to get a permit as long as the organizers assures that the rally will be peaceful,” Estrada said.

“Undertaking of government projects should be the Executive’s task not the legislators who are there to make laws,” Estrada said.

In Naga City, Camarines Sur an anti-pork assembly called “Halion an Pork Barrel! Naga March,” is scheduled to start at 9 am in Plaza Rizal at the same time that the protest in Manila is expected to start.

In Davao, a mobilization organized by social media activists will be held at the city’s Rizal Park. The assembly is expected to be a spontaneous rally with no group organizing it.

Militant groups under Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Mindanao Region will also hold a march protest around Davao City. 

Ateneo de Davao University’s President Fr Joel Tabora SJ in his social media accounts encouraged Catholic schools, workers and professionals in the city to join the Davao City protest march.

In Cebu City, social media activists have organized the Cebu Peaceful Protest Against the Pork Barrel with the protesters initially assembling on Fuente Osmeña and then march to Plaza Independencia.

In Palawan, protests will be staged in Baywalk, Puerto Princesa. Palawan and the national government are currently in a wealth-sharing dispute over the Malampaya funds, which is also part of the discretionary funds that is under the disposal of the President.

In Cagayan De Oro, the Kagay-anon Kontra Sa Korap protest is scheduled in Gaston Park at 2 pm on Monday while in Ilo-ilo, a protest rally will start at 9 am on August 26 in Plaza Libertad.

In Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Negrosanons Kontra Korapsyon will stage the protest called “Tipon Tipon Sa Lagoon” in front of the provincial capitol building. A protest in Dumaguete City’s Rizal Boulevard will also be held on Monday.

Groups in Dagupan City, Baguio City, and Digos City, Davao Del Sur are also mounting protest actions against the pork barrel scheme also on Monday. 

On the other hand, the Kilusang Agosto 26 expressed their readiness to occupy Luneta on Monday starting at 9 am to show the indignation of the public about pork barrel.

August Veintiséis, convenor of the Kilusang Agosto 26, called on the public not to fall prey to the flowery words of politicians including that of Aquino.

He cautioned the public about the move of the present administration to divert the issue away from rising poverty and corruption.

He said poverty is still very prevalent in the country and many people suffer from hunger and the government continues to ignore this by being the puppet of capitalists interests.

The Right to Know. Right Now! Coalition also said it heeds the spontaneous call for a people’s march. 

“We join the people in expressing collective indignation over the large-scale budget scam reported by various media outfits and by the Commission on Audit (COA), and currently under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ),” the group said.

While we are still far from knowing the complete facts of this controversy, it is already established that corrupt individuals have systematically created bogus non-government organizations or foundations for the purpose of plundering hard-earned taxpayers’ money through ghost projects, under-deliveries, or overpricing in the implementation of the PDAF, the group said.

Already the public rage is bearing positive government response. In addition to the ongoing investigation by the DOJ, the Senate has reversed its earlier decision not to conduct its own investigation. The President has also proposed a “new mechanism” that will embody changes in project scope and budget releases.

Such initial positive responses from the different government agencies, however, should further stoke rather than dampen the spontaneous action in Luneta on August 26. We have just begun to scratch the surface of the issue, the group said.

“Now more than ever we are convinced of the urgency to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. We cannot help but observe the glaring absence of the passage of the FOI law in the measures on PDAF proposed by the President,” the group said. 

The FOI Youth Initiative (FYI), a national network of 129 youth and student organizations pushing for the passage of the Freedom of Information Law, will also participate in the upcoming August 26 gathering of citizens who are against corruption in government, particularly brought about by the pork barrel system.

“We are in solidarity with the call to abolish the pork barrel. Beyond this, we affirm that one of the solutions to curtail corruption that stems from patronage politics is the enactment of the FOI Law,” said FYI convener Allan Pangilinan, a Philosophy student and a Councilor in the UP Diliman College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Student Council.

“When we have FOI, we will be able to guarantee participatory governance that will ultimately empower the people to become active partners in watching over our public officials whom we elected into office,” added Pangilinan.

The FYI will attend the gathering in Luneta on Monday with the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, a multi-sectoral alliance of civil society organizations.

Pangilinan further stated that the group “will not bring banners identifying FYI or any other organization, as prescribed by the organizers of the event. Our presence there as young people coming together to join fellow Filipinos is our clear statement that we have had enough of the old ways of traditional politics.”

The group earlier released a statement asking the government “to efficiently conduct a thorough investigation” of the scandal involving the pork barrel and to punish those found guilty. They also called on the President and members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to “eliminate the pork barrel system to ultimately destroy the root of many sources of corruption in the country.”

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