The protest rally, dubbed A Million People’s March, is proceeding as scheduled despite the announcement made that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), more popularly known as pork barrel, is being abolished.
Immediately following the announcement, the social media exploded with comments ridiculing and condemning the idea. It is meant, netizens claim, to dissipate the gale-force wind that threatens the very existence of this administration.
No. The hate object is not President Benigno Aquino 3rd but the legislators who appropriated government funds for their own aggrandizement. If he is being criticized it is for the obvious attempt to mollify the legislators by coming up with a modified version of, instead of truly scrapping, the pork barrel.
And so the rally will push through at the Quirino Grandstand on Aug. 26, with sympathy movements in Cebu, Davao, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, and outside the country, in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and in other places where there is a high concentration of Filipino expatriates.
The crime is so brazen and the perpetrators so callous. The legislators did it all in the name of the poor. A favorite dupe are marginal farmers, with Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguma Foundation [Prosperity for Farmers Foundation] as an egregious example. Another are calamity victims, as in the diversion of the P900 million Malampaya Oil Fund to People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc.
Oh the good old days when senators and congressmen were satisfied to get 20 percent to 30 percent commission from a project! The project got done, although substantial. Things are different now.
The legislators sign over their PDAF allocations to non-government organizations (NGOs), which are to implement poverty amelioration projects. There are no projects though. The request of the mayors and governors for assistance that start the process are fake, and the signatures of the supposed beneficiaries are forged.
According to state witnesses five senators, in collusion with Janet Lim Napoles, employed this scheme: Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Vicente Sotto 3rd, and Lito Lapid.
Once the PDAF allocation was released to the NGO, the witnesses added, Mrs, Napoles had the money withdrawn, remitted 70 percent to the legislator and kept the rest.
Still, the 70-30 sharing did not satisfy other legislators. Why give part of the money to anybody, when they could have it all?
Former Congressman Matias Defensor Jr. of Quezon City signed over P90 million of his pork barrel allocation to a family owned NGO, the Matias Defenfor Sr. Foundation. He in effect awarded government money to himself.
Not to be outdone in chicanery, former Senator Edgardo Angara did the same thing, albeit with a much smaller amount: P14.6 million.
Chair Grace Pulido-Tan of the Commission on Audit said P12 billion was dissipated this way.
Another pretext is scholarship grants. If what senators and congressmen claim were true, there would be enough college scholarship grants for all graduating high school students. But the fact is that only state universities and colleges (SUCs) extend scholarship grants, and only to very few students and they must sweat it out first.
If legislators used their PDAF to augment SUC budget, there would have been no Kristel Tejada, who begged for the release of her P10,000 tuition loan and, failing to get it, committed suicide.
That makes reform—nobody believes there is any intention to abolish it—of the PDAF suspect. It includes scholarship grants, among so-called soft projects that legislators can continue to identify for financing, along with livelihood and jobs creation program, and the delivery of health services.
President Aquino could safely ignore criticism hurled against him by his political enemies. Not this time. It is his own supporters who are voicing dissatisfaction, the very people who have propelled him to victory.
He had better be careful. Or he would find himself isolated, if not exactly despised like his predecessor.