President Benigno Aquino 3rd has announced he is abolishing the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), also known as pork barrel. He rejected demands to do so previously, saying instead that he will put safeguards in place to ensure that it is used for what it is intended for.
He also announced suspension of pork barrel release pending result of the ongoing investigation into the scam.
But the people will have none of it. Their leaders are pushing for a rally scheduled to coincide with the celebration of National Heroes Day at the Quirino Grandstand on Aug. 26, with “abolition, not suspension”, as the battle cry.
Janet Lim Napoles is alleged to have siphoned off the pork barrel allocations of five senators and at least a hundred congressmen. According to state witnesses, she did it by setting up non-government organizations (NGOs) to serve as conduits for the funds. The money was to be used by these NGOs to implement poverty amelioration projects, but there were no such projects. The request for assistance from mayors and governors were fake and the signatures of the beneficiaries were forged.
The witnesses stated that Mrs. Napoles and the legislators just divided the whole amount among themselves. She remitted 70 percent to the legislator who owned the pork barrel and retained the rest.
A total of P10 billion in government money has been dissipated that way. A report by the Commission on Audit estimates a couple of billions more has been lost.
The President’s change of heart is obviously intended to take the wind out of his critics’ sails. Still, the rally, “A Million People’s March Against Pork”, will be held, and it is gaining momentum by the day.
There are no organizers, but parallel movements will take place on the same day in Cebu and Davao in the Visayas; Davao, Cagayan de Oro, and Iligan in Mindanao. There will be sympathy programs in Hong Kong, Los Angeles in the US, and in other places abroad where there are a great concentration of Filipinos.
Some observers describe the coming event as something like Occupy Wall Street or Arab Spring. Or maybe it is another People Power in the making, given our national experience.
The outcry is coming from the President’s own supporters, not from his political enemies. He needs to manage the crisis well, or he will find himself isolated if not exactly despised like his predecessor. Luckily for him, there is nobody in the government the people can rally behind as a possible replacement if he is driven out of power.
Not from the Senate, anyway. The institution used to be the training ground for future presidents, but it is now regarded as a den of thieves. Judging from the prevailing sentiment, senators—and their counterparts in the House—risk being lynched if they go out without bodyguards. So deep and intense is the revulsion of the people.
One of the senators implicated in the scam, Juan Ponce Enrile, lamely says he is ready to face the consequences if he did something wrong. Another senator, Jinggoy Estrada, wants the PDAF manipulators arrested for the crime. Sen. Ramon Revilla is asking experts to verify the authenticity of his signature, implying it has been forged.
The senators’ attempt to explain their innocence is met with what is the equivalent of a resounding boo in cyberspace.
Now they too are calling for the abolition of the pork barrel, even suggesting a way to do it. The general feeling, however, is that they have lost the moral right to tell the government what to do.
If they were doing it at a political rally, water bottles and cups would rain down on them.
The announcement seems very much like a media spin. No more pork barrel, but it will be replaced by another scheme under which lawmakers can still propose projects, although NGOs will no longer be tapped to implement them.
Inclusion in the proposal of so-called soft projects—scholarship grants, delivery of health services, livelihood assistance and job creation programs—is unacceptable. It is in these very areas that the government has lost so much.