About 2,000 Negrenses gathered in front of the provincial Capitol building in Bacolod yesterday to call for the abolition of the pork barrel fund and the punishment of lawmakers and their accomplices who plundered taxpayers money.
The participants, who came from a cross section of society from lawyers, doctors, businessmen, drivers, students, housewives, members of civil society, non-government organizations, and militant groups, vented their anger by chanting “ibasura ang pork barrel”.
They also sang “Bayan Ko” with clenched fists, carried placards that said “abolish pork, prosecute all guilty parties”, and danced to a song about greedy thieves and crocodiles in government.
They also signed a Negrosanons Kontra Korapsyon manifesto calling for the immediate investigation, prosecution, conviction and punishment of all those who misused and abused the pork barrel funds, also known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund.
Raymund Javellana, president of the Alliance of Negrense Tourism Stakeholders, said they aim to gather 5,000 signatures.
Javellana said that after yesterday's protest, they will conduct a post analysis and draft a template for future rallies if need be.
“We hope we can get into the hearts of all Negrosanons and make them feel that this cause is not only for us but for all our children and all the Filipino people,” he said.
President Benigno Aquino's announcement that the PDAF will be abolished is not enough, the demand of the Filipinos is that the entire pork barrel system that has been utilized to advance political gains be scrapped, he said.
“I have rallied behind PNoy all these times, I believe he is just being careful. He is a president we should look up to, let's rally behind him, he needs our support,” Javellana also said.
NOT JUST RENAMING
The Peace Advocates of Negros said “We Negrense taxpayers from all walks of life are asserting our right to benefit from the basic services that we deserve from the taxes that we pay”.
Thus, they said they are demanding the scrapping of the pork barrel funds, an accounting of where it has been spent, and the investigation and punishment of those guilty of abusing it, PAN said.
“We acknowledge Aquino's response to the people's mounting anger. This is a positive sign. But ‘pork' is not just PDAF. Pork means all modes of public spending that has little or no accountability,” it said.
This includes the billions and billions of discretionary funds in all branches of government, PAN said, adding “We will not accept any attempt to simply rename the same pork barrel with another one to appease the angry citizens.”
Kilusang Mayo Uno Negros urged the province's congressmen to serve as models and not accept their pork barrel fund allocation.
“Join the people's call to scrap the pork barrel system. For a long time, the pork barrel has not uplifted the lives of the people in the countryside, especially the peasants and sacadas,” Ronald Ian Evidente, KMU Negros spokesperson, said.
Auke Idzenga of the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation said the rally in Bacolod was fantastic because it was composed of a broad sector of people, “It's not just the activists, its people you don't usually see at rallies.
“It's really an outrage by people with a heart for the country, who do not want to see the country go down the drain…They want the pork stopped and the guilty prosecuted,” he said.
“We need the help of the citizenry through the Freedom of Information Bill to watch out for corruption,” Idzenga also said.
Anna Balcells of Kalipay Negrense Foundation, which takes care of homeless and abused children, said she joined the rally because she is fed up.
“This has been going on for too long, the government people have been stealing from us blatantly without any fear. We need to put an end to it. I am taking care of 70 plus children and I don't get a single cent from government. That is so unfair, where does our tax money go? No NGO that really, really works and does the job of helping the poor gets any help from government,” she said.
Businessman Allan Gensoli said he is mad that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the pork barrel cannot be removed until 2014. “To make a statement like that at a time of great distrust, for me it is the height of arrogance,” he said.
Gia Locsin said she was at the rally because of the “shameless use of public funds which belong to the people.”
Msgr. Victorino Rivas said the pork barrel fund should be abolished because it has always been a source of corruption and politicking.
Businessman Ed Alunan said the “pork” has been institutionalized for a long time, protests will have to continue “until we are completely convinced that this evil has been removed from our democracy”.
Ben Ortega, chairman emeritus of the Bacolod-Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who was also at the anti-pork rally, said he is not in favor of the removal of the funds allocated for the President, as long as he does not use it for political patronage.
TAKE PAY CUTS
The Partido Manggagawa, in a statement, called on the country's lawmakers and top officials to lower their pay to that of the minimum wage earner. They can better craft laws and policies beneficial to the masses if they experience the life of the ordinary worker, PM said.
The Freedom From Debt Coalition said the President's announcement of the plan to abolish PDAF fails to address the demands for justice against those who misused their pork barrel funds.
BAYAN Negros said the genuine abolition of the pork barrel system is one giant step to eradicate political patronage that breeds corruption and bribery.
“We must not be deceived by Aquino's hogwash doubletalk. The President's pork, along with both houses of Congress, must be abolished and public funds be dedicated to education, health, social services, public housing, food and job generation,” it added.
The rally yesterday was just the opening salvo of bigger battles to come, Bayan Negros said.*CPG