MANILA, NOVEMBER 4, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Louella Desiderio - Businessmen yesterday called on the government to hold accountable those found to be involved in the misuse of public funds, regardless of their political allegiance.

“We ask the government to continue the aggressive pursuit of its reform agenda and ensure that all those found guilty of wrongdoing, whether inside or outside government, irrespective of political allegiance, be cast behind bars,” the Makati Business Club (MBC) said in a statement.

The group also called on the business community and private citizens to be vigilant against attempts to muddle the pork barrel issue “and to take advantage of existing avenues of monitoring and reporting abuses.”

“The MBC stands with our fellow Filipinos in expressing our indignation at how certain public officials and private individuals have manipulated social support systems for their own gain. This is the fundamental issue that should be foremost in the consciousness of all,” the group said.

The MBC said it recognized the efforts of the executive, legislative and judicial branches to introduce reforms, investigate allegations of corruption and uncover the truth.

“Amidst attempts to muddle the issue, we remain steadfast in our support of these processes with fervent hope that justice will, indeed, prevail,” the group said.

“Let us seize this opportunity to unite under a common ideal to transform our institutions and place the Philippines on the upright path to progress,” it added.

Other business groups – Management Association of the Philippines, Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, Employers Confederation of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Institute of Corporate Directors, People Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines, Inc. and Alyansa Agrikultura – have voiced similar support for an investigation into the pork barrel scandal.

Speech hailed

President Aquino’s televised defense of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) drove home his message that his administration remains untainted by corruption and can be trusted with people’s money, his allies said yesterday.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. led the President’s allies in the House of Representatives in praising Aquino’s defense of DAP, saying the Chief Executive was able to clarify issues concerning fund disbursements.

As a result, Belmonte said Aquino is likely to arrest the dip in his trust and performance ratings.

“I believe in the President and I am fully supportive of his administration,” Belmonte said.

At Malacañang, Press Secretary Herminio Coloma said they understand and respect the reactions of critics – particularly Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. – to the President’s speech last Wednesday night.

“If that is their response, it will be the public in general who will be the ultimate judge and who will craft the determination,” he told Palace reporters in a briefing yesterday.

“We recognize and respect their right to air their own opinion and stand on the issue,” he added.

Senate President Franklin Drilon echoed the President’s reminder to Filipinos that they should be wary of black propaganda from political foes of the administration aimed at diverting the public’s attention from anomalies in the use of the Priority Development Assistance (PDAF) by some lawmakers.

“The negative propaganda campaign against the administration steered people’s focus away from the real issue, which is corruption in the use of the PDAF allegedly committed by some lawmakers,” Drilon said.

He cited the need to “refocus our consciousness toward ensuring that our justice system will work by punishing and jailing those who pocketed people’s money.”

He said this would represent a major breakthrough in the anti-corruption efforts of the government.

Drilon lamented that he had also been a subject of what he called highly funded vilification campaign linking him to alleged PDAF scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

But Drilon said evidence showed that he did not allocate his PDAF to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs), especially those linked to Napoles.

Drilon said the Senate has started instituting reforms to restore the people’s trust and confidence in the institution with its decision to waive the use of the remaining PDAF for 2013 as well as its plan to abolish the PDAF in the 2014 budget.

Sen. Francis Escudero, another administration ally, debunked claims DAP was unconstitutional.

“I agree with P-Noy. As I said before, DAP is not illegal. It’s a slogan for a spending program in accordance with the current General Appropriations Act,” Escudero said. The legality of DAP and PDAF is being questioned before the Supreme Court.

Escudero also echoed the President’s exhortation for Filipinos to “keep our eyes on the ball, so to speak.” He said debates on the matter should focus on issues of stealing and accountability.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV also said there is “nothing patently illegal or immoral about DAP for as long as it is allocated to projects that benefited the people.”

Muddling issues

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said Aquino was right when he said his political enemies were muddling the issue.

“The critics are again misleading the public by insinuating that there is graft and corruption when lawmakers recommend projects to the Department of Budget and Management that should be funded out of savings,” Evardone said.

“I think the critics should zero in on punishing those who were accused of pocketing public funds. They should mount a strong lobby with the Department of Justice, Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan to expedite the prosecution of those accused of channelling PDAF to bogus NGOs and ghost projects,” Evardone said.

Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo said he trusts the people’s strong sense of discernment. “I have always had faith in our people’s ability to see an ounce of significant truth amidst the mountain of lies thrown in this poisoned political atmosphere,” he said. “The apparent recent success of those implicated in the pork barrel scam in diverting the attention from them to the President has been a sad development but I am certain that this success will be short lived,” he said.

Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, secretary-general of the Liberal Party, said the speech “clearly addresses the misinformation campaign against the administration’s reform agenda.”

“This goes to show as well how committed the President is in sustaining the gains in the past three years brought about by the ‘daang matuwid (straight path)’ in our goal to achieve inclusive growth,” Sarmiento said.

Bragging rights

Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said he believes there is sufficient basis for Aquino to brag about the economic gains that DAP helped bring about.

“He dissected the issue and he tried to quell public distrust in the Aquino government, although his speech lacks a point to rally Filipinos because it is focused on parrying the blows against his administration,” Tugna said.

“This is an exercise of statesmanship. This is what the people want – a rightful conclusion to the scam. His statement that he has not raided the public coffers and does not intend to rob is obviously strong, but it leaves a poignant message that defines the quality of his leadership,” Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo said.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said that in his speech, Aquino drove home his point that he is sincere and determined in going after those involved in the pork barrel scam.

Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. said Aquino’s speech was “direct to the point” and reflected the President’s determination to stay the course of his anti-corruption efforts.

“The people of Negros Occidental are behind you in your daan matuwid governance and in your fight against graft and corruption,” Marañon said in a message to Aquino.

“It’s high time that we jail the corrupt officials and thieves in the government.” – With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Danny Dangcalan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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