MANILA, NOVEMBER 4, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Christine F. Herrera - President Benigno Aquino III’s televised speech Wednesday night fanned the anger among various anti-pork barrel groups, which vowed Thursday to stage more and bigger rallies in the coming weeks to pressure the President into giving up his discretionary funds.

The groups, inspired by the Million People March and Edsa Tayo rallies, said they would mount a series of massive protest actions beginning Nov. 7.

VIDEO: MANILA, Philippines (JPR) — Filipinos marched to the Quirino Grandstand here on Monday, August 26, to express disgust over the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) also known as 'pork barrel.' The demonstration was dubbed as the "Million People March."


“Protests are bound to get bigger, Pnoy [President Aquino] is courting a People Power type of sustained protests. The fact that his Halloween special last night is a failure is an indication of the people’s widespread outrage versus pork, the corrupt system and the Pork Barrel King,” said Vencer Crisostomo, president of Anakbayan.

Renato Reyes, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general, announced that the #AbolishPork group led by Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Fr. Joe Dizon, the Concerned Citizens’ Movement, Pagbabago, Youth Act Now, Artista Kontra Korapsyon, have joined forces with militant groups to mount a nationwide protest on Nov. 7, 11, and 13 that would culminate on Nov. 30, Bonifacio Day.

Reyes said anti-pork advocates would storm the Senate on Nov. 7, when Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, will testify before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

On Nov. 11, the #AbolishPork group will mount a protest-action in front of the Supreme Court, where oral arguments on the legality of the President’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) are scheduled to be heard. Seven groups have petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the DAP disbursements on the grounds that the program is illegal.

“Hijacking primetime to defend pork and DAP shows Aquino is in fact the Pork Barrel King. His assertion that he is not a thief only further enrages people and highlights his thievery. The fact is that DAP and pork equals theft. These are funds allotted supposedly for the people and for the poor, which they stole for their kapritso,” Crisostomo said.

Reyes said the anti-pork groups were still finalizing the Nov. 13 and Nov. 30 venues.

The Palace defended Mr. Aquino’s speech Thursday, saying he did mean to sow intrigue, and that the “old politician” that he referred to was not Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, one of three opposition senators accused of plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communication Operation Office said their tracking of public sentiment through their social media accounts showed that “75 percent of Filipinos felt positive about the speech.”

Coloma did not cite figures to back up this claim.

House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said now that the President has spoken with finality in defense of the unconstitutional DAP and the pork barrel system, Filipinos would have to resort to bigger rallies and “a resolute campaign” for a people’s initiative.

“President Aquino was misleading the people when he said that only his political opponents are calling for the abolition of pork, and the people, including the Million People March, the different church leaders, various institutions and organizations, even Chief Justice Reynato Puno, are just stupidly following the dictates of these politicians,” Colmenares said.

“He refuses to admit the reality that the people are generally incensed with the pork barrel and the DAP because it is not just the source of graft and corruption but of patronage politics as well. The misuse of public funds by giving it to political allies and withholding it from political opponents, or the giving of public funds to influence the Senate, or the Congress, or the voters, to support a bill, or a candidate, or an impeachment complaint, is no less evil than graft and corruption because it is also an abuse of public funds,” Colmenares said.

Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz said the President blew his chance to redeem his administration’s misuse of public funds through the DAP.

“The President’s speech brought more questions than answers. The public wants to know where the savings came from, what projects the DAP had funded and who benefited from the DAP,” Dela Cruz said. “These were the questions that deserved answers but the President chose to ignore and deflect the issue by making it his personal issue that he was not a thief.”

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said President Aquino’s message only rehashed some statements previously articulated by Malacañang regarding the PDAF scam, the DAP, and the President Social Fund.

“His main message, asking everyone to focus on the prosecution of those who stole from PDAF, is gratuitous, at best. The public has no intention whatsoever of letting the PDAF plunderers off the hook. This in no way precludes anyone from questioning the DAP. Contrary to what the President would have us believe, these are not mutually exclusive,” Tinio said.

At worst, Tinio said, the President’s message indicates his continuing refusal to acknowledge that there are valid constitutional and legal questions regarding his possible abuse of presidential powers over appropriations through the DAP.

“Furthermore, his depiction of Congress as an institution incapable of providing supplemental appropriations in response to emergency situations, thereby justifying Presidential pork, betrays the

President’s utter lack of respect for a co-equal branch of government and a cavalier attitude to basic constitutional tenets. Ultimately, Aquino’s speech boiled down to an assertion of moral exceptionalism, a pigheaded defense of presidential pork, and a repudiation of the public clamor for its abolition,” Tinio said.

Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, leader of an independent minority in the House, said he was disappointed at the President’s continued refusal to address questions concerning wanton abuse of his powers in the use of the DAP, which he said was illegal and unconstitutional.

“It was very disappointing that President Aquino failed to address the main concern that we have been talking about, which is the abuse of his presidential prerogative in the disbursement of lump sum and other discretionary funds. It would have been better had the President made an admission about the shortcomings of his government in the judicious use of public funds,” Romualdez said.

Romualdez also said the President “blew all his chances to salvage his waning popularity and performance ratings because the real issues are about the constitutionality and transparency in the use of public funds.”

He said President Aquino’s speech would further drive the people to demand the abolition of the entire

Priority Development Assistance Fund as well as the President’s own discretionary funds.

“This will give more reasons for the public to demand the total abolition of the pork barrel system,” he said.

Buhay Hayaang Yumabong party-list Rep. Lito Atienza and Dela Cruz, members of Romualdez’s independent bloc, also expressed disappointment over the President’s speech.

“The people have been expecting him to deliver a dramatic speech against the pork barrel system… He should have listened to the clamor of the people to abolish pork barrel and stop defending DAP,” Atienza said.

Dela Cruz said the President should have admitted the administration’s shortcomings.

“The straight path isn’t only about his interity. That is not the issue. It is about the establishing the right principles of following the law and respecting the Constitution, and he should look closely at what his people and his allies who have been implicated in anomalies have done. They will lead to his downfall – what a waste,” Dela Cruz said.

President Aquino’s allies rallied behind him, saying he was correct in lashing out at his critics.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said President Aquino never stole public funds, unlike those who have been accused of misusing their pork barrel.

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

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, spokesman of the President’s Liberal Party, said the Mr. Aquino’s critics were “again misleading the public by insinuating that there is graft and corruption when lawmakers recommend projects to the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) that should be funded by savings.”

He also accused the President’s critics of failing to call for the incarceration of those accused of wrongdoing in the pork barrel scandal.

“Their defeaning silence on this issue of putting those involved in graft and corruption in jail is really a big puzzle to me. Aren’t you surprised also?” he said.

Marikina City Rep. Miro Quimbo, another staunch Aquino ally, said: “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. 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.”

But Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap disagreed, saying the President’s approval rating plummeted because of what his people were doing, and the hypocrisy behind his “straight path” slogan.

“The President should accept that the real issue is this: many are still suffering because of the pork barrel system and his continued patronage of this goes against the wishes of the people. If the Aquino administration is serious about going after the corrupt, it should include its allies who were implicated in the PDAF and other scandals,” Hicap said.

Colmenares added: “President Aquino has lost touch with reality when he thought a PR speech deodorizing pork will reclaim his sagging popularity. His sagging popularity came from the peoples’ response, not from politicians, to survey questions.”

He added that the President had not resorted to a speech on primetime TV to talk about calamities such as the Bohol earthquake or the Zamboanga siege, but used his time to say things he had already said before.

“The people are expecting him to announce that he has decided to heed their call and that he is abolishing pork by agreeing to itemize the billions in lump sum amounts in the 2014 budget. Instead, he paints himself into a corner and announced that he is the last man standing in the defense of pork, and worse, making it look like the people are nothing more than a bunch of thieving politicians or mere puppets of thieving politicians,” Colmenares said.

In the Palace, Coloma emphasized that the President did not name names in his speech.

“The President has no intention to create any intrigue because he is a disciplined person who was born with a political family. It is normal that from the start of his childhood, he was exposed to politics,” Coloma said.

Asked about the reference to an “old politician” that many believed to be Enrile, Coloma said:

I want to make it clear that the President did not intend that.”

In Congress, militant lawmakers pressed for the complete abolition of the pork barrel system.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said the fact that the 2014 national budget retained close to P1 trillion in lump-sum funds under the Office of the President as well as P24.5 billion in realigned pork barrel was a clear sign that massive corruption in the government will continue.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan described the President’s address as “as a tired recycled defense of his administration’s use of the Disbursement Acceleration Program to implement certain programs.”

“The President is obviously sticking to his old track, that he is on the same side with the anti-corruption movement. But no matter how often he uses the pronoun ‘we’ in the hopes of fishing for sympathy, the public remains unmoved,” she said.

Former senator Panfilo Lacson, an Aquino ally who recently spoke out against the administration’s use of pork barrel and the DAP, said that while it was true that Mr. Aquino had not stolen anything, this did not mean his allies did not.

Opposition Senator JV Ejercito disputed the President’s assertion that DAP was not pork.

“PDAF is pork. DAP is pork. Pork should be abolished in all forms,” he said.

He said DAP was illegal and allowed the President to obtain absolute power over government funds without congressional approval.

“And he will use it for political favors,” he added.

DAP funds still pork, says Lacson By Gil C. Cabacungan Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:09 am | Monday, September 30th, 2013

Former senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Pork barrel funds by any other name is still pork, a major source of hefty kickbacks for lawmakers.

“The people are well informed. They know what is pork when they see one,” former Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in an interview with dzBB radio on Sunday.

Lacson said he considered the funds from the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP) as regular pork because it was taken from the budget and was on top of the P200-million annual allocation for senators.

“It’s just the nomenclature. From CIA (Congressional Initiative Allocation) to the CDF (Countrywide Development Fund) and which has metamorphosed into PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund). Whatever name you call it, that is still pork,” Lacson said.

But he said the use of pork to sway lawmakers was worse in the previous administration where allies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were showered not only with a flood of pork but also with wads of cash.

Lacson said that the DAP funds were “regular” items in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of any administration as these represented the billions in pesos of funds that were realigned or inserted by senators and representatives during the bicameral conference committee meeting to the two versions of the national budget.

“The projects bankrolled by these additional funds are either institutional or personal. Institutional if this was coursed through state agencies; personal if the insertions or realignments were made by the lawmakers themselves,” he said.

‘Some are luckier’

When asked why some the distribution of funds was unequal, Lacson replied, “Some are really luckier than others.”

He said that lawmakers would be tempted to engage in corrupt practices as long as they were given discretion to direct where taxpayer money should be used.

That is why he has proposed that all funds should be left at the discretion of state agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Health with the lawmakers retaining oversight function to their use.

But Senate President Franklin Drilon said the DAP was primarily a “stimulus fund” meant to address criticisms in the first 18 months of the Aquino administration that economic growth was only half the 7-percent gross domestic product targeted by the government to make any wealth expansion meaningful to a broader base of Filipinos.

Drilon said that the P100-million DAP he received was used to build a convention center and widen roads in Iloilo as part of his home province’s bid to be one of the sites for the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference summit in 2015.

“The issue here is whether the funds were misused or not. I hope the public will listen to our explanation that we did not pocket everything,” he said.

Sen. Francis Escudero concurred with Drilon that DAP should not be classified as pork.

“The DAP was adopted in 2011 to address the lack of absorptive capacity by some agencies to implement projects,” he said, adding it was better to use these government savings than wait till the next year and risk paying higher costs for materials.

Both Escudero and Drilon were open to having the DAP released placed under a special review by the Commission on Audit.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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