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Church bells ring out together in corruption protest

Catholic and Protestant churches unite over 'pork barrel' scandal

  • Joe Torres, Manila
  • Philippines
  • October 11, 2013
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Thousands of church bells tolled simultaneously across the country for several minutes at noon today, as Catholic and Protestant churches joined in the growing clamor for the immediate abolition of the 'pork barrel,' a government scheme that many say is riddled with corruption.

"The moment they hear the bells they can’t deny anymore the extent of the people’s cry to have this abolished," said Father Ben Alforque, convenor of the Church People’s Alliance Against Pork Barrel. 

Various organizations and ordinary citizens have been holding protests in recent weeks to pressure the government into ending its Priority Development Assistance Fund, also called the "pork barrel" fund for legislators.

The growing call for the abolition of the fund came after a state audit revealed that some 200 million pesos (US$4.5 million) is allocated to each of the country’s 24 senators and 70 million pesos to 294 lower house lawmakers, for supposed development projects in their constituencies.

The audit result released earlier in August alleged that 6 billion pesos in pork barrel money was misused between 2007 and 2009. It identified at least 12 senators and 180 congressmen and congresswomen whose fund allocations were channeled to dubious non-government organizations. 

"Let us be united in praying for our lawmakers and the Supreme Court so that they will abolish this pork barrel in all its forms," Alforque said, adding that the ringing of the bells is also a call for repentance.

"God is calling us to him, therefore we have to return to him and ask the leaders of our country to repent," he said. "Those who stole from the country’s coffers should return [the money] and use it for social services like education, health and housing for the poor."

While churches in Manila's 21 dioceses rang their bells, militant groups and students took to the streets to stage a noise barrage.

Alongside the pork barrel, President Benigno Aquino's Disbursement Acceleration Program is coming under sustained fire.

The program is a stimulus package under the Aquino administration designed to fast-track public spending and push economic growth. Effectively, allocation is at the president's discretion, which critics say is unconstitutional.

"All public funds spent on items not considered in the [Congress-approved annual] budget violate the Constitution," said opposition congressman Neri Colmenares. 

He claimed there are numerous anomalies under the program, which proved that President Aquino is not exempt from misuse of public funds and corruption and can be impeached.

The presidential palace said today that it has stopped the distribution of pork barrel funds to legislators, but defended Aquino's disbursement acceleration program, saying the executive department needs lump sum funds to prepare for contingencies as a result of storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

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