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Manila people rise again in 'pork barrel' protest

Another major demo takes to the streets

Manila people rise again in 'pork barrel' protest

Filipinos march in the financial district of Makati to protest against corruption (picture by Vincent Go)

Joe Torres, Makati City

October 4, 2013

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Thousands of Filipinos trooped to the country's financial district in Makati City this afternoon to call for the immediate abolition of a government spending allocation scheme that many say is riddled with corruption.

Security was tightened around the city before the "Million People March", which seeks to pressure the government into ending its Priority Development Assistance Fund or "pork barrel" fund for legislators, started about 3 pm. 

Organizers of the march, which was initiated by social media posts, took turns presenting a list of demands for government reforms and concrete calls to action for citizens during a program held on top of a makeshift stage in the middle of Makati's Ayala Avenue.

Peachy Rallonza-Bretana, who also initiated the August 26 "Million People March," said heightened protests are necessary "because the legislative and executive departments have merely tried to sugarcoat the pork barrel system under different schemes of accommodation."

Bretana called for "a swifter pace of prosecution of all involved in various scandals" as she reiterated the demand for the government to account for spent pork barrel funds, including in the last three years.

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 results of a state audit released earlier in August caused a national outcry when it revealed that 6 billion pesos in pork barrel money was allegedly misused between 2007 and 2009. It identified at least 12 senators and 180 congressmen and congresswomen whose fund allocations were channelled to dubious NGOs.

Of these, 2.1 billion pesos allegedly went to 10 dummy NGOs associated with Janette Napoles, a prominent businesswoman.

Patricia Tan, spokesperson of Friday' protest march, said Filipinos should "push hard for the scrapping of the pork barrel system, and at the same time, continue the discourse on the best alternative to take its place".

She said the protesters, who are mostly composed of workers in the private sector, are challenging government officials to publicly make an accounting of the funds they received.

"We call on all Filipinos to demand such action from all levels of government and to maintain utmost vigilance until these public servants have accounted for all of the pork, down to the last centavo," Tan said.

The influential Bishops-Businessmen's Conference said in a statement distributed in Makati that it is against the pork barrel fund because "it is institutionalized corruption that uses the people’s money to serve not their interests but the personal interests of individuals".

The group, which is composed of Catholic bishops and the country's leading businessmen, said the call for the abolition of the pork barrel "underlines the necessity of passing the Freedom of Information Bill, because full and correct information is the lifeblood of citizen power to effect change".

Hours before Friday's rally in Makati, trade unions and militant groups held pickets and a series of noise barrages around the national capital to show their support for the protest action.

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