Masked activists today marched in the streets of Manila to once again call for the abolition of the government's 'pork barrel' scheme that many say is riddled with corruption.
The protesters said the pre-Halloween parade was "symbolical of the faces behind" the Priority Development Assistance Fund, commonly called the pork barrel fund, and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), dubbed as the president's pork barrel fund, which is also coming under fire.
President Benigno Aquino, however, defended the DAP, saying it "heralded [the] country's economic boom."
Aquino told the annual forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines earlier in the day that the program was the stimulus package that helped "thousands of our countrymen."
He said the DAP funded the relocation of informal settlers, building infrastructure, upgrading facilities of government hospitals, and the hiring of 15,000 non-uniformed personnel for the Philippine National Police.
Aquino said the program also funded the government's training for work scholarship program and provided electricity to 1,513 towns in the country.
Militant groups had earlier asked the Supreme Court to stop Aquino from disbursing DAP funds and declare it unconstitutional.
In a statement, militant group Bayan Muna said the DAP is illegal because Congress did not enact a law authorizing it.
The president, however, said the DAP helped the country "overcome the inertia the economy was experiencing" in 2011, and aided last year's 6.8 percent economic growth.
Aquino explained that the DAP, unlike the pork barrel fund, is simply a program that strategically allocates grants to agencies that had already proven their capacity to implement projects and programs rapidly and efficiently.
"The legality of such a process has never been in question," he said.
The pork barrel fund, which is controlled by legislators rather than directly by Aquino, allocates some 200 million pesos (US$4.5 million) to each of the country’s 24 senators and 70 million pesos to 294 lower house lawmakers, for 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.
The anti-pork barrel sentiment drove the largest protest under the three-year old Aquino administration in Manila, two months ago.
Since August, more than 30 further protest rallies have been staged in Metro Manila alone with mostly professionals and ordinary taxpayers in attendance.
The Catholic hierarchy is one of the critics of the misused fund. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, has backed investigations into the controversy and urged those linked to the scam to examine their conscience.
The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines has warned of more rallies if Aquino does not abolish the scheme.
“Our prophetic responsibility compels all of us to make our voice be heard by all concerns. We cannot be idle with what are happening around us,” said Fr. Marlon Lacal, AMRSP executive secretary.
The Supreme Court is also currently deliberating on the constitutionality of the system.