Thousands mark Philippine independence with anti-graft protests
Aquino accused of back pedalling on 'pork barrel' scandal
Police block protesters during an anti-corruption rally in Manila on Thursday. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Thousands of people, including Church groups, went on protest marches in Manila on Thursday as the Philippines marked its Independence Day.
Protesters called on President Benigno Aquino to stop "coddling" political allies linked to a multi-million dollar scam that allegedly channeled government funds to private individuals and groups.
"We must work together as freedom lovers to make those who enslave the people be responsible and accountable," said Nardy Sabino, general secretary of the Promotion of Church People’s Response.
"These corrupt officials are like gangsters and colonizers who amass the wealth of the people by usurping and taking advantage of public office, making profit out of governance," Sabino said.
Earlier this week, three of the country's best known senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr. were charged with plunder and graft for their alleged involvement in what has become known as the 'pork barrel' scam.
In his Independence Day speech, Aquino retorted that he was "well aware of what is happening at present," adding that "we followed the correct process."
"As you have witnessed, we chose to pursue the truth by using the proper system," the president said, referring to the charges brought against the senators.
But groups belonging to the "#Abolishpork Movement" slammed Aquino for his failure to bring most of those involved to justice.
"We reiterate our demand that all those who participated and benefited from the pork barrel scam should be made accountable. The people deserve nothing less," said Benedictine missioner nun Mary John Mananzan, the group's spokeswoman.
Until it was declared unconsttituional in 2013, the pork barrel fund made automatic allocations each year to lawmakers for projects in their constituencies.
The results of a state audit released in August last year caused a national outcry when it revealed that $137 million from the fund was allegedly misused between 2007 and 2009.
The audit identified at least 12 senators and 180 Congress members whose fund allocations were channeled to dubious NGOs.
Renato Reyes, spokesman of the social justice group New Patriotic Alliance, said Aquino has become the "main stumbling block to achieving complete justice", saying the president has become "the protector of thieves and the chief proponent of presidential pork".
"In fact, nothing in his [Independence Day] speech indicated that he would be going after his allies implicated in the pork scam," Reyes said.
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