“What is happening in our country today is that the feelings of the people are already kindled. Once the wind of truth blows, it will ignite the fire.” – Jun Lozada, NBN-ZTE scam whistleblower
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Some 5,000 protesters marched along the Ayala Avenue in Makati City on Oct. 4 to call for the abolition of the pork barrel system – from the president’s down to the legislators – and calling for the realignment of these funds to basic social services.
Vencer Crisostomo, chairperson of Anakbayan, said, during the protest program, that Filipinos are getting tired of not having access to social services, being pushed to desperate means because parents and students could not pay for tuition and other school fees, patients could not afford medicines and treatment while a reported P10 billion “are swimming in some people’s bath tub.”
“Anong klaseng kababuyan yan?” Crisostomo said.
Protesters started to arrive at around 3:30 p.m. They were joined by activists, netizens, employees from nearby offices in Makati and concerned citizens who heard about the gathering in the news. Unlike the first leg of the Million People March in Luneta last Aug. 26, a central program was held for activists and concerned groups to express their redress on the pork barrel system.
“We are here because we really want to have the pork barrel abolished. This is not like other rallies I see on television where people are being manipulated by politicians to join. Just like me, I came here on my own because I want the government to know that I want the pork barrel abolished,” Josie Gozon, 53, told Bulatlat.com.
Gozon, who considers herself as concerned citizen, said she is hurt that politicians are pocketing public funds, which came from the people’s hard-earned taxes. “At the end of the day, it is really the politicians who are pocketing the money,” she said.
This is second time Gozon joined a rally. Her first was during the Million People March in Luneta.
The groups slammed not just the pork barrel scam that involved businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles but also President Aquino who, in 2011, realigned savings of government agencies to create the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
“DAP is the shortcut for ‘holdap,’” Crisostomo said.
Reports said Aquino administration released $29.3 million in extra pork barrel funds to senators and representatives who voted for the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Juana Change, dressed as “Napulis,” asked the media, “Why just me?”
Workers for tax holiday
Elmer Labog, chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno, slammed Aquino for using public funds for corruption and patronage politics.
“Instead of using taxes to provide basic social services, Aquino uses these funds, which have been extorted from workers’ meager wages to promote the interests of his Kamag-anak, Kapartido, and Kabarilan,” Labog said.
Labog said it is “disgusting that Aquino invented this new corrupt and unconstitutional scheme to bribe government officials in exchange for their loyalty. DAP is still pork and, by defending it, Aquino only proves that he is the Pork Barrel King.”
During the protest action, Labog decried the meager salary given to workers. While there is still the unresolved P10 billion ($232 million) in missing funds that Napoles and implicated legislators reportedly stole, workers in the National Capital Region this year was given only a P10 ($0.23) wage increase. A smaller, nearly insignificant increase, he added, is given to workers in provinces.
“Workers are enraged at how Aquino can easily give away billions from our taxes to corrupt government officials just to ensure their support for his anti-worker and anti-people policies while workers are being insulted with crumbs for their wage hikes,” Labog said, “They are not only giving what is due to workers but they are also stealing from them.”
Ian Porquia of the BPO Industry Employees Network, for his part, called for a three-month tax holiday. He said if government officials are pocketing public funds, “we might as well keep our money and have a tax holiday.”
“The Aquino administration is quick in giving tax holidays to billionaires and business tycoons. It is more just for the government to grant hard-working employees a series of tax holidays. We employees need some relief from the soaring prices of basic goods and payments for basic services and from indebtedness,” the BPO Industry Employees Network said in a statement.
BPO employees, 80 percent of whom do not have tax dependents, are one of the biggest taxpayers because of their income bracket. They said the government earns nearly P1.4 billion ($32.3 million) from the income tax alone of about 700,000 Filipinos working in the said industry.
BPO employees said they are disgusted over the lavish lifestyles of politicians while “we go through sleepless nights, endure dangers in going to work in the wee hours of the morning, and sacrifice time with our family for our work.”
No social services
Darby Santiago, a doctor from the Philippine General Hospital, recounted before anti-pork protesters how he meets patients everyday who are struggling to scout for money to pay for their medicines and much-needed treatment. He said these patients would go to government offices, asking for help but to no avail.
Doctors and health workers, under the umbrella of the Rx Abolish Pork, said the huge funds allocated for the pork barrel system should be allocated toi the public health system. With that money, the group said privatization, which, according to the government would improve services and facilities of public hospitals, would no longer be unnecessary.
Sonia Gonzales of the Philippine Children Medical Center said their hospital, a government hospital, is still scouting money to pay the government so that they would not be evicted. Their patients, she said, come from poor families and donations they received are not enough to cover the P1.1 billion ($25 million) being asked from them by the National Housing Authority.
Gonzales said they are counting on Aquino to grant the hospital the land title.
Families residing in urban poor communities, on the other hand, are being evicted from their homes to give way to big companies, Estrelieta Bagasbas, an urban poor leader and resident of North Triangle, Quezon City, said.
Gani Tapang of Agham said work opportunities, too, are being lost because of the misuse of public funds allocated to the pork barrel system. This, he said, should have been maximized to fund national industrialization and generate local jobs.
Tapang added that the funds should also be used to improve transportation and electricity facilities for the Filipino people.
Theater actress Monique Wilson said that in her recent visit to Iloilo, girls as young as nine years old are forced into prostitution so that they can have money to go to school.
Hold officials accountable
NBN-ZTE whistleblower Jun Lozada said during the protest action that it pains him to know that the same people who used to shout for truth and transparency with him during the height of the NBN-ZTE scandal are the very same people who betrayed the Filipino’s trust now.
In news reports, Lozada told media that if Aquino still has any decency left, he should resign. “He has the courage to dare his critics to impeach him! Pass the Freedom of Information Bill then impeaching him will be easy,” he said.
Lozada said the pork barrel scam is fast becoming a wild fire under the Aquino administration.
“What is happening in our country today is that the feelings of the people are already kindled. Once the wind of truth blows, it will ignite the fire. Malacañang should not wait anymore, they should speak the truth and not wait for the fire to ignite the feelings of the people,” he added in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report.
The groups that joined the rally vowed to hold more protest actions to call on Aquino to scrap the pork barrel.