Protestors rally against corruption across PhilippinesBy Edwin Espejo Aug 26, 2013 7:19AM UTC
The Philippines government faces the biggest protest action yet of Benigno Aquino’s presidency as thousands have gathered in major urban centers throughout the country to demand the abolition of multi-billion peso congressional funds that have become a source of corruption in government.
Dubbed the ‘MillionPeopleMarch’, protesters began assembling at Rizal Park in Manila this morning despite inclement weather.
Rallies are also scheduled in Baguio, Cebu, Davao and other cities as the clamor for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), better known as ‘pork barrels’ for Philippine legislators, continue to mount despite a declaration by President Benigno Aquino III that the fund will soon be scrapped from the national budget.
The Aquino government was rocked by the P10 billion (US$245 million) fund mess after at least nine whistleblowers claimed a socialite reportedly used several non-government organizations as conduits of the PDAF budget, the majority of which eventually ended up in the pockets of several congressman and senators.
Janet Lim-Napoles, who was named by the whistleblower as the orchestrator of the PDAF rechanneling, has since gone missing after warrants for arrest her arrest were issued against her in connection with the abduction of one of the whistleblowers several months ago.
Her lawyers, however, claimed the allegations were untrue and threatened to sue several media outlets for libel for publishing unfounded reports.
On Friday President Aquino said it was “time to abolish PDAF” in a hastily called press conference at the presidential palace.
But he quickly added it will be streamlined as lined item provisions in the national budget and will have to pass a strict menu for project allocations.
The following day, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said PDAF will not disappear from the general appropriations until 2015.
These statements apparently did not sit well with protesters who decided to push through with the unprecedented protest action.
Social media call
Today’s nationwide protest started with a Facebook call to gather a million people at the Luneta to denounce corruption in government and call for the abolition of the PDAF.
It soon gathered momentum and took a life of its own. Various hashtags are flooding Twitter with more than 27,000 mentions already as of 7pm Sunday, August 25, according to www.rappler.com. Hashtags trending Monday included #millionpeoplemarch, #scrappork and #noporkbarrell.
— The GUIDON (@TheGUIDON) August 26, 2013
Several media outlets are also running liveblogs covering the protests.
Rallies and marches are also scheduled in the cities of Naga, Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete and General Santos.
Similar protest actions are also scheduled by overseas Filipinos in the Hong Kong, US, Canada and several cities in Europe and the Middle East.
Rainbow protest coalition
Surprisingly, no single organization is claiming leadership of today’s mass protest gathering.
“Each one of us is the organizer,” Peachy Rallonza-Bretañato told www.interaksyon.com. Bretañato was credited for making the initial call to action on her Facebook account.
Some rally participants however are wary over reports that some figures in the Aquino government are joining the activities to diffuse anger against the president.
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) said Aquino’s spin doctors will try to seize control over the protest action.
Bayan chair Carol Araullo said that “the Aquino government will try hard to spin the message of the August 26 event, even to the extent of making the protest appear supportive of the President.”
A blogger also questioned some protesters who are trying to divide the organized forces and ‘spontaneous rallyers’ by limiting organized forces with banners and issues the left and right portions of Luneta and designating the center to individual protesters.
The protesters are, however, hoping they will be able to mobilize more than 1 million Filipinos today to force the hand of the Aquino government in responding to the burgeoning anti-corruption sentiment racing across the country.