Tens Of Thousands Protest In Manila Park Against "Pork Barrel" Funds

by
Reuters
Tens of thousands of Filipinos angry at official corruption marched through the centre of Manila and other cities to demand the abolition of a misused fund for legislators' pet projects, the biggest protest aimed at Benigno Aquino's government.

Tens of thousands protest in Manila park against "pork barrel" funds

Tens of thousands of Filipinos angry at official corruption marched through the centre of Manila and other cities to demand the abolition of a misused fund for legislators' pet projects, the biggest protest aimed at Benigno Aquino's government.

Protesters, responding to a call to wear white, ignored intermittent rain to converge on Manila's largest park to express indignation at the misuse of "pork barrel" funds under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

The money was frequently channelled to projects to impress voters, though many have turned out to be non-existent.

Despite the economy's strong fundamentals - growth in the first quarter was the fastest in the region - corruption remains a chronic problem hindering sustained economic development.

Police said around 60,000 protesters thronged Luneta Park, some wearing pig masks and headgear. Others carried banners saying "Scrap pork barrel!" or "No to pork!".

Protesters -- church and civic groups, health workers, students, and entire families -- ignored Aquino's bid last week to head off the protests by announcing that PDAF would be replaced by another scheme with tougher rules. Marchers called for complete abolition of the system.

"Just transfer the funds to department agencies delivering service," said Jun Bernandino, a quadraplegic who joined the march. "They are lawmakers, not service providers, give the agencies enough budget to deliver the service the people need."

Organisers hoping for a million-strong turnout nation-wide set up boards to try to collect signatures to press the government to scrap the scheme. About 1,500 police were deployed, but no incidents were reported.

Aquino, who won the presidency in 2010 on a good governance and anti-corruption platform, consistently enjoys popularity ratings of more than 70 percent, a feat not seen by previous presidents, including his mother Corazon, who toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1986 "people power" revolt.

Aquino has served half of his single six-year term.

Civic groups issued the call for a protest after a state audit showed some lawmakers had funnelled 10 billion pesos ($226 million) in total to non-existent projects and groups under the previous President of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now charged with plunder and electoral fraud.

Aquino's proposal would require projects under the fund to be set down in the budget, unlike in previous years where the money was placed under a single budget entry consisting of about 1.1 percent of available funds.

The president also promised to prosecute those found to have misused the funds.