Tens of thousands of Filipinos protested in a park in Manila on Monday, demanding the scrapping of a development fund that allows lawmakers to allocate government money for projects in their districts.
A government audit released on August 16, 2013 found that $141 million of the fund allocated over three years under the previous administration was released to questionable aid groups and ghost projects.
The scandal centered on a business woman who allegedly collaborated with lawmakers in channelling some of the funds. Local media reports of her lavish lifestyle have angered many ordinary taxpayers in the country where nearly 28 percent of the 97 million people live on a little over a dollar a day.
This prompted calls on social media for Monday’s protest in Rizal Park, where more than 1,00,000 turned out including students, workers, priests and nuns. Police said about 70,000 protesters were present during the rally’s peak.
Similar protests were held in a dozen other cities across the country, and in New York and other cities with Filipinos concentrations.
Some protesters carried placards saying “Senators, you should be ashamed of yourselves.” Others wore masks with a picture of a pig’s face, or shirts calling for the abolition of the fund.
Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle told the cheering crowd that all Filipinos should act in an honorable way. “Let us also listen to the voice of God, especially in our conscience,” Tagle said.
Actress Mae Paner who wore a pig’s snout, a wig and a barrel around her body, said she was joining millions of Filipinos who “want to abolish the pork barrel system in our country.”
Critics said President Benigno Aquino III’s promise on Friday to reform the system was not enough, and that all pork barrel funds must be abolished because they are prone to corruption.
Mr. Aquino said he has abolished the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and will replace it with a system that plugs loopholes that allow for misuse. He said there was nothing “intrinsically wrong” with the system but it has been abused by “a few greedy individuals.” He vowed to prosecute those who misuse the fund.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that with the abolishing of the PDAF, the money will now go to specific projects of government agencies.
Under the PDAF system, lump sums were earmarked in the government budget for projects proposed by each lawmaker a year 200 million pesos ($4.6 million) for each senator. The projects and beneficiaries were identified by the lawmakers after the budget was passed by Congress.
Mr. Lacierda said that under the new system, no lump sum will be earmarked for legislators, no funds will be channelled to non-government organizations, and the public can monitor the release of the funds through the government’s website.