Aquino gets ultimatum

Anti-pork advocates set Dec. 6 deadline for Palace to listen

Anti-pork barrel advocates warned President Benigno Aquino III Friday against defying the public clamor to scrap all discretionary funds, including his own, or the people would take matters into their own hands.
The #ScrapPork Network also set a Dec. 6 deadline for the President to get onboard and “destroy the barrier” that blocks his “straight path.”
The date coincides with the 100-day deadline that was imposed by the conveners of the Million People March that organized a massive anti-pork rally at the Luneta Park on Aug. 26.
“If he truly meant what he said about guiding the people towards the tuwid na daan (straight path), then, Mr. President, the pork barrel system is blocking the way. Join the people in destroying this barrier,” said a spokesperson for the group, Michelle Estor, who carries the Twitter handle @chilimedley.
“The 100 Days will end on Dec. 6, 2013, which will be marked by a gathering of anti-pork advocates, either to celebrate achieving the objective, or to escalate the courses of action to be taken by the anti-pork movement to attain that goal,” Estor said.
In a nationally televised address Wednesday night, Mr. Aquino defended his continued use of discretionary funds under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and said criticism of it was the work of politicians who had been implicated in the pork barrel scam.
He also reported gains that he said were made possible by the DAP.
But Estor said while SPN acknowledged these gains, these were not enough.
“A systemic flaw in governance requires a systemic response,” she said.
On Nov. 9, the SPN will hold a general assembly to map out their course of action, Estor said. These could include a proposal from retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno for a people’s initiative to reach a permanent solution to the pork barrel problem.
Estor emphasized that the group has not called on the President to resign or called for his ouster.
“The #ScrapPork Network has consistently taken the position that the pork barrel issue is not about personalities per se. As we in SPN have repeatedly and clearly proclaimed, this is NOT a fight against just one person. Neither is the solution in the hands of a single person only,” she said.
“It is an all-encompassing concern for all citizens of this country which necessitate fighting against an entire system of corruption and political patronage,” Estor said.
Estor took note of the President’s displeasure at being called the “Pork Barrel King,” but said the pork barrel system has plagued all institutions.
“Nothing and no one are spared from the corrupting effects of the pork barrel system. It is therefore a challenge to the President that while he does not solely hold the solution to this systemic problem, he is in the best position to lead the nation out of this rut,” Estor said.
She said the SPN was ready to “sustain and increase the momentum of the anti-pork movement until all kinds of pork barrel funds are scrapped entirely and permanently.”
“This is a continuing concerted effort to attain the three calls of the SPN in its Unity Statement, namely, the scrapping of all pork, the accounting of all pork spent, and the investigation and punishment of all those who misused pork,” Estor said.
Estor also took Liberal Party spokesman and Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone for calling anti-pork advocates “a lynch mob.”
“Mr. Evardone misleads the citizens of this country by using his myopic argument that the anti-pork movement is for the sole purpose of destroying government and political institutions,” Estor said.
“This is not surprising, as Mr. Evardone’s most notable act in the last Congress was when he said he could not conduct hearings on the Freedom of Information bill due to the lack of available hearing rooms,” she said.
Elizabeth Angsioco, national president of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines, said the President missed the point when he made it appear that the people wanted to cripple him by scrapping presidential pork and his sole discretion over the funds.
“He is the one diverting [public attention] from the issue. He ran and won under the campaign slogan against corruption and political patronage and ending these would begin with abolishing all pork,” Angsioco said.
Angsioco said the anti-pork advocates only wanted the President to make good his promise of transparency, accountability and good governance.
“What is so wrong about being transparent in disbursing funds. Why can’t the taxpayers’ money, particularly the off-budget items, be included in the national budget and have them itemized for transparency?” Angsioco said.
Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said the President’s speech Wednesday night was a manifestation of a panic attack triggered by the sudden drop in survey ratings.
“The advisers probably thought an explanation straight from the horse’s mouth could revive the flagging trust rating. Well, the spin doctors applied the wrong meds. Or It caused hallucination so that the patient thought he was being accused of theft and so the more strongly he clung to his pork,” Ilagan said.
Ilagan said as the President berated his critics and called them thieves, he admitted using savings (under the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP) for a variety of reasons.
Renato Reyes, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general said the President should stop defending the presidential pork if he did not want the people to abandon him.
“The speech definitely backfired and placed the President firmly on the side of the pork barrel system. The more he speaks in defense of pork, the more his presidency will sink,” Reyes said.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said no amount of damage control could save the President’s sagging popularity.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate both believed that President Aquino’s speech in defense of the pork barrel system was a disaster and that it was the President’s fault.
“I think it was a move by President Aquino rather than coming from an adviser, but definitely it was ill-advised because reducing the anti-pork movement into a mere creation of his political opponents instead of the genuine peoples’ demand to get rid of corruption that it is, will certainly not generate support,” Colmenares said.
“President Aquino showed he is just another trapo (traditional politician) because of his open admission that he finds nothing wrong with public funds being used for patronage politics. He admits he gave DAP funds to senators during the impeachment trial, which means he believes that he does not find anything wrong with pork barrel funds being used to influence Congress to vote for something the President wants Congress to do, which is a classic trapo line,” he added.
Zarate said the President was showing his hand.
“He was not ill-advised; it was President Aquino’s real color showing: great defender of the patronage and pork barrel system. His speech was prompted by a desire to clearly arrest the decline of his fast dissipating popularity; he is now exposed as another rabid defender of the status quo,” Zarate said.
“Palace people can continue deluding themselves but the writing on the wall is already clear – the Aquino administration’s isolation will continue for as long as it continues to defend this present corrupt system of patronage,” Zarate said.
President Aquino’s ally, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., said the President did the right thing in defending the administration from allegations of misuse of public funds.
“The public has to know they are being deceived into believing that funds from the DAP are being misused like the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel of some legislators,” he said.
Barzaga, a member of the National Unity Party allied with the administration, believes the public had long wanted to hear the President’s explanations following the barrage of attacks from his critics.
The President’s move would help quell the public’s distrust, he said.
Mr. Aquino’s televised message came amid a drastic drop in his approval ratings.
In it, he lambasted detractors, saying those involved in the PDAF scam were obviously behind the smear campaign to lump DAP spending with the pork barrel mess.
Urging the public not to be distracted from the prosecution of those who stole from the government, he said: “The issue here is theft. I am not a thief.”
Mr. Aquino did not mention the extra allocation of funds from the DAP that flowed to senators and congressmen who helped impeach and oust his political enemy, former Chief Justice Renato Corona, last year.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admitted that the funds came from the DAP but insisted these were not bribes.
He also said DAP funds came from realigned savings from various government agencies and were used to accelerate public spending in 2011.


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