75,000 gather at Luneta park
By JEFFREY DAMICOG
Mila Cambi, a 55-year-old street vendor, yesterday said she was turned away by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) when she sought assistance for cousin Edwin Ferdiz who suffered a stroke last Aug. 7.
“Hindi po nila kami matulungan sa pangtustos ng gamut,” Cambi lamented.
As a result, Cambi and other relatives had to dig deep into their pockets to pay for Ferdiz’s treatment and medication.
When news broke out about the P10-billion “pork barrel” scam, Cambi was outraged and was among those who joined the Million People March yesterday.
Instead of the usual soft drinks and snacks, Cambi decided to sell “chicharon” as their own way of protesting against the “pork barrel.”
Joel Miralpes, spokesman of the 100-strong vendors’ group, said Manila vendors pay P1 million in taxes annually.
“Hinuhuli kaming hindi criminal pero ang mga criminal hindi hinhuli,” Miralpes rued.
The vendors were among thousands of people who gathered at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila yesterday to protest against embedded corruption in the Priority Assistance Development Fund (PDAF) or the “pork barrel“ fund after a rallying call on Facebook and Twitter.
The “Million People March“ is one of the largest public demonstrations since President Aquino was elected in 2010 on an anticorruption platform.
The protesters ranged from nuns and priests and students to businessmen, middle-class families, lawyers, and other professionals, showcasing the broadbased anger over graft in the country.
At its height, police placed the number of protesters at 75,000.
“The Filipino people are now modern. Proof is the million people march that we can’t be fooled by our leaders anymore,“ a protester calling himself Gundam08 tweeted from the rally site.
Government officials’ misuse of funds has been long embedded and practically accepted in the nation’s political system but a series of newspaper articles, like about how government funds were allegedly diverted into private hands, have stirred new anger outside of the usual protest groups.
The calls for the protest began circulating on Facebook and Twitter about two weeks ago after reports of an alleged scam involving legislators’ PDAF.
The PDAF is money allocated for lawmakers to be used in their pet development projects. Critics see it as funding pork barrel projects which have traditionally been a source of corruption.
At the center of the controversy is businesswoman Janet L. Napoles, whom newspapers reported to have allegedly connived with legislators to siphon off some R10 billion from the fund.
Aquino had previously expanded the PDAF under his 2014 budget so that each senator will receive R200 million while each member of the House of Representatives gets P70 million for their pork barrel.
But in the face of growing anger earlier this month, he had suspended the releases of money and vowed to reform the PDAF system.
The protestors, carrying signs saying “Abolish pork barrel“ and “Change the culture of political patronage,“ were peaceful even if they appeared to have no leader, said Philippine National Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Sindac.
“It’s a very respectable gathering. There are families here like a picnic. They are policing their own ranks. This is purely social-network propelled,“ he said. (With report from AFP)