By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City
Filipino organizations in the city that never sleeps pretty much have their own dynamism and interests. Except recently, everyone have been scandalized enough to take to the streets together their protest against the wide-scale pilferage of public funds by Philippine senators and congressmen.
“Makibaka, huwag mag-baboy!,” the rallyists, about a 200 mix of the young and not-so-young, chanted in front of the Philippine Center where the Consulate is housed on 5th Avenue in the Sunday afternoon of August 26. (Struggle against it, don’t be a pig).
The first leg of the US-based protests pushing for the abolition of the Philippine pork barrel kicked off here, followed by Los Angeles and San Francisco in the west coast, in conjunction with the nationwide rallies held in the Philippines. The rallyists, wearing white, green, yellow and red t-shirts, shouted calls to abolish the pork barrel which has become a horrific source of discretionary money and privilege for legislators.
On one corner laments Jessa who works as babysitter for ten years in New York. “This is too much that I decided to join the rally. I have been working hard for my family and been away from them for so long, and here are our leaders who just rob us that easily, and living very rich lifestyles. Our children are robbed of a bright future,” she said. Jessa’s sentiments is shared by everyone.
Technically termed Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the pork barrel is a yearly allotment of funds for senators (P200 million each) and congressional representatives (P70 million each). Five senators and 23 congressmen were recently implicated in a scam which channeled P10 Billion in PDAF funds into ghosts foundations in the name of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
The scam brought forth public outrage, thus prompting a global protest dubbed as ‘A Million Protest’.
It came at a time when the Philippines was besieged with calamities – a horrendous flood that submerged half of the city of Manila and an oil spill brought about by the collision of an oil tanker and a ferry boat in Cebu, on top of the perennial increases in the prices of gasoline and food.
“Grabe na nga ang kalamidad at kahirapan sa ating bayan, sobrang nakawan naman itong mga L?**!!# kongresistang ito (We have experienced worst calamities and poverty in our country, and yet these (expletive) congressmen are stealing our money),” blurted one angry rallyist.
Merit Salud, chairperson of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations – New York chapter said the leaders are accountable to the people.
“They are stewards of our welfare. In fact, they have to handle this like a very holy grail. Subalit, anong ginagawa ng ating mga pinuno (but what did our leaders do instead?),” an angry Merit Salud said in his speech.
Businesswoman and chair of the group US Pinoys for Good Governance Loida Nicolas Lewis asked for immediate investigation of the scam and voting out of the guilty legislators in the 2016 elections.
Bayan USA, the Association of Filipino Teachers in America, and Damayan called for the abolition of pork barrel funds and increasing the budget for social services, particularly education, agriculture, and health.
A single petition letter had been signed by Filipinos in the east coast, as well as in many parts of the world, demanding President Aquino five main points. These are: to unconditionally scrap the pork barrel system, establish a stricter standard on all discretionary funds, including the President’s, create an independent commission to investigate the magnitude of the scam, prosecute the guilty, and make the Freedom of Information as a priority bill for government transparency.
Hongkong-based Filipina community leader Daphne Ceniza handed over the petition to Deputy Consul General Tess de Vega who assured rallyists that their written demands will reach the office of the President in no time.
“We should not let this injustice pass us this time. If there is an Arab spring, there has to be a Philippine monsoon,” Salud told the rallyists. Apparently, the enduring Filipinos have once again been awakened in their anger.