“This is the biggest form of theft being committed against us. We are the poor, the most in need, and that money should have been spent on mitigating poverty. But they are blatantly pocketing public funds for their self-serving interests.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – In a pedestrian bridge in Quezon City, Diamond Kalaw, 46, endures the heat and the rain to sell what she refers to as “anik-anik” (accessories). She is just a stone’s throw away from the House of Representatives, whose congressmen have been involved anew in a pork barrel scam. For Kalaw, it is the poor who are being victimized the most by such corrupt practices.
“This is the biggest form of theft being committed against us. We are the poor, the most in need, and that money should have been spent on mitigating poverty. But they are blatantly pocketing public funds for their self-serving interests,” Kalaw said.
Kalaw joined on Aug. 30 residents of urban poor communities and members of progressive groups in a march to Mendiola to denounce what they deem as the failure of the Aquino government to end poverty in the midst of a corruption scandal involving the misuse of congressmen and senators of their Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel, a lump sum discretionary fund given to legislators.
The scam reportedly involved a businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles who allegedly conspired with lawmakers in siphoning public funds amounting to P10 billion ($238.1 million). The Commission on Audit also released a report that named more legislators who allegedly channeled their pork barrel funds to pseudo-non-government organization. In the face of the growing outrage, both online and offline, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered in Luneta on Aug. 26 to call for the abolition of the pork barrel system and not a mere change in the mechanism for implementing the PDAF, as President Aquino proposed.
Napoles, after being the subject of a P10 million bounty for her arrest, “surrendered” to Aquino in Malacañang Palace on the evening of Aug. 28 and was escorted by the president himself to Camp Crame to ensure her safety. Government critics were quick to denounce it, saying that the surrender was scripted.
In the protest action, leaders of progressive organizations and residents of various communities facing threats of demolition burned down a pig-like effigy of Aquino.
“No change under Aquino,” they chanted.
Attacks on the urban poor
Kalaw said she could hardly eke out a living out of selling. At times, she would earn only $2.4 after a day of staying under the sun, vending to passersby. This she has to budget for her family of 10. But Kalaw said her $2.4 earnings is further reduced because she still needs to pay police and other authorities to allow them to vend at the pedestrian bridge.
“We are forced to bribe them, roughly $1 a day, to keep the police from confiscating our goods,” Kalaw said, adding that Quezon City has a “no street vendor policy” and that they are only considered “legal vendors” if they rent the local government’s tent, amounting to $8.33 a day and pay a membership fee of $350 every two months. Vendors, with their small capital and earnings, could not afford the rent.
Kalaw said vendors would have to cough up the money for rent even if they did not have enough earnings for the day. “No matter where we go in Quezon City to sell, we are considered illegal. But if you are renting their tent, you are considered legal even if you are selling in the middle of the street,” she added.
Urban poor group Kadamay said anti-poor policies against vendors are just one of the many attacks of the Aquino government on poor Filipinos. During the protest action in Mendiola where they burned down Aquino’s pig-like effigy, they criticized the use of the pork barrel in ensuring the implementation of public private partnership projects.
Anakpawis Partylist, in a previous Bulatlat.com report, said there are 50 public private partnership projects that the Aquino government is pursuing. This includes North Bay Boulevard Business Park, National Government Center, Quezon City Socialized Housing Program (Bistekville), National Bilibid Prison, Manila-Cavite Coastal Reclamation Project, Quezon City Central Business District, among others.
At least 70,000 families have been victims of demolition of homes to give way to big and foreign business enterprises, according to Estrelieta Bagasbas, spokesperson of Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon and resident of North Triangle in Quezon City.
When Kalaw heard the news regarding the recent pork barrel scam, she joined the Kadamay-led protest action calling for an investigation of the scam and the abolition of the pork barrel system. She said she was very angry.
“The Filipino people are suffering so much because of all these corruption. The money could have been allocated to education, hospitals. But now only a few people are benefitting from it,” Kalaw said.
She added, “it is not enough to send Janet Napoles to jail. It is also important to send all officials involved to jail. But could it be possible when we have (former) president Gloria Arroyo, who, despite her sins to the Filipino people, has not yet been jailed?”
Kalaw decried the government’s seeming double standard. “When you are poor, you are illegal. But you are not when you are rich and has siphoned billions of public funds.”
Kadamay said President Aquino has evidently failed to end poverty in the country. This made the urban poor “revolt against the corrupt and oppressive system that gives birth to the pork barrel system.”
“The Aquino administration has promised clean governance with annual budgets that are always dubbed as ‘pro-poor’ to justify its massive increase and its hidden diversion to politicians’ pockets,” Gloria Arellano, Kadamay national chairperson, said.
Arellano said that aside from investigating how the pork barrel of lawmakers was spent, it is also time to look into Aquino’s P1.3 trillion ($30.95 million) pork barrel and discretionary funds. According to the urban poor group, just a small portion of the president’s pork, about $4.6 million, “can feed the 7.9 million Filipino families, who, according to Social Weather Stations, are experiencing hunger in the country, for a year.”
This, according to Arellano, belies Aquino’s claim that his budget is intended for the poor.
“I sacrificed my day’s earnings today to join this rally. I want to let Aquino know that he needs to return what is due to us. It is our money after all,” Kalaw said.
During the protest action, which coincided with the 117th commemoration of the Battle of Pinaglabanan, Kadamay and residents of urban poor communities vowed that they would remain vigilant in the midst of the investigation on the pork barrel scam.