Pork barrel scam agitates OFWs in Europe

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

The revelations on the ramifications and grave misuse of the pork-barrel system — the latest of which involves the Disbursement Acceleration Program, concocted by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. and now being questioned before the Supreme Court — have spurred continuing protest actions nationwide.

Similarly agitated into protest actions are groups of Filipino overseas workers in Europe, and probably in other regions of the world.

At least, I can personally attest to the angry reactions and calls for action by OFWs in The Netherlands and Italy, who came to separate forums on the pork barrel system where I was invited to speak. The first took place on September 27 in an Old Catholic parish in Amsterdam; the second, on September 29, in a meeting hall where migrant organizations in Rome hold their activities.

The audience at the Amsterdam forum was relatively modest, as it was held on a working day (Friday). Yet it attracted a number of OFWs living in the outlying areas of the city. I was delighted to meet two townmates from Sta. Rita, Pampanga, but saddened to learn that they were among the numerous undocumented workers in that country. Two other Kapampangans from Tarlac chatted with me before the forum started.

A larger crowd attended the forum in Rome. It helped that, aside from the text-message invitations and distribution of flyers, it was held on a Sunday (day off for the OFWs, aside from Thursday). I was invited to hear the pre-noon mass concelebrated by three Filipino priests in a Catholic church, filled to capacity by kababayan.

One of the priests, Fr. Aris Miranda, speaking from the pulpit, introduced me to the churchgoers and invited them to come to the forum in the afternoon. (During the forum, he also interpreted my input in Italian for a group of non-Filipino guests).

At the time, I wasn’t yet aware of the Disbursement Acceleration Program. I discussed the several lump-sum funds, P946.5 billion all together, placed at the President’s discretion to spend. Among these was the P280 billion in “unobligated and unreleased” funds and overall savings of various departments and executive agencies that have been centralized and realigned, via DBP Circular 541 issued by Abad.

It was that centralized-realigned fund that mainly constituted the DAP, from which the DBM allocated a portion for distribution (at P50 million per senator and P10 million per congressman/woman) among those who had voted to impeach, convict and remove then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2010.

(Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Thursday that the release of the money made President Aquino impeachable for bribery and culpable violation of the Constitution, and her senatorial colleagues who received P50 million could be held liable for plunder.)

Most of the Pinoy workers who attended the two forums were aghast at the enormous amounts of public money that could be spent subject only to the President’s discretion.

For instance, the P132-B Malampaya Fund: P900 M of this was allegedly stolen by the Arroyo government in 2009, with lesser amounts released by the Aquino administration for military use, contrary to stated purposes. (Mrs. Arroyo and 20 others have been charged with plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman.)

Even bigger were the special purpose funds, P310 billion, besides the P12-billion motor vehicle users’ fund.

At the Rome forum, there was a general sense of disappointment that, despite the P-Noy government’s anti-corruption mantra to follow a straight path (“matuwid na daan”), the legislators’ pork-barrel has been increased rather than reduced in the last two years.

Worse, President Aquino has basically retained the pork barrel in the 2014 annual budget by allowing legislators to designate their projects for funding. And he has retained the huge lump sums which he can dispose of as he wishes.

Among the concerns raised by those who attended the Amsterdam forum were:

• Can’t the Office of the Ombudsman hurry up in preparing and filing the formal charges in the Sandiganbayan against Janet Lim-Napoles, four senators and 23 House members on the P10-billion pork-barrel scam? (Ombudsman Morales has promised to complete these tasks before the end of the year);

• Why not issue arrest warrants and hold-departure orders now against the accused, to prevent them from escaping to other countries? (The arrest warrants can be issued only after the formal charges have been filed in the Sandiganbayan; a “watchlist” order, issued by Justice Secretary de Lima, has no practical effect.)

• Is there a guarantee that the charges would be airtight to ensure the conviction of the accused, or would there be manipulation or collusion that could allow them to be acquitted? (“Your guess is as good as mine,” I replied.)

• Why can’t the accused senators and congresspersons be suspended or removed from office while they are being tried by the Sandiganbayan? (It’s because under both the Senate and House rules, a member can be removed or expelled only after conviction over a serious offense, such as rape, murder, or plunder).

Both forums ended with the participants agreeing to organize Europe-based counterparts of the “Abolish-the-Pork Barrel System” movement in the Philippines, and to coordinate with it. They resolved to campaign among the Filipino communities and to undertake activities to effectively register their protests.

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
October 5, 2013

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