Tens of thousands protest ‘pork barrelling’ fraud in Manila

Reports of graft in the country's 'pork barrelling' scheme spark the country's first mass action organised through social media

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 1:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 2:05am


The administration of President Benigno Aquino has faced its biggest protests since it came to power in 2010 after a social media campaign against government "pork barrelling" went viral.

Tens of thousands of Filipinos angry at government corruption yesterday stood under light rains before Manila's historic Quirino Grandstand to chant "don't be a pig" and "down with pork". Protests were also held in other cities.

The "Million People March" was the country's first ever mass action organised through social media. It was triggered by reports of alleged congressional graft involving 10 billion pesos (HK$1.75 billion) in funds known colloquially as "pork barrelling" - money that was frequently channelled to projects solely to impress voters.

Instead, many of the projects turned out to be phantom non-government organisations, and the money ended up back in the pockets of legislators.

Police estimated that by 11am, two hours into the rally, at least 100,000 people had flocked to the area. Other sources say the figure might have gone up to at least 300,000 by the time the rally ended at 2pm. The president at first defended pork barrelling, and then said on Friday he was putting it on hold.

Demonstrators, mostly youth from the middle class who wore white to avoid indicating party affiliations, brought placards, masks and costumes. Many came dressed as pigs, some as barrels. The archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Tagle, attended with priests and nuns.

The pork barrelling scam was revealed by several participants-turned whistle-blowers and implicated the "masterminds" - businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and her brother Reynard Lim. The Commission on Audit (COA) confirmed the informants' claims that the NGOs were fake, and the pork barrel money could not be accounted for. Many congressmen, including several prominent senators, have been linked to the fraud.

The public was particularly incensed by YouTube videos showing Napoles' young daughter living it up in California buying expensive clothes and bags and posing with Justin Bieber and other popular stars. A leaked report showed she owned a US$1 million condo.

The genesis for the protest was a Facebook post by composer Ito Rapadas, who called for "a million people march by struggling Filipino taxpayers". That idea went viral on social media, with thousands of Filipinos vowing to turn up. Though a small committee set the date, defined the rally area and provided portable toilets, there was no organiser as such. Groups arrived, set up separate platforms and conducted their own presentations.

I want to know what's really happening in our country and to express my support
Businesswoman Riza Matibag Muyot

The crowds were hostile to public figures and politicians who engage in self-promotion, known as epal. When ousted chief justice Renato Corona appeared on one platform in Parade Avenue, where the bus-hostage massacre took place in 2010, he was met by boos. Roars of "no epal" and "thief" reached a crescendo that forced him to get into a van and drive away hastily.

Businesswoman Riza Matibag Muyot said she came because "I want to know what's really happening in our country and to express my support".

Additional reporting by Reuters