Hundreds gather for Philippine anti-graft rally
About a thousand people staged a street protest in the Philippines on Wednesday in the second internet-fuelled demonstration in three weeks against alleged large-scale corruption by members of parliament.
The rally at a Catholic shrine featured a religious mass to oppose “pork barrel” allocations given to legislators, which protesters condemned as a major source of graft.
“We’re just ordinary Filipinos who want to hold a vigil here. We are here to call for the abolition of the pork barrel system,” protest leader Junep Ocampo said.
He and a small group of friends had sent out the call for the march via the popular social network Facebook a week ago.
Police said the protest drew a thousand people.
“We’re surprised at the power of social media. It was just a call: let’s go to Edsa,” Ocampo said, referring to one of Manila’s main highways, the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue.
The highway had been the site of huge “people power” street protests that ended the 20-year rule of the late president Ferdinand Marcos that was tainted by allegations of massive corruption and human rights violations.
Ocampo, a journalist, said the march was not aimed at President Benigno Aquino, who won a landslide victory in 2010 running on an anti-corruption platform.
The president has since pledged to reform the pork barrel system, where legislators nominate hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of pet projects every year to be funded by the national budget.
Anger started to mount last month following reports that a businesswoman connived with legislators to siphon off some 10 billion pesos (HK$1.77 billion) from the fund.
The woman, Janet Napoles, has since been arrested and the government is preparing graft charges against her and some legislators.
Wednesday’s street action was the second internet-driven protest over the pork barrel issue since August 26, when several hundred thousand people joined the largest street protest under Aquino’s rule.
Aquino had previously expanded the pork barrel fund in his next year budget so that each senator would receive 200 million pesos while each member of the House of Representatives would get 70 million pesos.
But amid the growing anger, he suspended the release of the funds and has promised a more serious investigation.
“We are not anti-Aquino, we are not anti-government. We are anti-pork barrel,” Ocampo said.