MANILA, Philippines—Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered at Luneta Park on Monday to voice outrage at graft-tainted pork barrel fund in the largest demonstration since President Benigno Aquino was elected in 2010 on a platform to fight corruption.
Calls for protest began circulating on Facebook and Twitter about two weeks ago after a series of exposés by the Philippine Daily Inquirer about a mammoth scam involving Congress’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The PDAF is money allocated for lawmakers to be used in their pet development projects. Critics charge that they fund “pork barrel” projects which have traditionally been a source of corruption. At the center of the controversy is businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly connived with legislators to syphon off some P10 billion from the fund. She has since gone into hiding after being charged with the illegal detention of a whistleblower.
Officials’ misuse of funds has been long embedded and practically accepted in the Philippine political system. Aquino had previously expanded the PDAF under his 2014 budget so that each senator will receive P200 million while each member of the House of Representatives gets P70 million for their “pork barrel.” But in the face of growing anger last week, Aquino announced that he was suspending the releases of money and vowed to reform the system. At a speech marking National Heroes’ Day, Aquino said the government would catch those who stole state funds. “We will do everything in our power to find those who conspired to take advantage of the PDAF’s good intentions, and to hold them accountable,” he said.
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