By Reynard Magtoto, VERA Files
Legazpi City – The weather was wet and bleak, but some 300 Albayanos marched under the rain on Monday, demanding the scrapping of the pork barrel.
Protesters from multisectoral groups endured the 3-kilometer walk from Peñaranda Park, Governor Locsin Street to the Pinaglabanan Monument in Legazpi City, holding up umbrellas and drenched, drooping banners.
While they failed to meet the targeted number of protesters, they said the cause was worth sacrificing for. Aside from denouncing the misuse of the fund, the protesters called for the prosecution of elected officials implicated in the scam.
“The Albayanos stand firmly on its cry to abolish the pork barrel and (this campaign) will create fire,” Vince Casilihan, Karapatan-Bikol’s spokesperson, said. “This fire will reach the government [and send a message] that there’s a need to abolish the pork barrel. We are the voice of P-noy so our voice must be heard.”
They said that instead of allocating budget under the controversial fund, the government should allot it for social services.
“Ang pork barrel unang una sa lahat ay pera galing sa bayan,” Fr. Raymond Urriza of Redemptorist Church said. “Dapat nating ibalik sa pamamagitan ng social services para sa ating mga kababayan (The pork barrel money is from the people. It’s only fitting to return it to the people through social services).”
Fr. Urriza said many people suffer because they are in need of such services but continue to receive nothing.
In terms of health services, the Albayanos,for instance, are deprived of proper medical care. Public hospitals are also recipients of Priority Development Assistance Funds through the Department of Health.
Added to the Albayanos’ woes is the privatization of hospitals, which meanshigher medical fees. In the Bicol region, three big public hospitals will soon be privatized—the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital (BRTTH) in Legazpi City, Bicol Medical Center in Naga City and Camarines Sur, and Bicol Sanitarium in Cabusao, Camarines Sur.
Casilihan said there’s more than enough money for such services with over P200 million in pork fund allotted to each senator and P70 million to each congressman. The President also has P1 trillion in discretionary funds.
Albay alone has a total pork barrel of P210 million from its three congressmen: Edcel C. Lagman of the 1st district, Al Francis C. Bichara of the 2nd district, and Fernando V. Gonzalez of the 3rd district.
“Magandang tanungin, ang pork barrel ay para kanino ba? Sa bulsa ng iilan, sa bulsa ng mga nagpapayaman? Ito ay galing sa pawis at pagod ng mamamayan; inaasahang ibalik ito para sa kagalingan ng ating bayan (We should be asking, for whom is the pork barrel? Does it end up in the pockets of the rich? This is from the people’s sweat and hard work and they expect it to be used for the benefit of our society),” Fr. Urizza said.
Karl Anthony Canata, a 19-year-old artist of SiningBanwa, agreed. He said the youth joined the protest to show that while they are young, they can contribute to the fight for good governance.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true".)