x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Filipinos rally against graft

At least 100,000 turn out in Manila to rage against 'pork barrelling'.

MANILA // Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the Philippine capital yesterday to voice outrage at corrupt politicians in a "Million People March" rally fuelled by social media.

The march, emulated on a smaller scale in other cities around the country, was the largest anti-graft demonstration since the president, Benigno Aquino, was elected in 2010 on a platform to fight corruption.

The protesters ranged from members of the clergy and students to businessmen, middle-class families, lawyers and other professionals, a sign of the breadth of anger over corruption in the impoverished nation.

But while few called for the removal of Mr Aquino, whose personal ratings remain high, there was widespread fury with politicians.

"We are all angry at all the stealing of the politicians. We are telling them that time is up," said Teodoro Jurado, an 80-year-old retired university professor.

Organisers said the rally drew up to 400,000 people, while the police estimated there was a maximum of 100,000.

Calls for protest began circulating on Facebook and Twitter about two weeks ago after a series of newspaper articles about a major scam involving legislators' priority development assistance fund (PDAF).

The fund is money allocated for lawmakers to be used in their pet development projects. Critics charge they are "pork barrel" projects, which have traditionally been a source of corruption.

At the centre of the controversy is a businesswoman, Janet Lim-Napoles, who reportedly connived with legislators to siphon off about 10 billion pesos (Dh845 million) from the development fund.

She has since gone into hiding after being charged with the illegal detention of a whistle-blower, her second cousin.

A middle-aged physician, Paz del Rosario, one of the protesters, said she attended "to be part of a historic event".

"Hopefully this will be the start of a bigger thing. All walks of life are here. This is from social media, the internet, tweets and texts. There is no leader here," she said.

Many protesters wore pig masks and oinked in unison to condemn the legislators' pork barrel.

Mr Aquino had previously planned to expand the PDAF in his 2014 budget so that each senator would receive 200 million pesos while each member of the house of representatives would get 70 million.

But in the face of growing anger last week, the president announced that he was suspending the releases of money and vowed to reform the system.