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Social media fuels massive Philippine anti-graft rally

Tens of thousands of people gather in a central Manila park to protest against embedded corruption in the Philippine political system after a rallying call on Facebook and Twitter

AFP , Monday 26 Aug 2013
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Views: 589

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the Philippine capital on Monday to voice outrage at corrupt politicians, in a modern-day "People Power" 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 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, in a sign of the breadth of anger over graft in the impoverished nation.

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

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

Calls for protest began circulating on Facebook and Twitter about two weeks ago after a series of newspaper articles, many in the popular Philippine Daily Inquirer, about a mammoth scam involving legislators' 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 centre of the controversy is a businesswoman the newspapers reported to have allegedly connived with legislators to syphon off some 10 billion pesos ($230 million) from the fund.

She has since gone into hiding after being charged with the illegal detention of a whistleblower.

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.

The influential Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Tagle, called on the crowd to be "honourable" and to work together for the less fortunate.

"Let us look upon the oppressed and the poor as our true brothers. Let us listen to the heartbeat of our nation and the voice of God," he said.

Church leaders have previously played crucial roles in calling up support for protests in the largely-Catholic Philippines such as the 1986 revolt that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the 2001 uprising that overthrew the graft-tainted president Joseph Estrada.

In the 1986 revolt, radio stations had helped summon the populace while in the 2001 uprising, it was cellphone SMS or 'text' messages that brought many protesters out.

The resulting massive rallies eventually forced out Marcos and Estrada respectively.

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 200 million pesos ($4.5 million) while each member of the House of Representatives gets 70 million pesos for their "pork barrel."

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.

At a speech marking the country's 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.

Organisers said that the rally drew as many as 400,000 people. Police were more conservative.

"It was most probably 60,000 to 70,000 during the rally. At most, I would say about 100,000," said national police spokesman Reuben Sindac.

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