PHILIPPINES: Social Media Slaps Sticky Fingers in ‘Pork Barrel Scam’

LAUREN CHEN WRITES – Gone are the days of handing out flyers or haranguing your friends on the phone to support a worthy cause. Now all it takes to turn out a mega-march is a juicy scandal and populist call to arms on Facebook and Twitter.

Filipinos gathered August 26 to march in the largest anti-corruption protest since President Aquino III took office in 2010. Participants in the “Million Person March” were largely drawn through social media outrage at what’s come to be known as the “Pork Barrel Scam.”

The idea took off after news broke that government funds for badly needed development projects had found their way into the pockets of Filipino fat cats. At the center of the storm has been businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who was arrested in connection with the alleged theft of 10 billion pesos ($230 million) of Priority Development Assistance Funds, or PDAF.

The scandal was first reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Helping fan the flames: Widely-circulated photos of Lim-Napoles’ daughter vacationing in luxury, posing with celebrities and a Porsche.

The New York Times writes: “A government investigation, and subsequent local media outlets, discovered muddy mountain tracks where multimillion-peso government-financed roads were supposed to have been built. Other bogus projects include ramshackle buildings that were financed as modern community centers.” Protesters wore pig masks and “oinked” in their objection to “pork barrel” funds.

Though corruption and embezzlement have history in the Philippine political system, President Aquino III was elected into office on a platform to fight these practices. Channel NewsAsia captures a protester’s tweet from the rally site: “The Filipino people are now modern. Proof is the million people march that we can’t be fooled by our leaders anymore.” Social media has united people from various backgrounds to demonstrate against this threat to democracy.

In response to growing anger Aquino suspended the releases of PDAF money and promised to reform the system. His ratings remain high, but the people are enraged at the corruption of politicians. In a speech before the Asia News Network, Aquino said: “Given the advent of new media and technology, and with it a greater and more direct engagement with the public, media can now reach anyone anywhere—making your responsibilities even greater.” He also urged Asian journalists to also “examine their own conduct and motives and learn to become more responsible.”

Although Aquino mentioned the impact of social networking to propel the protest and influence the public, he needs to abolish the improper use of pet projects and should be urging congressmen and senators to examine their ethical conduct.

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