MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III expressed disappointment over the physical violence suffered by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad who was attacked by University of the Philippines (UP) students after a forum at the premier state university on Wednesday, September 17.
On Thursday, September 18, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr released a note saying the incident has been reported to Aquino, who is currently on a 4-nation Europe trip.
"He (Aquino) believes that as the premier university, the UP is expected to promote responsibility in the exercise of the freedom of expression and civility while engaging in political discourse. This may be an opportune time to reassess the implications to an institution of higher learning when a political forum degenerates into mob rule," Coloma said.
On Wednesday, Abad was met by an angry mob of UP students after attending a forum at the university on the 2015 budget where he defended the administration’s controversial special spending program, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and the pork barrel system.
The Supreme Court had struck down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional, and deemed as such certain executive actions under the DAP.
Abad and the administration have been under fire for the DAP, which the government has continued to adamantly defend as a contributor to economic growth, especially after economic growth slowed down due to underspending during the early part of the Aquino administration.
The administration scrapped the PDAF following the implication of some lawmakers in the pork barrel scam, the biggest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history where they allegedly connived with businessman Janet Lim Napoles in channeling public funds to ghost projects of her bogus nongovernmental organizations.
Abad speaks up
Aquino has consistently defended not just DAP but also Abad, rejecting his Cabinet Secretary's offer to resign after the controversy.
According to a statement from the left-leaning group Anakbayan, about 100 students “blocked the exits of the venue and protested as he was about to come out.”
“As he exited, protesters repeatedly chanted ‘MAGNANAKAW! (Thief!)’ in his face and hurled crumpled paper with signs saying: ‘#DAPatManagot, Noynoy patalsikin! (Take responsibility, impeach Noynoy!),’” the statement said. Noynoy is the nickname of Aquino.
The statement added that students also hurled crumpled paper at his face, while some pelted him with coins, and another grabbed him by the back of his collar as he boarded his vehicle.
"How dare him go to UP and tell us his lies! Plunderers and holDAPers are not welcome here. Butch Abad and Aquino should be held accountable for their crimes,” Anakabyan quoted student Charlotte France as saying.
Abad released his own statement on the incident on Thursday, explaining he "was prepared to address their concerns," referring to the STAND UP group, which had formed outside the forum. In a video, Abad is seen as smiling as he approached the students.
"Once I began approaching the STAND UP group, however, the protesters – who were around 50 to 60 strong – did not engage me in dialogue. Instead, they surrounded me aggressively as I made my way towards the vehicle. I had objects thrown at me, and one student even attempted to grab me by the collar," Abad said.
Abad said he believed in "the public’s ability to voice its opposition to the government is a necessary character of a healthy democracy," but said "to do full justice to this, we must be willing to engage others in peaceful dialogue.
"It is upon us to appreciate the diversity of ideas that make our young democracy so unique and promising," the budget chief said.
He too expressed his disapointment over the behavior of STAND UP.
“Ideally, we should be able to engage each other in frank, sober discourse. I wholly understand that fighting for the welfare of our country is often an emotional and passionate pursuit. But there is no place here for violence and aggression, and especially not in an academic environment. All that a mob wants is to harm its target, never mind truth or propriety; beyond that, it stands for nothing else.”
Not a deterrence
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte meanwhile drew attention to "the many other students who participated in the dialogue and listend to Secretary Abad," which she said "is really the essence of dialogue."
"They get to ask questions. There is a presentation. They get their answers. Unfortunately, that incident happened when Secretary Abad was leaving already the hall," Valte said in a news briefing.
However, Valte gave assurances that Abad will not let the incident deter him from doing his work or from shying away from public discussions in the future “especially if there are significant issues that demand dialogue.”
“Every public official, whenever you speak in public, you always face that sort of possibility… our Cabinet Secretaries are ready to face (risks) like that,” she said.
Valte said that Abad has been in public office for quite some time but "no incident as severe as this has ever happened to him.” – Rappler.com