Aquino Cabinet meets with supporters on day of anti-pork rally

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – In a show of solidarity for President Benigno Aquino III, members of his Cabinet attended the launch of Koalisyon ng Mamamayan para sa Reporma (Kompre) on the same day anti-administration groups took to the streets. 

On Monday, August 25, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Transportation Joseph Emilio "Jun" Abaya, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman attended the launch to engage with citizens and listen to concerns, as well as to assure them that Aquino will continue to enact reforms.

The event took place on the same day various groups gathered in Manila to protest all forms of the so-called pork barrel, with some of them calling for Aquino’s ouster. They also decried charter change and the possible lifting of term limits for presidents.

Asked why the Cabinet decided to attend this event and not the pork rally, Llamas told Rappler they weren't invited to converse with those in Luneta Park.

"We were only invited [to the Ateneo event]. We weren’t invited to the other one," Llamas said. "I’m not sure what the anti[-rally] in Luneta was what it was. Some say it was anti-PDAF, some say it was anti-Pnoy, some say it was pro-impeachment."

Llamas said the discussion was about getting a "balanced view of what government has done and what it has left to do."

"That was the dialectics of the movement, to push for their advocacies in the remianing two years," he said.

While Kompre was supportive of what the adminsitration has accomplished, Llamas clarified however that the civil society groups present were "critical too," and while "their movement pointed out that Cabinet is appreciated," he said it was clear "they have issues too."

Meanwhile, asked for the administration's next move regarding the people's initiative in Luneta, Lacierda acknowledged "we have a vibrant democracy."

"Let's wait for the process to take its course," he said.

Reforms promised

At the Kompre forum held at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Cabinet members vowed the passage of several bills that have been pending in Congress. 

Roxas said the ruling Liberal Party, with the support of Aquino, is committed to the passage of the Anti-Dynasty Bill. Lacierda also vowed the approval of the Freedom and Information (FOI) bill, which was part of Aquino’s campaign platform in 2010, but has yet to be passed under his administration. (READ: FOI, Bangsamoro among Aquino's priority bills)

Other issues discussed by the Cabinet included reforms in the agriculture sector after the Department of Agriculture has been constantly linked to corruption, improvements in rural infrastructure as a way to improve the agriculture sector, digitizing government transactions and modernization of public transportation.

Abaya, who has received flak for recent failures of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), reiterated what he told Rappler in an earlier interview: “I will ride the MRT3 to prove that the train is safe."

Abaya also gave assurance the MRT7 would be constructed this year.

While Aquino’s allies agreed that the government has to do more, they also emphasized the work the administration has already accomplished – echoing the statement of the President earlier in the day that there are those who want to return to the old system.

“No one can say the Aquino administration has done nothing. There’s the RH (reproductive health) bill, the impeachment of [former Chief Justice Renato] Corona, and the sin-tax law,” Llamas said.

He told Rappler the request of Kompre is that their sentiments "reach the boss," and that "regions could have their own dialogue not just with Cabinet secretaries but with regional directors of offices involved, along with localities to address sectoral problems."

Meanwhile, Soliman thanked Kompre for its support for the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program and the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Program (GPBP), initiatives of the administration to curb poverty.

Kompre was started by supporters of Aquino, who want to ensure the reforms instituted by his administration will continue past 2016. They are also against the impeachment of the President and charter change.

Charter change became a hot topic recently after Aquino said in an interview that he is reconsidering his views on the touchy subject.

Kompre has yet to endorse a candidate come 2016 but said they will support a candidate who will continue the “straight and narrow path” of the administration. -