As protests against the misuse of millions of dollars by lawmakers erupted in the Philippines and even outside the islands, a leading gay rights group flayed the government of President Benigno Aquino for neglecting healthcare despite the HIV crisis.
“The Philippines has a rising HIV crisis where one person gets infected every two hours,” said Clyde Pumihic, spokesperson of the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (ProGay).
“Yet the allocation for prevention and treatment is paltry, a mere 120 million pesos ($2.7 million) in the national budget.
“We are scandalized to learn that 10 billion pesos ($271 million) have been squandered by corruption, and that more is controlled by the president for purposes that are hard to monitor and audit.”
The criticism came after a series of reports by the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper last month exposed how the money from the Priority Development Assistance Fund – meant to be used by Congress members for development work in their constituencies – was siphoned off in the name of ghost projects.
It was done over nearly a decade by a cartel led by a businesswoman in cahoots with Congress representatives and government officials.
The uproar made President Aquino announce this week that the funds, popularly called pork barrel, would be scrapped and the scam-tainted would be punished.
However, ProGay says the “supposed abolition” of the scandal-plagued funds intends to hide the fact that the president has taken control of them and is trying to evade auditing.
It is clamoring for the abolition of the “much larger discretionary sums” controlled by the president and putting the money put into health-oriented budget reforms instead.
Soon after the president’s announcement, a popular discotheque song, “Badaf Forever” (forever gay) went viral on Internet, mocking him.
It was an oblique reference to critics branding the tainted Priority Development Assistance Fund the Benigno Aquino Development Assistance Fund or BADAF.
On Monday, protesters are urging one million people to take part in public rallies to be held wherever there is a Philippine diaspora.
ProGay says Congress has remained “deaf and blind” to calls for additional funding to provide treatment for the existing population living with HIV, clean up the blood supply, hire aid workers, and provide preventive education to the groups most at risk.
“The reported 10 billion pesos siphoned off by political dynasties and scammers could have funded five years of anti-HIV efforts,” Pumihic said.
“We demand the government scrap the fund, allot the (money necessary) for comprehensive healthcare, and force these plunderers to return all the money they stole.”
ProGay is also pushing the government to halt its ongoing privatization programs to sell off 26 government hospitals and force many public health facilities to remove free healthcare for indigents.
It says this is making diagnostics for sexually transmitted infections acutely unaffordable among young and unemployed transgenders and gay men.
This, in turn, is further fueling explosive rates of HIV transmission among vulnerable groups.
Last month, the Department of Health reported 431 new HIV cases in June. It brought the total number of detected cases in the first half of 2013 to 2,323.
The department said it was the highest incidence rate for any month, with 88 percent of the new infections attributed to sex between males.
According to the World Health Organization, the Philippines is one of nine countries where reported HIV infections are increasing by more than 25 percent.