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Anti-pork barrel hackers hit 38 Philippine websites

Hackers opposed to the graft-ridden pork barrel system attacked on Sunday the website of the Office of the Ombudsman and those of 37 other government bodies, posting a message calling on Filipinos to join a protest against corruption at the House of Representatives on Nov. 5.

The Office of the Ombudsman handles the plunder cases filed in connection with the 10 billion peso ($228 million) pork barrel scam and the misuse of 900 million pesos from the Malampaya Fund meant for storm victims.

The attack on its website came as its conviction rate for scalawags in government declined in the first three quarters of the year. 

Protesters display placards during a rally at the Philippine Supreme Court to coincide with the oral arguments on the controversial government funds intended for development projects by lawmakers known as “Pork Barrel” in Manila, Philippines. (AP-Yonhap News)
Protesters display placards during a rally at the Philippine Supreme Court to coincide with the oral arguments on the controversial government funds intended for development projects by lawmakers known as “Pork Barrel” in Manila, Philippines. (AP-Yonhap News)
The Ombudsman managed to get only 24 convictions, or 12.83 percent, of 187 public officials whose cases were decided by the Sandiganbayan antigraft court between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, according to data from the Sandiganbayan Judicial Records Division.

The conviction rate was the lowest since June 2010 when President Aquino, elected on an anticorruption platform, took over the reins of government.

The hacker group, Anonymous Philippines, also posted the message on several government websites, said Roy Espiritu of the IT section of the Department of Science and Technology.

On its Facebook page, Anonymous Philippines listed 38 government websites that it hacked on Sunday, mostly those of local government units.

Clicking on the latest update of the Ombudsman’s homepage that read “Anonymous Philippines” directed a visitor to a post with the group’s logo and its message.

“We apologize for this inconvenience, but this is the only easiest way we could convey our message to you, our dear brothers and sisters who are tired of this cruelty and this false democracy, tired of this government and the politicians who only think about themselves,” the message read.

“The government, in many ways, has failed its Filipino citizens. … Let us remind the government that fairness, justice and freedom are more than words.”

The message did not name any politician, but it warned: “To the corrupt ― fear us.”

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said part of democratic space was making known grievances against the government.

“However, defacing government websites which cater to the public is in our view counterproductive. We have always encouraged engaging government through proper channels,” Valte said.

The latest post from Anonymous Philippines was an invitation for a “Million Mask March” at the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City at 10 a.m. Tuesday. It said the protest was a “peaceful march to meet and greet like-minded individuals.”

In August, an appeal for an antigraft street protest called a “Million People March” aired on social media drew more than 70,000 protesters to Rizal Park in Manila. Several smaller rallies, also publicized via Internet, have since been held.

The protesters have called for the abolition of the pork barrel system, not only the Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers but also the lump-sum funds under the control of President Aquino.

On the day of the Million People March on Aug. 26, at least 30 of government Internet domains were also hacked, according to the DOST.

Anger has grown since the Inquirer came out with a series that businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles connived with legislators to syphon off some 10 billion pesos from the PDAF allocated to the pet projects of lawmakers.

Napoles, who is detained on a serious illegal detention charge filed against her by a former employee-turned-whistle-blower, was charged with plunder on Sept. 16 in the Office of the Ombudsman along with Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile and 34 others.

The Department of Justice has asked for the cancellation of the passports of Estrada, Revilla and Enrile and their alleged conspirators.

On Oct. 3, Napoles was charged with plunder along with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, three of her Cabinet secretaries and 19 others for allegedly stealing 900 million pesos from the Malampaya Fund intended for victims of Tropical Storms Sendong and Pepeng in 2009.

Aquino, elected in 2010 on an anticorruption platform, has also become ensnared in the controversy as opposition and government critics have charged that he was also misusing special funds.

In response, Aquino went on national television on Wednesday to declare “I am not a thief.” He accused the opposition of trying to divert public attention from their own alleged corruption.

But his speech did not sit well with critics, including a group of workers from the business process outsourcing industry, which said that the President had the “gall” to defend the pork barrel system.

Previous hacking attacks on government websites have been the work of foreign groups angry over diplomatic disputes or ― as in September 2012 ― by those angry at a restrictive cybercrime law.

“There is forensic work being done on our end to find out who did this because it is still a crime,” Espiritu said.

Those who deface government websites could face up to six months in prison, he added.

However, since government agencies maintain individual websites with no uniform standards, it is difficult to secure them from hacking, Espiritu said.

Of the cases referred to the Sandiganbayan, 63 were dismissals, 38 were acquittals, 43 charges were withdrawn, 18 were sent to the archives and one accused turned state witness.

In 2010, the Office of the Ombudsman posted a 14.56 percent batting average by securing 54 guilty verdicts out of 364 cases brought to the antigraft court. In 2011, it was 16.1 percent, with 81 guilty verdicts out of 503 cases.

Last year, the figure was 16.72 percent, with 52 wins out of 311 indicted public officials. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)