“Public funds are meant for everybody and not just for the few. There is a problem when only a few has control and discretion over a huge lump sum of public funds, and that’s why that system has to be junked.” – 10-year-old Jasmine Flores, most applauded speaker at Friday protest in Luneta
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — There were less participants than the Aug. 26 first “picnic protest” against the pork barrel, as Juana Change, doing a Janet Napoles satiric act, had said. But Friday’s “Rock and Rage Against Pork” had more directness, more sharing together by all who gathered and a more continuing program. “We may be fewer, but our resolve is firm,” said Jun Lozada.
The thousands that gathered Friday, September 13, in Luneta came from all walks of life. Clapping and cheering in the same speeches and numbers are students from various schools, people from various organizations, whistleblowers, professionals, young and old. The program featured more rousing musical performances, not counting yet the concert at the end.
Organized by the broad Abolish Pork Movement, church groups, and Youth Act Now, the first and broadest anti-pork youth alliance in the country, the Friday the 13th #ForwardMarch Protest has once again proudly drawn thousands to Luneta, displaying public outrage over the pork barrel system. Most of the participants were youth and students from various schools in Metro Manila, who cheered when their school’s name was called, although others seemed not used yet to joining such protest actions and were still kidded as “shy.”
“The present generation of the youth disproved the myth of apathy and have come full-force to denounce the continued existence of the pork barrel system,” said Victor Villanueva, spokesman of Youth Act Now. Indeed, the second Luneta protest saw the likes of a 10-year old child, Jasmine Flores, explaining during the program why the pork barrel system, and not just the lawmakers’ PDAF but also Aquino’s much, much bigger pork, should be scrapped. “Public funds are meant for everybody and not just for the few. There is a problem when only a few has control and discretion over a huge lump sum of public funds, and that’s why that system has to be junked,” said Flores who wowed the crowd in Luneta.
“Half of the terms she mentioned I don’t know yet,” said the impressed emcee, after the granddaughter of peasant leader Tunying Flores called on parents to continue battling this system of patronage politics.
The crowd was wowed too by musical performances, especially by the participation of Nanay Pining in the Sining Lila number, who showed them that rapping against pork barrel is not just for the young.
United and colorful
The protest action in Luneta was preceded by at least six separate programs in different converging points near the park. Students from schools in the university belt including University of Sto. Tomas, University of the East, Far Eastern University, San Sebastián College-Recoletos, La Consolacion College and other colleges converged at Mendiola Peace Arch. They carried a six-foot Chinese dragon-inspired pig effigy representing Aquino and his regime’s “addiction” to pork barrel.
By the time they converged in Luneta, all contingents of students in the protest action met those from UP, UPCM, PUP, Earist, St. Scholastica, St. Theresa’s College, Assumption College, Sta Catalina College, Adamson University, Philippine Normal University, Stella Maris, Philippine Women’s University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, College of Holy Spirit, De La Salle University, San Beda College, College of St. Benilde, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and some from national high schools.
Similar activities were also mounted in Liwasang Bonifacio, Taft Avenue and Kalaw. Church groups and several student contingents celebrated a mass at San Agustin Church in Intramuros before marching to Luneta.
By 3 p.m. the protesters had converged at Burnham Greens in Luneta. Some came in masks or head gear of pigs. They began the afternoon’s activity with an interfaith prayer rally, followed after a brief pause by a multi-sectoral protest program that was interspersed with cultural performances.
Fr. Jo Dizon said that this rally, unlike that in Edsa last Wednesday September 11, did not bar anybody from raising banners and flags. As the protesters discussed the issue of pork barrel and criticized President Aquino’s unwillingness to part with it, they had booths too such as a jail booth and “Insta Amnesia” booth. There were also live painting activities. Some groups were also selling anti-pork pins and t-shirts.
“More and more people from all walks of life are disgruntled and angered by the turn of events. Expect the youth to be at the forefront of dissent in more and more demonstrations in the coming days as we continue the strong public opposition to the bankrupt system of government that has not only robbed billions of taxpayers’ money but also worsened the already bleak future of our nation,” Villanueva said in a statement.
Filipinos today are worse off because politicians continue to salivate at public funds they have turned into their pork, said UP College of Mass Communications Dean Roland Tolentino during the program. He traced the growth of the pork barrel over the years since the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos changed the Philippine national budget system to make it easier for politicians to avail of pork: from former president Marcos’s time when it amounted to P.5 million (US$11,425) per congressman, to Cory’s Countrywide Development Fund amounting to P4 million (US$91,399) per congressman and to Noynoy’s continuation of it as Priority Development Assistance Fund, which has grown 5.5 times bigger compared to the administration of his mother.
President Benigno Aquino III’s pork barrel or discretionary funds amounting to P1.3 trillion (US$30 billion), is strengthening patronage politics in elections, Tolentino said, explaining that this gives Aquino control over Congress. The pork barrel system strengthens the grip of corruption, and one of the grim examples was the president socializing with the likes of Napoles, Tolentino said.
What to do about it? According to Tolentino, “There would be change if we could organize more; and we could effect change through the people’s untiring protests:
– we could instill fear on the next leader in Malacañang;
– we should convince more to come out, via facebook, twitter, instagram and other social media, to denounce corruption and the pork barrel system.”
Tolentino challenged the people gathered to come out stronger also in social media, to post more revelations and opposition to corruption scams.
Dante Jimenez of Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption warned against the likelihood that this latest case would be “killed” or put to sleep in the country’s courts. “This case will languish if we don’t do anything,” he said.
Like others, Jimenez was demanding punishment to the plunderers.
Jun Lozada, whistle blower to the corrupt-ridden NBN-ZTE deal involving former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said he had learned two lessons so far. One, that the people are suffering as a result of this “pambababoy” (corruption) and that we have been asserting the truth — we’ve been blessed with this opportunity (of asserting the truth) — but until we learn not to stop asserting it, it will just keep on recurring.”
Two, we have had Edsa 1 and Edsa 2. Lozada quipped that every decade since we ousted Marcos, “we are blessed” with people power protests. Lozada was referring to Edsa 1 in 1986, the people power uprising that ousted the Marcos dictatorship, and Edsa 2 in 2001, the people power uprising that ousted the Estrada administration. “Let’s hope that by 2014 we will be blessed with another of that.”
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon discussed the doability of abolishing the pork barrel.”Don’t believe the politicians who tell you pork is needed for scholarships and for the sick. The people want pork barrel funds to be reallocated directly to social services. We do not want to drive away another sick patient who cannot afford hospitalization. The budget allotted for pork barrel should go directly to public hospitals, for example,” Ridon said.
Abolishing the pork barrel system is like telling politicians to close their wallets, said Greg Belgica, one of the petitioners against the pork barrel. He said the government cannot function without pork in their grasp when it should have been in the people’s hands.
“What we need to do,” he urged the protesters, is to continue posting in social media, form groups, talk about issues: “Why do they take hold of our money and use it for their parties when people could have been using it to have something to eat?”
“Has Napoles been charged already? Has the pork barrel been abolished? Has the budget for the pork barrel been reallocated already to social services? Not one of these have been substantially acted upon, and that means, we still have much to do – by way of rallies, protests, etc.,” said Teddy Casiño, three-term Bayan Muna representative.
Benhur Luy’s revelations about how they connived to steal public funds aren’t new, said Casiño. It is an open secret. “Among congressmen, senators, department secretaries, Philippine presidents – they know that they have created the pork barrel in order to steal public funds.”
” It’s not just Napoles, it’s a system,” Casiño said. He added that they in the Makabayan bloc have long called for the abolition of the pork barrel but they have encountered a lot of difficulties, especially during every budget hearing. That is, unlike today. Casiño praised the protesters and whistleblowers.