Taking stock

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

Since the massive, largely spontaneous public expression of outrage last August 26 in light of the P10-billion Napoles pork barrel scam, subsequent events and revelations have only validated and underscored the call for the abolition of all forms of “pork” or lump sum, discretionary funds including what is now called “presidential pork.”

There is the uncovering of the highly questionable Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) which legal luminaries, economists and budgetary experts have singularly described as unconstitutional and illegal. Malacañang’s feeble attempts to justify, evade and muddle the issues (i.e. DAP is not anomalous because it is being used for good, not being stolen and the result is economic growth and improved social services) only serve to fuel doubt and suspicion.

Malacañang has also chosen to dissimulate or ignore accusations of its brazen use to bribe legislators to impeach a sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice not so much because he is corrupt but because he was not to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s liking, being a hindrance to the Aquino administration’s consolidation of power and a threat to the Cojuangco-Aquino interests in the Hacienda Luisita case.

Since the issue does not blow away, Mr. Aquino himself is made to argue for DAP using another worn out and transparent fallacy of admitting to a lesser offense to obscure the bigger ones. Like Ms. Arroyo’s belated “I am sorry!” act, he acknowledges on second thought the possibility that some DAP funds may have indeed been misused by corrupt government officials and their cohorts but absolves his men — and by inference himself — of any knowledge of and complicity in the crimes committed. Then, with characteristic arrogance and misplaced confidence, he challenges his detractors, “Try to impeach me!”

Indeed former Chief Justice Renato Puno’s call for the abolition of congressional pork and the DAP through the mechanism of a “people’s initiative” is precisely premised on the principle that the people are the real sovereign and state sovereignty only derives from people’s sovereignty.

There is also the unstated but clear premise that not only Congress but also the Office of the President cannot be relied upon to abolish congressional, much less the presidential, pork because this goes against their deeply ingrained, selfish interests. It is akin to the biblical admonition that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Where is the anti-pork movement at this point, after five major mass protest actions against it in Metro Manila (the latest being a week ago at Ayala Avenue in the heart of Makati’s financial district) echoed by similar mass demonstrations in Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and other urban centers?

What is paramount is that the anti-pork movement is not losing steam or focus as some vocal commentators and opinion writers claim. Yes the numbers joining the protests have gone down after the initial outburst of anger, dismay and inchoate protest captured by the “Million People March” (MPM) in Luneta last August. But the rallies have continued with sizeable numbers (don’t go by the grossly understated police estimates). This despite orchestrated attempts to sow intrigue, fear and division in the anti-pork movement’s ranks and among the general public emanating from the Malacañang psywar machine, pseudo-abolish pork quarters, rabid Aquino regime defenders in the dominant and social media and still others with dubious intentions.

The basic demands for the complete abolition of all “pork” funds and their rechanneling to pro-people programs and projects as well as full accountability of those behind the pork scams and the return of the stolen monies remain front and center of the anti-pork movement.

At the same time, with further exposure of the rotting carcass of the pork barrel system and its major role in underpinning the feudal system of patronage politics and the even the much bigger reactionary system of bureaucrat capitalism, there has certainly been a “leveling up” in terms of analysis and ergo the movement’s demands. For example, the line that it is “diversionary” to call the Aquino regime to account for defending and seeking to entrench the pork barrel system and for seeking to limit accountability to Napoles, Opposition legislators and the former president, Mrs. Arroyo and her officials has not gained much ground.

The protests are, as already noted, nationwide. A wider cross section of society is participating. And relatively new forces such as anti-pork “netizens” are fast becoming politicized. These forces have advanced from being amorphous, disorganized or unorganized, preferring to be leaderless and with general articulations of their positions to greater coherence, cohesion and purposeful action.

Observers note that August 26 saw many middle- and upper-class Filipinos going out of their comfort zones to express their disgust over the gross thievery of public funds. The September 13 rally saw the student youth in their thousands responding to the call of the #abolishporkmovement and the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines (CEAP); the religious sector in significant numbers brought forth by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), the protestant churches and long-time social activist church people; and the multi-sectoral mobilization by militant mass organizations and various anti-corruption, anti-dynasty groups.

The September 21 demonstration was unmistakably more proletarian and lower middle class in composition with majority coming from nearby urban poor communities but there were also sizeable contingents from the middle forces such as those in the trucking business operating in Manila’s port area and those in the health, legal and teaching professions.

The October 4 Ayala rally initiated by the Scrap Pork Network and some individuals who issued the call for the MPM including those in the #abolishporkmovement had a core force of a few thousand from activist formations but more than two-thirds were Makati denizens who showed up to express their support for the anti-pork demands, They intently listened to the speakers expound on the issues and enjoyed and were inspired by the cultural performances that gave vent to their aggrieved sentiments and fueled their readiness to take action on the pork issue.

In all the foregoing protest mass actions, the participation of artists — well-known folk singers to pop music chorales, rock bands to community “ati-atihan” drummers, various mass-based activist cultural groups as well as theater people and poets (a National Artist included) have been a staple feature.

Unity has been maintained amid diversity. Politically, the spectrum spans those who already lay principal responsibility in terms of policy and misuse at Malacañang’s doorstep and are inclined or on the verge of calling for Aquino’s resignation, impeachment and even ouster to those who are critical in varying degrees of Mr. Aquino’s position and action or lack of it but who are not yet ready to call for his removal by any means. But even the latter will call a spade a spade; e.g. the DAP and other presidential pork as categorically antithetical to Mr. Aquino’s “matuwid na daan” rhetoric.

On many people’s lips is the question, “Where do we go from here?” What to avoid, watch out for, and keep from happening? And what can we look forward to in terms of instituting real change in so far as substantial, fundamental reforms? (Next week: Change is inevitable)

Published in Business World
October 10, 2013

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