A year after the Million People March rally against pork barrel, a smaller, but still upbeat crowd showed up, and with sharper calls, now pointed against President Aquino.
BY DEE AYROSO
LUNETA PARK, MANILA – Even before daybreak, blue tents were already pitched in the grounds in front of the Luneta Grandstand. They were to provide a most important service for the day’s event. Not just as shelter against the hot sun, and the occasional drizzle, but in gathering signatures for the People’s Initiative Against Pork.
It was a relatively smaller crowd turnout, but with a more concrete action in mind: to use a constitutional process to do away with pork barrel. The Aug 25 action is touted as just one among the many actions to be conducted.
The early birds – many came from different religious congregations, cycling enthusiasts, senior citizens and their families – were the first to flock to the blue tents to sign up.
There were tents for each of the Metromanila municipalities and cities, and also for regions 3 and 4, Central and Southern Luzon, respectively.
Heart and spirit
The day was started as many Filipinos do, with a prayer. Catholic priests led by retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz led the consecrated mass. At the ecumenical service that followed, Protestant church leaders read a Bible verse from the book of Amos: “Do what is right, and not what is evil…. but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
And then to more serious things: laughter yoga. “We have to let our emotions out, lest we get a stroke,” said Paolo Trinidad, as he led the brief session. People breathed “ho-ho-ho” into the circle formed with their two hands. The circle referred to ‘zero’ – the answer elicited by Archbishop Cruz when he asked what grade President Aquino should get. “Bokya,” was actually the crowd’s answer.
After a few more practice of “he-he-he” and “laughing with your diaphragm,” Trinidad then beat a ganza, and asked the people to do the spread eagle dance of the Igorots.
But the amusement kept coming even after the laughter yoga.
Award-winning film, theatre and TV actor Bernardo Bernardo who hosted the first program, said he has not yet signed because he is an “NPA.” Coming home after a decade of living in the US, he explained that he still has “No Permanent Address.”
When Monet Silvestre and Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña came on stage, Bernardo called the three of them “reluctant activists,” being the ones who started last year’s protest from a Facebook post.
“If last year we just got mad, now we are doing something,” said Rallonza-Bretaña, as she thanked those who showed up and signed the P.I.
Now, the signature campaign is one way for the people to express their indignation.
Bernardo shouted: “P.I. nilang lahat!”
“People’s … initiative nilang lahat,” Bernardo’s female co-host clarified. The initials “P.I.” could also stand for the Filipino term for “S.O.B.”
When Mae Paner a.k.a. Juana Change came on stage, she chanted a slogan that had the rhythm of a childhood street game: “Girl, boy, bakla, tomboy – ayaw sa baboy!”
Some text messages were read during the program, among them, a note of support from Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas: “I am with you in heart and spirit. My signature for the people’s initiative is with you.”
Another text message said that some protesters belonging to Gabriela and ACT were being blocked by the police. The female emcee called on the police, in a cheery tone: “To the PNP, instead of blocking them, why don’t you just join us?”
Day at the park
As the sun rose higher, more people came. It was your usual day at the park, and Luneta teemed with young couples with small children, at times with the grandparents tottering along. There were barkadas of teens, in uniformed colored shirts. Children frolicked in front of the statue of San Lorenzo de Ruiz. A group of mestiza elderly women in printed floral hats carried squeaky toy pigs.
Many of them were among those who raged in last year’s rally. Now they lined up at the tents to sign against pork.
There were mostly youth volunteers who assisted people signing up in the tents. Polite and happy about the turnout, a volunteer in one tent said: “Thank you po for signing up, and God bless!”
A few queues were up to 10-people long, and Arkibong Bayan’s Mon Ramirez went to the front and asked: “Where’s the senior citizen’s priority lane?” It was just a joke, and he went back in line.
Then the dust of Luneta grounds rose as the throng led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan marched in from Plaza Salamanca: workers, urban poor, women, students, teachers, church peoples, even some peasants and also indigenous peoples.
Fr. Ben Alforque quoted from the Beatitudes in his speech: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
He said that it refers to the power of the poor to change things. “It is the poor who will find ways to end DAP and pork barrel,” and in the process, give a chance for corrupt officials to correct their ways.
Start them young
Ricky Xavier of the Movement for H.O.P.E. was one of those who came back from the 2013 Million People March. His group supports the people’s initiative against pork, as Xavier said: “We want to open up the minds of the Catholic sto do something for our country. The problem is leadership; whatever laws you have will not work if those who implement it are corrupt.”
A girl of about eight, Xavier’s daughter, stood beside him as he distributed leaflets from his tent: “We should start them young,” he said.
Indeed, there were many toddlers and even babies that came with their parent-protesters.
Sounds and sights
The three colors of the Philippine flag – red, white and blue were all present in the banners: such as KMU’s red, the blue of the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC), Bayan and Karapatan, and the white of the religious and health professionals groups. Ka-Federasyon’s pink flag with a rainbow-colored fist waved along.
A group of teenagers in black shirt strutted as they carried the black banner of Pagpag, or Pakikibaka at Paglaban sa Pork Barrel at sa Korapsyon. A group called Hermano also wore a uniform black shirt, with a quote from President Cory Aquino.
Many speeches targeted President Aquino, for his recent pronouncements on a second term and charter change.
“Mister President, you are a liar!” one speaker said. He proceeded to quote a line from Aquino’s 2013 State of the Nation Address, hitting corrupt officials. “Saan ka kumukuha ng kapal ng mukha?”
Speeches were alternated with musical performances, which most of the crowd craved for.
The jingle “Stand up, sign up,” which was first played over an AM station public service program, was the dominant tune, played in between speeches and songs. People easily picked up its beat, bobbing their heads to the left and to the right, and writing a big ‘S’ in the air.
Folk artist Bayang Barrios sang Asin’s “Gising na, Kaibigan,” putting the crowd in the mood as the lyrics asked: “Nakita mo na ba ang mga bagay na dapat mong makita? Nagawa mo na ba ang mga bagay na dapat mong ginawa?”
To the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” Sining Lila sang: “Dapdapdapdapdap, DAP ng mga korap, DAP yan ni Noynoy-Abad romance.”
As Kamikazee performed, all of Luneta buzzed as they sang along. Dust rose even higher as many hustled their way to sing and dance near the stage.
The ice cream cart’s incessant melody was blended with chirping sounds, as a group of Aetas from Mabalacat peddled indigenous musical toys that imitated a twittering bird. It was, after all, also a day to eke out a living.
The crowd had dwindled, as the 1 o’clock sun scorched all exposed skin and surface. But the searing heat and most likely photo damage was no object to the progressive groups who marched on to a traditional destination: Mendiola.
Among them was Jonathan de Vero, a 23-year-old Ati from Montalban, who had leg deformities, but he walked along with other indigenous youth under the Kabataan para sa Tribung Pilipino (Katribu).
“We have to do it,” he said without hesitation, even as he perspired and staggered while carrying a placard. He wasn’t in the anti-pork rallies last year, but he said the march was part of showing disgust against the pork barrel. Many of those who marched in the heat were the organized urban poor, workers, teachers and students.